A. Lee Martinez is hit and miss for me; two of his books are ridiculously fun (Gil’s All Fright Diner, Emperor Mollusk), a couple absolutely aren’t, and a few are enjoyable but one-time reads. This, while decently done, I suppose, didn’t work for me. It should have, as a road trip centered around Heroic Quest, and containing Martinez’ oddball humor, but there was a strong New-Young Adult theme that just didn’t work for me.
Helen is an Enchanted American, and one of the only fully-minotaur females in decades, so she tends to stand out in a crowd. It’s the summer after high school and she’s working at a burger joint. One night her boss asks her to stay late. As she’s foiling his nefarious plans, her perfect co-worker, Troy, accidentally interrupts, and they are both forced into a quest. A government agent shows up to help them along and they head off. Meanwhile, an orc motorcycle gang (only on weekends) is tasked by their god to kill the questers. Given that their lead, Nigel, is normally an accountant, he’s fairly uncomfortable with this task.
So that’s the premise, which could have been engaging enough, but it didn’t gel as well as it could have. Questing follows the traditional oracle-obstacle format, but frankly, there’s far too much romantic angst and not enough questing. Probably, the angst isn’t particularly well done. To me, it seemed fairly single note: Helen knows she’s a minotaur, which is a freak among freaks, and Troy is perfect, so it’s not going to work. She’s very self-conscious of her shedding, strength, and increasing irritability. Troy is aware everyone thinks he’s perfect, although he’s pretty sure they don’t realize how much he works at it, and he’s insecure about Helen. I believe that’s the gist of it, which might have been mildly interesting at first, but ended up being annoying by the end. Since I’m definitely not a new/young adult reader, I can’t really comment on how it stacks up for the genre, but it definitely didn’t transcend it.
The first chapter or two were fun, particularly the Hamburger God, and I wondered if it would be a grown-up (sort of) Percy Jackson. Unfortunately, it lost velocity and I never really got sucked into the story. I finally made myself finish it, just so I could move on to other books without lingering guilt. The tone didn’t sustain ‘fun’ for me; at times it seemed kind of sad, particularly the orcs, and others it felt forced. There’s a lot of genre mash-up here as well, so perhaps the kitchen-sink approach didn’t quite work either. (spoilerish: minotaurs, government agents, folklore witches, elves, orcs, elemental spirits, dragons). Ultimately, not my thing, and I’d recommend a number of his other books before this one.