I get a lot of review books to read these days. Some are good, some are bad, but if I’m being honest, there aren’t that many that are so good that not only do I love them, but that they make the leap from “I enjoyed a free copy of this” to “I would actually buy this for myself.” But J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics really was that good, blowing me away and giving me a truly enjoyable, fun, smart, clever read. Orconomics drew on the tradition of Terry Pratchett to write a satirical novel about the economic bubble, pre-collapse, all in the guise of a fantasy story about a crew of washed-up heroes on a “fetch quest”. (That Orconomics also served as a fantastic riff on RPG’s only made it all the funnier and more enjoyable.) Even better, not only was Orconomics very funny and very exciting, it managed to be genuinely moving and engaging, giving the reader characters that they could truly care about and find themselves invested in.
Now, after four years, we finally have the second volume in The Dark Profit Saga – and it was worth the wait and then some (and also worth me buying it for myself this time). Son of a Liche picks up a few months after the end of Orconomics (it’s all but essential to read Orconomics first; I re-read it in preparation, and was glad I did), and things are bad. Our heroes are largely hated by almost everyone; a necromancer is amassing an army of the dead to assault the most prosperous city on Arth; and that economic collapse is getting more and more likely, as investors find a new way to gamble on policies that are almost guaranteed to fail.
That may sound like a weird disconnect, or like a book that’s too ambitious, and it doesn’t help pre-conceptions that Son of a Liche is nearly double the length of Orconomics. And yet, somehow, Pike makes every bit of the novel work, juggling incredibly inventive action sequences, satisfying fantasy worldbuilding, gleeful silliness, and incisive economic satire, and makes it all work, giving every single aspect of the book time to breathe and the tone it needs to thrive. That’s even more true for Pike’s ability to give his characters development and genuine emotions – the ability to slide from wordplay and RPG trope spoofing to painful, earnest emotional beats is no small thing, and there’s any number of authors who can’t handle those tonal shifts. But Pike makes it look easy, sometimes even sliding in and out of humor in mid-scene, while never detracting from the honest humanity of his characters (even the non-humans, but you get the idea).
So, yes, Son of a Liche genuinely moved me at times – there’s much here about the importance of hope in dark times, or why it matters to do the right thing even when it won’t help the big picture, or why sometimes saving one life is more important than changing the world, and those are lessons we all need at any time, and maybe more so these days. But none of that would matter if Liche wasn’t as exciting, engaging, and as funny as it was. And trust me, this is a legitimately hilarious book, with necromancers running focus groups to better understand how to appeal to their targets, universal laws of irony and bad timing, undead middle managers finding the best spot in the org chart to do nothing, and so much more. Pike peppers his book with silliness and great banter, giving it all a sense of self-awareness and sometimes trenchant observation, while never neglecting his overarching story.
And, oh, that overarching story is outstanding. Like I said, Liche is almost twice as long as Orconomics, but it earns that length and wears it well, never lagging for a moment. There’s a lot more going on here – a tribe of Orcs reeling from the events of Orconomics, a former investment banker coming to terms with his past actions, royal intrigue, and more has been added to the already complex dynamics of our party of heroes, which in turn has grown since the last novel. But Pike juggles it all well, and there’s not really a plot thread that feels underserved nor extraneous. He weaves them all together seamlessly, delivering a genuinely exciting and riveting piece of fantasy that also happens to be very, very funny, and surprisingly heartfelt. Doing any one of those things is hard; doing all of them at once is nearly impossible.
In short, somehow – and I wouldn’t have thought this was possible – Son of a Liche is even better than Orconomics. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s richly detailed, it’s moving, it’s smart, and it’s just plain fun. It’s impossible to go a page without reading something funny, or having a nice character beat, or smiling as Pike demonstrates how good he’s been at building this world and constructing his tapestry. That a book this good is self-published is nearly unheard of to me, and I’ve read a lot of them. If there was any justice, this would be on bookshelves across the country, and fantasy fans would be all rushing to buy this and join in the wait for the third volume in the series. Because let me tell you, Son of a Liche isn’t just “good by self-published standards” or “good by fantasy standards” or even “unexpectedly good” – it’s great, plain and simple, and stands on its own merits as one of the best fantasy series going today. If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett, this is essential reading for you, but even if you’re just a fan of fantasy, read this and fall in love with Pike’s wonderful imagination and style.