The battle between good and evil is so familiar to us in fiction that we don’t often think to question it. Nobody doubts the evil of an empire garbed in black, or a super villain who looks like the devil and wants to control the world, but if good versus evil is an idea that’s simple and clear, J.M. Frey seeks to muddy the waters. In Hero is a Four Letter Word, Frey walks the boundary line between hero and villain with three fresh and inventive short stories.
[Full disclosure, I received a review copy of this short story collection from Story Cartel in return for an unbiased review.]
As always, please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. If you’re interested in buying the books, please consider clicking on them! They help keep the lights on.
“The Once and Now-ish King” begins when the reincarnated soul of King Arthur realizes that he’s a baby now. Despite having the mind of the adult that he was when he died, he’s trapped in a baby’s body and at the mercy of his parents.
Continuing with mythology, “Just A Four Letter Word” explores the legend of Tam Lin and what happens when fairy tales collide with reality. Jennet lives alone in her family’s house after her father dies and works to convert her family home into an inn as a last ditch attempt to save it. The last thing that Jennet needs is a strange young man sniffing around the woods behind her house who seems to be attracted to her, but the fates have other ideas.
With the onslaught of superhero focused media lately, “The Maddening Science” seems more timely than ever. In order to save the life of a woman who’s been shot, a reformed supervillain will need to commit a crime. Should he just let her die? He could stay free if she died, hidden away from the world that hated him so much, and continue to live his life as he always had. Or he could save her, and turn his life upside down in the process.
I was pleasantly surprised when I finished Hero is a Four Letter Word. The stories never overstayed their welcome, but their universes were rich enough that I could have read a novel of each story. While I had picked up the novel expecting the battling of villains and the epic struggle of the good against the bad, each story could boil down to defining boundaries and consent.
Where does the boundary lie between duty for one’s family and self-preservation? Does it matter if bad things happen with the best of intentions? If saving yourself means irrevocably changing the life of another, where do you draw the line?
Delighting in the murkiness of the waters that we brave each and every day, J.M. Frey creates worlds where the answer to those questions aren’t necessarily easy or ones that we might agree with. The benefit of distance allows us to make the judgments that we might not be able to otherwise.
Well-written and carefully conceived, these narratives are perfect for both for people who are looking for a good story and who don’t need everything neatly tied into a bow. What should be despicable can seem reasonable and what should feel triumphant can be marred by the knowledge of what came before.
Do you have any suggestions or are there things you think I’ve missed? Leave a comment below. Or if you want more posts like this? Sign up today and never miss a post!