ARC Review: Starter Villain by John Scalzi

Sadly, this doesn’t have a cover yet, but I’ll update this post once the cover is revealed.

Book: Starter Villain

Author: John Scalzi

Pages: 272

Source: NetGalley

Publisher: Tor Books

Genre: Sci-fi

Publication Date: September 19, 2023

Goodreads Summary:

Following the bestselling The Kaiju Preservation Society, John Scalzi returns with Starter Villain, another unique sci-fi caper set in the strangest of all worlds, present-day Earth.

Inheriting your mysterious uncle’s supervillain business is more complicated than you might imagine.

Sure, there are the things you’d expect. The undersea volcano lairs. The minions. The plots to take over the world. The international networks of rivals who want you dead.

Much harder to get used to…are the sentient, language-using, computer-savvy cats.

And the fact that in the overall organization, they’re management…

My Review:

I received an advanced reader’s copy of Starter Villain by John Scalzi from Tor Books via NetGalley.  Thank you, Tor!

In John Scalzi’s newest book, Starter Villain, Charlie Fitzer has had better days.  He used to be a successful business journalist living a comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago.  That was before the Covid pandemic caused the near-collapse of the journalism industry which resulted in Charlie getting laid-off.  This in turn lead to his wife divorcing him, and with no job, no wife, and a sick father to care for, he decided to move back into his family home.  Now, his dad is gone, and he’s barely making ends-meet as a substitute teacher while fighting his siblings’ desire to sell their father’s house.  This is a problem because, you know, he’s currently living in it.

It is with these thoughts swirling in his head over breakfast one morning that Charlie hears an interesting CNN report.  Jake Baldwin, Charlie’s billionaire uncle he hasn’t seen since he was five years old, has died.  He remarks to his cat, Hera, how frustrated the news anchors seemed to be unable to give much of a report on his reclusive Uncle Jake’s life and doesn’t think much else about it.  That is, until he is asked to represent the family at Jake’s funeral.  Charlie soon discovers there was a lot more to his Uncle Jake than he ever realized.  He is quickly drawn into a world he thought only existed in James Bond movies, and it’s up to him whether he sinks or swims.

John Scalzi has a gift for taking the hilarious and ridiculous parts of a somewhat realistic story and running with them.  For example, let’s talk about the cats in this book.  First of all, I don’t consider this a huge spoiler since they’re mentioned right in the book’s description, but there are cats in this story that are intelligent enough to use computers and own property through shell real estate companies.  If you think about it, this isn’t all that far-fetched.  After all, some cats and dogs have been trained to use sound boards to let their owners know what they want.  This could just be the next step, and it’s the perfect example of Scalzi using something plausible and building it into something hilarious in the story.

The cats, along with some other intelligent animals I won’t reveal, actually turn out to be integral to the story.  To me, this just adds to the immersion.  It shouldn’t feel realistic to have intelligent cats, but it does!  It actually adds credence to the world Scalzi is trying to build and get the reader to buy into.  By the end of the book I would not have been surprised to learn some of the events in it were based on reality.

John Scalzi also scatters references to real people, places, and things into the story which adds to the believability as well.  He references James Bond a decent bit because, let’s face it, a group of villains trying to influence world events from behind the façade of legitimate businesses is totally a James Bond plot point.  It’s also something that a lot of people believe really happens.  So, when it’s suggested that the people in the book inspired the James Bond stories, everything just comes full circle in a funny way.

Finally, every time I would think I had this story figured out, Scalzi would throw a wrench (or explosion) into things that completely changed how I thought the story would end up.  Even knowing that I didn’t have the ending anywhere near figured out didn’t keep me from being shocked by the twists it took.  The only thing I see some people taking issue with are the asides Scalzi makes to certain political issues, but they still fit within Charlie’s character.  So, it didn’t throw me off or negatively affect my immersion in the story. This book was definitely the quick, hilarious romp I needed, and I’m so happy I got to read it.  I can’t wait to pick up a finalized copy when it comes out.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I gave Starter Villain by John Scalzi four out of five stars.  This book had me straight up laughing out loud at a few points, but it was still able to convey a believable story.  Charlie isn’t perfect, and everyone in the book has flaws.  However, they are all more believable for those flaws.  I almost felt like I got a peek behind the scenes of real espionage, both corporate and political.  Plus, it has cats.  You can’t go wrong with cats.  If you enjoyed Scalzi’s other work, like The Kaiju Preservation Society, then you will love this book.  I highly recommend giving it a shot!

Have you read any of John Scalzi’s books?  Do you plan to?  Let me know in the comments below!

One thought on “ARC Review: Starter Villain by John Scalzi

  1. Oh yes I have been seeing this around. I’ll admit, I didn’t read too much into the synopsis but I’m loving that the cats are smart enough to use computers 😄. I think the cats will be the main draw for me if I eventually read this 😄

    Liked by 1 person

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