Today Jay and Michelle are doing a Buddy Review of Red Heir by Lisa Henry and Sarah Honey. Check out an overview of the book, as well as their conversation below.
Loth is a pickpocket who has once again found himself in jail. He is surprised when the cell wall comes crashing down and a group claiming to be there to rescue the missing prince of Aguillon appears. The problem for the would-be rescuers is that all they know about the prince is that he is a redhead. With Loth currently sporting dyed red hair, and his cellmate also a redhead, they don’t know who is the real prince. Never one to let an opportunity pass him by, Loth claims to be the prince. Unfortunately, so does his cellmate, a bedraggled young man Loth has dubbed “Grub” for his grimy appearance and annoying attitude. Not knowing what else to do, the rescuers take them both.
The band of rescuers consists of a motley group, including a moron for a leader, along with a dwarf, a giant orc with a tiny dragon, and an anarchist elf. They were hired by a mysterious benefactor who wants the prince returned safely to a city across the country from the jail. Loth figures he can break from the group as they get closer to their destination, but for now, with the guards after them, he is better off continuing to pretend to be the prince and sticking with the group. Along the way, he comes to realize that Grub isn’t as bad as he seems; in fact, once the guy is less grumpy and cleaned up a bit, Loth quite likes the man. But the journey they are undertaking isn’t easy. They face deadly swamps, frequent attacks, and a leader who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag. Not to mention that no one knows what will happen when they make it back to the castle. And Loth can’t quite figure out why he suddenly cares what happens to Grub, and is willing to put himself in danger to help the man. But Loth always finds a way to end up on top, and he will do all he can to make it through the ordeal safely with Grub at his side.
Jay: So we both read Red Heir, and I know we both had some mixed feelings about it. Why don’t we start off with the things we liked? For me, I enjoyed the set up, as well as the road trip vibe (always a go to for me). I thought the “band of adventurers” feel came through nicely and the authors gave us a variety of interesting (and atypical) side characters.
Michelle: I also enjoyed the beginning and seeing how two men who didn’t know each other and were found in the same cell would play out. And also the sense of adventure through unknown lands.
Jay: Right, I found it an interesting set up and one that had me curious to see how it would play out. I thought the mistaken identity with the two potential princes was a fun touch.
Michelle: I wasn’t sure if the authors thought we would be fooled by the mistaken identity. That angle wasn’t clear to me and I will say I struggled through most of this book. Given what this book is, I know I am not the audience for it.
Jay: Hmmm, I assumed that it was supposed to be clear to us as readers that Grub is, in fact, the prince. So I hope that isn’t a spoiler! But I kind of took it as Loth being oblivious, or blind to the fact that someone who looks disheveled, etc could actually be someone important.
Michelle: Loth was difficult for me. I never did warm to him. He was so self absorbed and I never thought he deviated from that, and the animal “jokes” and “bathroom” humor are not for me.
Jay: Yep, I agree. So two issues; let’s start with Loth. I agree that I had trouble warming up to him. Particularly at first, I found him hard to like. He is rude to Grub for seemingly no reason (ok, so Grub has like three different names throughout the book, but it starts with Grub so I’m sticking with that). The constant nasty humor didn’t appeal to me. I mean 800 “you’re a horse fucker” jokes just didn’t endear Loth to me. I don’t mind an arrogant or self absorbed hero if he gets redemption and I do feel like he does over the course of the book. So I found myself warming to Loth somewhat as he stops being so nasty to Grub and they begin to be friends. But I don’t feel like I ever totally fell for him.
Do you have anything else you want to say about Loth? Or should we move on to Grub?
Michelle: We can move on.
Jay: OK, so now let’s talk about Grub (aka the prince, as we already noted). I think he is the more likable of the two characters. Certainly a more noble and kind person. So I liked him in general, but I didn’t feel like we really get to know him. I think part of it is that he is supposed to remain a mystery to us (and Loth) and since we are only in Loth’s POV, we don’t get into Grub’s head. But I felt like we don’t get to know much of his character beyond “generally a good guy.” Did you feel differently?
Michelle: I felt the same. Grub has clearly had a rough time for many years. He’s in rough shape, but he still tries to be nice and cordial and there was not much depth to him.
Jay: Ok, so we touched on this a bit already, but I think the biggest issue I had with this story is that the humor was not a match for me. I have loved many of Lisa Henry’s more comedic works in the past, so I was expecting to enjoy this too. But I found the humor not to my taste. It’s a lot of bathroom humor and the aforementioned “horse fucker” jokes and people who are over-the-top inept, like their “leader” Scott.
Michelle: This was my biggest struggle with the book. The humor, which is what makes up the book, is not my taste. Minus the sexual content, it was grade school humor. Much of it was characters, mostly Loth, trying to embarrass people with juvenile humor. And also the side characters–I didn’t find it funny to purposely make the characters look so over-the-top incompetent at every turn.
Jay: Yes, agreed. I feel like it detracted from the sense of the adventure and sort of “epic quest” vibe that the book could have had by making them all so bumbling. Scott (their “leader”) in particular. I get he was being played for laughs, but I never understood why they even tolerated him. There is a point where it becomes clear that he has no idea who their benefactor is (thus he is not useful anymore for ensuring they get paid). After that point, it made no sense to me why they let him still take over when he was absurdly incompetent. I needed more plot justification, not just because it was “funny” to have him be a moron.
Michelle: The side characters seemed randomly put together to me. I never did get a sense of the world or how they all came together.
Jay: Yes, so that brings me to my last issue, and that is lack of world building. We don’t get a feel for how this band of rescuers got together (or would ever have even met). But even more, we never get any real explanation of ANY of the politics behind this whole thing. Grub is put in jail because his uncle wants the throne. And his uncle killed Grub’s family, but spared him for some unknown reason and put him in jail instead. That feels like literally all we know. What is the political situation in the country? Why is Grub spared when he could show up and try to claim the throne (other than it makes the story work)? We get essentially zero information on anything that has happened in the past prior to the group showing up to rescue the prince. I kept waiting (and waiting) for Grub to fill us in, particularly once Loth realizes that Grub is the prince, and we never get that information. I get that this is supposed to be a light story, but there is a foundation that I needed that we never get.
Michelle: Exactly. By the end I didn’t feel I had any more knowledge of the world they lived in. Mostly it felt chaotic and disjointed and unoriginal to me.
Jay: And even aside from the big picture politics and backstory of why Grub is jailed and what is going on in the kingdom, I felt there were a lot of details that didn’t make sense. My biggest was the idea that Loth never even considers that Grub is the prince. I mean, this group breaks into the jail looking to rescue a redheaded prince who has been in prison for years. Grub is a redhead, in the same cell as Loth, who has been in prison for years. He even SAYS he is the prince. Why doesn’t it ever occur to Loth that he actually IS the prince (aside from plot convenience)? Even when Loth realizes Grub clearly is upper class and has detailed knowledge of the royal family and life as a prince, it still doesn’t occur to Loth that Grub is the prince. I just felt like I wanted some reasonable explanation for why this supposedly street savvy guy is so clueless about this, but instead it just felt contrived to make the plot work.
Michelle: This is another area that was a poorly handled plot device. And I never did see Loth as savvy, but it was incredibly ridiculous that it never occurred to him who Grub might be. It came off to me that he was so self absorbed he really couldn’t see past his own needs. Which then brings me to the fact that I never did feel the chemistry between the two of them for a long term relationship.
Jay: Yes, I had the same issue. We do see some redemption for Loth, in that he becomes willing to sacrifice himself for Grub, which is very much not his norm. But I didn’t really feel the chemistry either, or the sense of them as long-term partners. Usually with road trip or forced proximity, there is more of a sense of a tight bond forming, but I didn’t really get that here. I just think overall the book was too focused on the humor and attempts at playfulness and so the story and the character development felt shortchanged for me.
Michelle: I knew early on this wasn’t the book for me and then nothing happened to change my mind. The book was counting on the humor to hold it together, but this style of humor doesn’t work for me.
Jay: Yep, agreed. I was disappointed, as I had high hopes for this one, but it just didn’t all come together for me.
Anything else you want to add that we didn’t discuss?
Jay: Yes, I normally don’t like to compare works like this, but since we both noticed it, I think it is worth noting. There were times that this story made me wonder if it had origins in The Princess Bride fan fiction. There were some similarities, which I assumed were intentional. In both cases, we have this band of misfits on an adventure, with wavering loyalties throughout the story. Both groups encounter a notorious, deadly swap that they are the rare ones to survive and that allows them to evade pursuers. And both groups are led by an incompetent leader who thinks himself a genius, and have a skilled swordsman/archer and a giant who is not very smart, but still kind and sweet. I actually pictured Dave looking like Andre the Giant in my head.
Michelle: Yes. Me too. And Dave the giant also kind of reminded me of Tiggy from The Lightning-Struck Heart, which also has a band of misfits on an adventure.
Jay: Yes, there is also a similar joke about “monologuing” in TLSH and “soliloquizing” here.
Let me be totally clear. I am not suggesting the authors copied these works or anything like that. Just pointing out some similar elements.
Ok, so let’s do our ratings. I am going to give it a 3.5. I felt that there is an interesting set up and some fun moments, but overall I had a lot of issues.
Michelle: Based on the juvenile humor and my lack of interest in that I’m at 2.5.
Jay: Got it. Well, I’m sorry our first buddy review ended up being a book neither of us loved, but still fun to chat with you today!
Michelle: I know. Always disappointing when that happens, but so fun to buddy read with you.