For a long time, Wes and Ollie have been able to put their pasts as scouts behind them. And for the last eighteen years, they have focused on raising their daughter, Mica. But now that the local Chieftain demands Wes and Ollie’s services once again, they feel like they have little choice but to obey. For one thing, Mica is nearly fully grown and quite capable of holding down their abode by herself. For another, the chieftain makes it clear that something dangerous is possibly preying upon innocent people in nearby villages. While both Wes and Ollie have engaged in some unsavory behavior in the name of their chieftain, necromancy is still something that both men find deeply unsettling.
When they set off to gather information and hunt the necromancer who is reanimating bodies, Wes and Ollie are stunned to find Mica and her companion, Randy, have been tagging along. Their journey is a slow one and there is plenty of time for Wes and Ollie to come clean about their past–and Mica’s. While they have always served as parental figures for Mica, both Wes and Ollie have kept certain things from her until she was old enough to understand them. Now, the time has come to lead her to the truth of who she is, and just maybe she can help Wes and Ollie learn more about themselves and the committed, but aromantic, relationship they find themselves in.
How Much? has a veneer of steampunk fantasy that is nominally set in 1987 and features the somewhat more robust themes of magical ability and moral ambiguity. To be honest, I could not make much out of this story for several reasons. For one thing, I didn’t think it was very clear what the main “quest” of the story was supposed to be. Ollie and Wes are ostensibly our main characters, but there is rarely a scene where their words, deeds, or actions do not involve or revolve around Mica, their adopted daughter. As a result, I couldn’t tell if Mica was stealing their show, or if Ollie and Wes were only ever supposed to be window dressing for her. Then, it was difficult to keep Ollie and Wes separate as characters, but not for want of descriptors. I clearly understood that Ollie is a three-hundred year-old incubus and his bond with Wes is what has granted Wes more than two hundred years of life he wouldn’t otherwise have had. I know one or both of them are or were “scouts,” whatever that is supposed to be. I know they’re bonded and that is why Ollie doesn’t need sex to sustain himself. I also know that Ollie was originally supposed to assassinate Wes (or maybe it was the other way around). There is no lack of tantalizing detail about this pair. What was troublesome for me is how these tidbits are just inserted into the text, but rarely ever get explained or matter to the actual on-page elements. This effectively made them interesting avatars, but hollow characters.
I also wasn’t fond of the writing style. Much of text suffer from the “pronoun” game. The anaphora felt clumsy and especially when they are pronouns like “he,” it was difficult to know which “he” was being referenced. On the plus side, I do think the casual tone the narration assumes works fairly well with the attempt to build a (nominally) steampunk world with characters who are mythical beings and/or can use magic. I also thought Mica’s voice was clear, at least, if only because she was the emotional teenager angsting over finding out she was adopted and a magical being after she invited herself onto a dangerous mission her guardians were undertaking. But Ollie and Wes, for all their astounding differences, often felt indistinguishable in the prose.
One example of the hard-to-follow writing occurs during literal mud-slinging scene, started when one of the four characters falls as they walk towards an inn for the night:
The mud hit Wes, Wes retailed [sic], and Randy’s spot in the queue was between the two warring sides and–if it’s any consolation, no one hit him with anything. No, as it happens, his desire to get out of the fight got him into a pretty big puddle of mud, so…Wes is just trying to say that it wasn’t their fault that Randy had an impromptu mud bath. His reaching with his powers and heaving was totally unnecessary.
The story as a whole loosely follows a sort of two-fer hero’s journey. Wes and Ollie are trying to find a necromancer, but that thread gets largely subsumed by Mica’s self-discovery. The necromancer thread loosely moves the story along, but apart from serving as a reason to throw the same four characters who share the same living space into an ostensibly dangerous journey traveling from village to village while telling Mica the truth about herself, this find-the-necromancer thing only really comes into play at the very end. Unfortunately, I didn’t really “get” how that thread got resolved other than…well, they found a necromancer?
Personally, the one thread that did make absolute sense to me was the Wes/Ollie relationship. It started off literally decades before the events of the book and both entered into it as a platonic, aromantic, asexual type deal. Wes has since fallen into romantic love with Ollie, but seems unable or unwilling to broach the topic of his changing feelings with Ollie. So for me, the highlight was seeing this thread unfold.
Overall, I was frustrated by the lack of cohesion among the ideas in the story. So many aspects of the characters are just tossed out there with little connection to the other characters and little impact–like Ollie being an incubus when that doesn’t seem to really mean anything. There was also a lack of coherence where the elements of the story build towards, well, anything really. I think of this book like an attempt at a turkey dinner. I picked up this book hungry to read about these cool sounding characters going on a journey and put it down famished because the turkey was still frozen and the oven had yet to heat up.