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Billy, Don’t Be a Hero

Tarnish, by J.D. Brink: never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Billy, Don’t Be a Hero

BOOK REPORT for Tarnish by J.D. Brink

Cover Story: Silverskinned Hunk
Drinking Buddy: Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Bill
Testosterone Level: I Ain't As Good as I Once Was
Talky Talk: Stoneass
Bonus Factors: Storytelling, War is Hell
Bromance Status: The Old Gang

Cover Story: Silverskinned Hunk

Silver skin and golden hair...that's just weird. But he's totally one of the main characters, so props for actually having cover art that's NOT interchangeable.

The Deal:

Imagine, if you will, a world similar to Middle Earth, but not so complicated. A world of wandering heroes, gods, monsters, swords and magic. And yet with a slightly modern tone, where steam power and firearms are in their infancy.

Gone are the heroic days of the war. Days when giants like Gregor the Golden, Trevor the Red, and Ian the Black scoured the countryside, doing mighty deeds and drinking beer. Things have calmed down considerably. Gregor is dead, Ian now works as a blacksmith in the town of Redfield, and Trevor runs the local bar, spinning tales of the Three Colors.

But not all is peaceful. Strange things are happening in the swamps outside of town. Weird creatures are slipping into Redfield. A scarecrow comes to life in the most disturbing way imaginable. A mysterious shadowy man is spotted lumbering around at night. We need a hero!

Anyone? Anyone?

Trevor and Ian are feeling their age. But Ian's son Billy is anxious to follow the family tradition. He's not as strong as Ian, but he's just as brave. He's not as tough as his father, but maybe a little smarter.

Armed with Ian's spear and Trevor's sword, he sets out to recruit other warriors to save the town.

Drinking Buddy: Don't Take Your Guns to Town, Bill

Billy decides that now would be a good chance to stop being boring old Billy Cole, the farmhand, and reinvent himself as Wil Thunderstrike, adventurer!

On his first night out of town, robbers steal his horse. When he makes it to the next village, still spooked by the scarecrow incident, he violently attacks what turns out to be a festival decoration. He earns a small fortune working as a guard, then loses most of it during a painful lesson in gambling. He finds out the hard way what a hangover is.

Now Billy is no stupid oaf, and he takes these life lessons to heart. And he's pretty charming, able to wrangle up a free meal with his storytelling, and an occasional kiss from a local girl. And he's the first one to step in if it looks like someone is being bullied. He's going to be a hero one day. It's just going to take a couple more black eyes and a night in the Fellwater drunk tank to get there.

Testosterone Level: I Ain't As Good as I Once Was

Meanwhile, back in Redfield, the mysterious goings on are getting worse. Trevor, who has built himself up as a hero for all these years, is suddenly confronted with the fact that he's not a young man anymore. And the younger folk aren't exactly eager to join the new militia and go trudging off into the swamp.

But the town is not ready to cower in fear while Billy does all the work. They're going to face this foe, whatever the hell it is.

When goblins raid the home of the Widow Knox and her daughter-in-law, the other Widow Knox, it's the women to fend off the attack with household items. Meanwhile Trevor and Brother Fabien, the local minister, are ashamed of their fear.

Not of the goblins, but of being too scared to ask the widows out on a date.

Talky Talk: Stoneass

When Picklebriar, a rival storyteller, comes to town, Trevor accuses his characters of being Stoneasses: guys so unbelievably amazing that you never believe they can be defeated. His chief hero, Leon Shimmerskin, is practically immortal. Trevor is unimpressed.

That's why I like this book. There's not a Stoneass to be found. Every character is a nine-foot-tall god, trapped in the body of a bumbling coward. While not all of them rise to the occasion, they don't exactly flee from it either.

Bonus Factor: Storytelling

A good third of this book is stories told by Trevor, Billy, and Picklebriar. Each of them knows how to work a house, how to play to the audience, how to spin a tale so the crowd will be begging for more (and buying rounds for the storyteller). And since they all freely admit their stories are pure BS, the reader doesn't have to take notes, worrying that they'll be expected to remember all these names later.

Bonus Factor: War is Hell

Billy eventually falls in with a group of warriors who are willing to help Redfield, if he'll go on a quest with him. All fine and good. But suddenly, adventuring isn't at all like in Trevor's stories. It may be noble to break up a gang of thieves, but what if that means betraying the cute little pickpocket who gave him his first kiss? And maybe bringing down a corrupt nobleman is a good cause, but is Billy--excuse me, Wil--prepared to kill his guards? His sailors? His cook?

Suddenly, being plain ol' Billy doesn't seem so bad anymore.

Bromance Status: The Old Gang

The book makes me nostalgic for the days I was fighting with the Zapatistas down in Mexico...Subcomandante Marcos and I were like brothers. It totally happened the way I remember it...just like Trevor's stories.

Brian Katcher's photo About the Author: Brian Katcher wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.