Petra James (text), and A. Yi (illustrator), Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes #1), Walker Books Australia, April 2019, 240 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760650834
This is the first in an exciting new adventure series for younger readers. A healthy 240 pages, sprinkled with asides, jokes, tips, diagrams, quizzes and illustrations, the story builds over the first few chapters to a cracking mystery and an interesting cast of characters, both heroes and villains.
The hapless hero herself, Henrie, tells the story of being taken from her family at birth by her aunt Ellie who feared for the baby’s future. Her father’s family represent old style tradition and four generations of a successful investigation service and hero training school, strangely based on the concept that only boys can inherit the trade. But Henrie knows very little of this as her aunt waits for the right time to share more. Henrie thinks, at almost 12, it is time she knew more, and events conspire to offer her an opportunity that she cannot refuse to find out the truth by means of an unexpected journey.
This is where things get really interesting and start to move fast. Petra James has hit a sweet spot that will attract young readers – a funny and self-deprecating narrator, lots of jokes, an appealing sidekick, and a fast moving mystery. But she has topped all this with an intelligent story told in appropriately sophisticated language. Here is an example (and note that there are no traumatic or unnatural deaths in the book):
DEAD. There’s no way around that. It’s a lump of a word, dragging everything down with it. Now, it was echoing all around me, in the crackle of the fire and the hiss of the flames. And in the silence swinging between us.
Henrie and her friend and helper, a boy called Alex, are smart, quick thinkers and complement each other when in the thick of it. I look forward to their further adventures, many opportunities for which have been foreshadowed in this first episode.
Reviewed by Marita Thompson