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Literature / Heroics for Beginners

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Heroics for Beginners is a comic fantasy novel by John Moore, set in his Fractured Fairy Tale 'verse, the Twenty Kingdoms.

Prince Kevin Timberline of Rassendas is smart, charming, and politically savvy. He's also in love with Princess Rebecca of Deserae. But while she reciprocates his feelings, she's determined to make the best marriage for her kingdom. Marrying for love is not a luxury the princess of a small kingdom can afford. Fortunately, Kevin has few serious competitors.

But when Deserae's precious magical artifact (Ancient Artifact Model Seven) is stolen by the Evil Overlord Lord Voltmeter ("He who must be named"), it becomes clear that whoever can rescue the artifact and save the kingdom will win the princess's hand. And, unfortunately for Kevin, his chief rival, the heroic warrior, Prince Logan, looks like the best man for the job.

It's up to Kevin to use his wits (and his copy of The Handbook of Practical Heroics) to save the day before Logan and his army can destroy the Fortress of Doom and win the princess.

Tropes in this work:

  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Played with. The main character thinks back to how he once snuck out of the castle to take his then girlfriend to a small jazz club, only for his father, King Eric the Totally Cool, to show up with his trademark shades and a saxophone so he can jam with the band. As the hero puts it, "parents should not be cooler than their children."
  • And Then What?: Brought up by Rebecca, when she points out that taking over the kingdom would just lead to the other kingdoms invading.
  • Ancient Artifact: The crux of Lord Voltmeter's Doomsday Device relies on an Ancient Artifact. No, it's not old. It's just manufactured by the Ancient family, though there's some humor at how Kevin misunderstands this at first. Apparently, they have an entire product line - the one Lord Voltmeter seeks is a Model Seven, though there are newer ones available that would likely be just as effective, if not moreso. It's just that he can only easily get his hands on the Model Seven.
  • Barbarian Hero: Thunk the Barbarian, who tries to break into the Fortress of Doom at the beginning of the story, is a classic version bordering on parody. The "bordering" part is because he is notably unsuccessful - true, his actions bring about Voltmeter's downfall, but only in an indirect Almost Dead Guy scenario. And aside from his unanticipated escape, he falls for every one of Voltmeter's traps.
  • Chekhov's Gag: It's impossible to leave the Fortress of Doom without going through the gift shop. Thus when Voltmeter tries to escape through a secret passage, the heroes are able to intercept him by heading to the gift shop.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: The evil overlord mentions trying to foreclose the mortgage on an orphanage and chase down puppies to kick because that's how one becomes an evil overlord. This is an interesting case, as the overlord manages to be a stereotypical villain while still being savvy. The only reason he's ultimately defeated is because the hero doesn't use conventional "heroic" methods.
  • Cool Shades: Kevin's father wears a pair of mining glasses, leading to his title of King Eric the Totally Cool.
  • Doomsday Device: The crux of Lord Voltmeter's plan. It oversaturates the air with carbon dioxide, making it impossible to breathe within a given area.
  • Doomy Dooms of Doom: The work uses this repeatedly, including the Fortress of Doom (above the Village of Angst). The gift shop is shown to have the usual merchandise bearing the Fortress of Doom logo.
  • Double Standard: Rebecca brings up that boys should never lie to their girlfriends but it's ok for girls to lie while in a relationship because it strengthens the bonds.
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Each chapter starts with a quote from The Handbook of Practical Heroics that happens to be relevant to the events of the chapter.
  • Engagement Challenge: One springs up unexpectedly when the Ancient Artifact Model Seven is stolen by Lord Voltmeter. It immediately becomes clear to everyone that Princess Rebecca's hand must go to the man who retrieves it. There's no other way. Which is a problem for Prince Kevin, since Prince Logan—and his army—is clearly the most qualified man to retrieve the artifact. Kevin has only his copy of The Handbook of Practical Heroics on his side.
  • Epigraph: Before some chapters, and they end with "The Handbook of Practical Heroics by Robert Taylor":
    • The first chapter starts with one from The Handbook of Practical Heroics:
      Before attempting to penetrate the Evil Overlord’s Invincible Fortress, the practical hero will seriously examine the option of maintaining a safe distance and picking him off the ramparts with a long-range weapon.
    • The second chapter's:
      When a wise old sage tells you not to let a magical talisman fall into the wrong hands, take him seriously. Do not laugh it off until the object is stolen and the Forces of Evil are unleashed.
  • Fictional Document: The Handbook of Practical Heroics, which is exactly what it sounds like: a self-help book for wanna-be heroes.
  • Fractured Fairy Tale: Like most of Moore's comic fantasy, the story plays heavily with standard Fairy Tale tropes.
  • King Bob the Nth: Kevin's home kingdom had a King Eric before his father, known as King Eric the Good. For a while, the second Eric worried that since the previous one was Eric the Good, history would assume that he must be Eric the Bad. So he went through quite a bit of effort to be known for something, eventually becoming King Eric the Totally Cool after acquiring some Cool Shades.
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Specifically how Lord Voltmeter has browbeaten the man into work on the Doomsday Device. Unbeknownst to him, she switched to Voltmeter's side, and has been undermining him at every turn.
  • Milking the Giant Cow: The book specifically cites this term:
    He stood in the center of the room, his head thrown back in silent laughter, his arms raised above his head, his fists clenched in that famous, overly dramatic gesture known to theatre students everywhere as "milking the giant cow." Yes, it was hokey and cliched, and Voltmeter knew it, but he loved doing that gesture anyway, the quintessential stance of a man mad with power.
  • The Mole: To everyone's surprise, it's the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: Mentions a villain who succeeded to the throne of a kingdom by slaughtering the rightful ruler, his wife, their children, and so on. The catch was he couldn't get all of the children — even though he'd been wise enough to schedule an assault on every potential heir and his or her family (Every adult member of the royal family had a disturbingly large number of children, and as a result at least one member of each household was able to get away). Amazingly, the villain was savvy enough to not attempt to break it; not because he didn't want the successors dead, but because if he did kill everyone in the necessary age groups — teenagers and under — he'd cripple the country's economy down the road. Instead, he went psychotically paranoid and ended up locking himself in a nigh-inaccessible room.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: With the main character and his love interest; they met and fell in love before her father started looking for a husband for her, and so she intentionally became cold and unpleasant to all other potential suitors to put them off. Mention is also made of another prince whose family refused to let him marry until he was thirty and then betrothed him to a six-year-old girl; ten years later, he is the most envied man on the continent.
  • The Performer King: Prince Kevin thinks back to when he took his then girlfriend to a small jazz club, only for his father King Eric the Totally Cool to show up in his trademark Cool Shades and a saxophone to jam with the band.
    Kevin: Parents should not be cooler than their children.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right: Parodied. The seeress who gives Kevin a warning of doom is amazingly specific; when told to beware a tall man in dark clothes, Kevin complains that it could be anyone - she responds by giving him detail down to the ring on his finger and how he likes his tea and biscuits. A stunned Kevin notes that if she were really that good, she'd be making a fortune on the stock market; her response is to mutter that she needs to check on her investments and leave before the hero can hear more about her financial planning.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Lampshaded and parodied. The hero meets a mysterious fortuneteller, but complains that her prophecies don't rhyme. Exasperated, she whips up a quatrain on the spot (or tries to; she has to send him a message later with the last line).
  • Punny Name: The Evil Overlord is called Lord Voltmeter. It's more of a shallow pun on "Lord Voldemort" than a meaningful name though, since he doesn't have electric powers. He is also referred to as "He Who Must Be Named", furthering the parody. Apparently, it's dangerous to use personal pronouns when referring to him.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Lord Voltmeter has obtained one; true to the trope, he switches sides. Shame about his daughter joining Lord Voltmeter behind his back and sabotaging his efforts. Notably, the Lovely Assistant is furious that she's going to be replaced by someone who lacks the typical The Vamp qualities.
  • Reverse the Polarity: This is Kevin's initial assumption on how to stop the Doomsday Device. He's informed that no, you can't just do that, it wouldn't work... and then the scientist goes on to admit that, yes, all right, in this case that's the plan, but it required a great deal of calculation that he'd worked out earlier.
  • Ruling Family Massacre: The Fortress of Doom was built by an usurper who tried to do this, but while he killed the local duke and his seven siblings, he missed thirty-four of the duke's sons, daughters, nephews and nieces, causing him to go mad with paranoia over the possibility that one of them might lead a rebellion against him. He died from a stress-induced stroke before that happened.
  • Secret Relationship: Kevin and Rebecca have been seeing each other in secret for the past several months. Rebecca's cold reputation is actually a mask she adopted to deter other potential suitors.
  • Shameful Strip: The Big Bad's "Evil Assistant" tears open the captive princess' blouse, on the grounds that exposing a female prisoner's body makes her feel more vulnerable. She's very surprised to encounter a chainmail bra underneath.
  • Shout-Out: Lord Voltmeter ("He who must be named") is a fairly obvious shout-out to Harry Potter.
  • Supervillain Lair: Lord Voltmeter's castle is specifically and insidiously laid out so that the only possible exit requires you to go through the gift shop. This is noted in the narrative.
  • The Trope without a Title: Inverted; the Big Bad, Lord Voltmeter, is referred to as "He Who Must Be Named," as Lord Voltmeter dislikes being referred to by personal pronouns.
  • The Vamp: Specifically what the Lovely Assistant is hired for, and in an unusual twist, she's not interested in men - usually.
  • Virgin Sacrifice: Mention is made of an attempt to perform this. Once the king in question announced that he was going to do this, his subjects promptly had a massive two-week orgy in order to disqualify themselves. Then one of the King's nobles assassinated him while the King's bodyguards were participating in said orgy.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Lovely Assistant is deathly afraid of showing signs of aging. That, coupled with Voltmeter going behind her back to replace her with the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter, who in this case is evil, leads to her switching sides.
  • You Know the One: Parodied. Lord Voltmeter is known as He Who Must Be Named, because Lord Voltmeter dislikes when people use pronouns to refer to Lord Voltmeter.