Novellas get an unfair rap for a lack of plot or character development. While it’s true that you won’t get as much depth as a 300 page novel, a 300 pager doesn’t have as much depth as a 13 book series. No one suggests that every book needs an epic string of sequels, so why should every novella be fleshed out into a full length novel? At just 26,000 words, How to Date a Henchman is kind of like a mini pie. It’s a self-contained bite of sweet romance topped with fluffy plot and sprinkled with genuinely funny lines. I also love it about as much a I love pie. Which is a lot.
Gina Hall is a sci-fi loving, martini-drinking, mom-exasperating receptionist at EnClo, who starts our story unbearably bored. She could do her filing, but instead she checks up on the doings of the superheroes in NYC. Canada has passed anti-vigilante laws, so the extraordinary never venture so far north, and she has to make due with stories about Glimmer and his arch enemy Static. That is, until the mysterious owner of the company, Mr. (ahem,) Sparks arrives with his...assistant, Burke. They’re here for a meeting with the scientists on B1, which Gina is required to escort them to due to an insanely convoluted security system.
Mr. Sparks takes off his shoes and scoots about the carpet in his socks, which is totally normal and not at all supervillain behavior. This is especially true when paired with the purpose of the meeting: brains. Nope, nothing weird over here. Gina returns to her desk in time for a courier to arrive for Mr. Sparks. This is fortuitous, as no one knows Mr. Sparks is there or that he owns EnClo. It’s like there’s a certain type of person who shows up whenever eccentric scientists start talking about brains...The courier takes off, the meeting finishes up, and Gina engages in some insta-lust flirting with Burke. From there, the plot follows a basic superhero arc, with some very notable exceptions.
I’m not going to reveal plot details, but everything is a little more grey than your average Superman movie. Plots are hatched, heroes are heroic, and something goes boom, but in between Static, Glimmer, and the extraordinaries in general are given a more realistic bend. In fact, Gina’s probably the least fleshed out character in the bunch, with no real backstory or ambition beyond, “get out of Saskatchewan”. She finds her footing by the end of the story, and while she may not be super, she’s savvy, smart, and willing to see past initial appearances. She also drives an extremely hard bargain.
Burke does suffer from being a somewhat stereotypical romance hero, always a bit stiff and chauvinistic. He’s also super, though not enough to warrant superhero status. Thus, henchmaning and the alpha-male hero tropes you would expect to go with it. Even as it annoyed me that he kept pushing Gina away and behind, I enjoyed his interactions with Static, his expositions on the world, and his grudge against Glimmer. Speaking of Static, he’s the real star of the show. His character was actually laugh out loud funny. In fact, large portions of dialog had to be read, read again, and then read out loud to my husband for their witty skewering of superhero tropes. The parking meters? Genuinely charming, funny stuff.
How to Date a Henchman probably won’t set the world on fire, and it may not be for romance fans who lean towards the more erotic side of the genre, but as a short, fun diversion, you could do a lot worse.