Forging Hephaestus (Villain’s Code, Book 1), by Drew Hayes

This clever take on super-villains and super-heroes is funny and fast-paced without turning into parody or satire.

The book revolves around Tori Rivas, one of the growing number of metahumans that have been growing in number the past few years. She’s a skilled survivor and thief who has preferred to work by herself. In the process of sneaking into a corporate office, by liquefying like molten lava, she discovers that she’s has raided the headquarters of a guild of super-villains.

This guild has had a tacit agreement with the similar league of super-heroes. The guild can generally operate unharmed as long as members follow a rigid code of behavior. Breaking the code will get you killed. That gives the super-heroes the freedom to squash independent operators who get too violent, and the guild has also been known to wipe out a rogue group.

Tori takes on training as an apprentice to a nearly-retired villain who was one of the most notorious and powerful villains of all time. He staged his death years ago to focus on raising his children. He’s never taken on an apprentice before, but Tori seems especially resourceful and talented and the guild has already dug a basement in his house to serve as her laboratory.

All would be going smoothly but there are those who resent the villain/hero agreement; villains who hate the restrictions of the code and heroes who believe it’s less than heroic to let criminals operate without punishment.

The book is filled with a wonderful variety of good and bad guys. There’s a hero who can manifest fantastic weapons from video games, a barista who can turn sayings into reality by repeating them three times (you want to be very honest when she says “liar, liar, pants on fire”), a southern belle hero with a bullet proof umbrella, and plenty more.

The book takes us through hero and villain training, including the marketing crew that helps with naming heroes through audience testing and designs their costumes as well as planning marketing campaigns to help new heroes make a perfect debut.

The book carries the story along with creative capers, close calls, and a final battle that makes it hard for everyone to know whose side they should be on. Great book and Hayes’ best so far. I’m looking forward to grabbing the next book in the series.