Hero Is A Four Letter Word: a short story collection by J M Frey

A review by Nalini Haynes

Hero is a four letter word: a map of a city has icons depicting supersHero Is A Four Letter Word features characters and romances of all kinds. Probably the only consistent thread between the stories is that they’re all subversive in one way or another.

Arthur returns in Albion’s hour of greatest need – but not as you might expect.

A dragon-man who looks rather demonic – think Tim Curry in Legend but NAKED – kidnaps a woman crying the night before her wedding.

A siren and a human engage in their eternal dance in a post-apocalyptic world.

A musician faces her final curtain, in a fight with her muse.

A waitress has a crush on a supe.

And more.

Frey and I had a miscommunication on twitter, ending with me leaping at the opportunity to feature her on my podcast. So, of course, to research Frey’s work, she sent me Hero Is A Four Letter Word. (The podcast is now up here and on all good podcasting platforms.)

Nalini vs short stories

My grade six teacher forever impacted my attitudes towards short stories. Short stories must be pithy, pointed, and have a twist.

I confess I haven’t read many short stories since starting DMZ because I tend to put a book – especially an ebook – down after finishing a story or two then forget about it. This is not necessarily a quality judgement; it’s just because IT’S FINISHED. I have to pick it up again to get engaged again so I move on without meaning to. (Wait for it, there’s a point to this apparent digression.)

I was in the middle of moving house when Frey sent me this collection. IT WAS PERFECT. Perfect for my short story preferences and perfect for that time in my life.

I read a story or two, packed up more stuff, took a break from back-breaking work to read some more. Rinse and repeat.

Eventually, I unpacked and organized and took breaks while reading the final few stories. (I can see the floor now, amazing!)

Frey left me wanting more. That collection could have been written for me.

My only criticism: the final story was great, showcasing complexity and conflicted characters, but I would prefer that story to NOT be the last in the collection. Switch it around with one of the others.

Hero Is A Four Letter Word vs minorities

Frey is queer and writes queer representation, from Lesbian to Gay to bi- and poly-relationships. While writing this review I suddenly realized I FORGOT TO ASK HER ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF REPRESENTATION during the podcast interview. Facepalm. Just goes to show that I have “moving brain” and haven’t recovered from 2020 yet. I have asked her to revisit DMZ podcast in the future to expand our discussion.

Suffice to say that Frey’s representation is diverse, non-judgmental or, as they say in the counselling profession, evinces “unconditional positive regard”. Even when the relationship dynamics are unhealthy, as an author she’s not judging.

The verdict

Hero Is A Four Letter Word is a delicious collection of short stories subverting the usual tropes. It’s perfect escapism. If you have a short attention span for whatever reason or simply have to “snack” read instead of feast, or perhaps you have a short commute, this book is a must. I’d be cautious about taking the “just one story before lights out” approach, however, because one story will lead to another. And then the dawn chorus will sound before you know it.

Book details

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
ISBN: 978-1-7753402-3-2
ISBN-ebook: 978-1-7753402-4-9
Publisher: Here There Be
Released: rereleased in an expanded edition in 2020 (something had to go right last year!)
Format: ebook
Category: short stories, spec fic, romance, fantasy, supernatural… all the shiny things in various stories.