Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book you meant to read in 2022
The Narrative, by Katherine Vick
Katherine Vick's Plot Bandits series has a premise similar to John Scalzi's Redshirts. The inhabitants of this magical fantasy world are required to act out heroic quests in the service of The Narrative. In the first book, The Disposables, a peasant named Fodder decides he's tired of getting chopped to pieces in battles (even if the pixies always put them back together afterwards). Fodder wants to be a hero, and doesn't see why the nobility always get that job. His friend Flirt is tired of always playing the barmaid; she wants to be a warrior. Along with another Disposable, Shoulders, they decide to sabotage the current quest and take over the story. They recruit one of the nobles, the misnamed Prince Dullard, and kidnap the equally misnamed Princess Pleasance.
The third book has three storylines going on, as the characters have split up to elude their opponents. My favorite parts are with Prince Dullard. His plain looks have kept him in minor roles in the quests, but instead of sulking about it, he's devoted himself to learning science, cataloguing flora & fauna, learning useful crafts like blacksmithing, and befriending the local AFC (Assorted Freakish Creatures). Despite herself, Pleasance is starting to like him.
Meanwhile, Fodder keeps messing with the Narrative. When the heroes try to consult with a magical guardian spirit, they're told that "He buggered off" with a mid-afterlife crisis, and his replacement gives ridiculous advice. (It helps that the Narrative sections are in fancy font, every sentence dripping with importance.) And Flirt and Shoulders get captured, but Narrative conventions require that the guards be inattentive and the keys conveniently placed. I should note that Shoulders lost his head (literally) in a previous book, and his head is quite grumpy at having to be carried around all the time.
The book is a hilarious sendup of heroic epic fantasy. It ends on three cliffhangers, but the next book is supposed to be the final one. Hopefully Shoulders will get his head reattached somewhere before the end.