Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism by Joshua S Joseph

Psychological literary fiction


To be a hero is to pick a side. And to pick a side is to declare both a victim and a villain. The problem with the real world is that good and bad are rarely, if ever, clear.


Is Dak Ackerthefifth a praiseworthy hero, as evidenced by his noble intentions? Or is he a contemptible antihero, as evidenced by the repercussions of his actions? In this fictional memoir, Dak struggles with these questions himself as he seeks to delineate the difference between his aspirational self and his true self.

Given his self-proclaimed heroic identity and the fallibility of those in his life, Dak is tormented by decisions around who to save. The aunt who is a contemptible human and lauded philanthropist, or the hostile and vengeful sister? The misogynist boss, or the lover striving to right wrongs at the expense of those closest to her? It seems the only sane voice is that of a mysterious old man full of wisdom and strange gifts, but also the man responsible for the death of Dak's mother.

It takes both growth and great tragedy for Dak to realize the inherent opposition between striving and compassion - and that our greater ambitions are often at odds with our beloved.

Review from “Reader’s Favorite”:
5 Stars

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism is a work of fiction penned in the literary style by Joshua S. Joseph. Written for mature readers due to the presence of some adult language and situations, this thought-provoking novel plays on the themes of existentialism and meaning-making as its storyline plays out. Written in the style of a fictional memoir, we meet our protagonist Dak without any real indication of whether he is the hero of his own story or not and are left to decide that for ourselves based on his self-presentation and the circumstances and actions laid out for us as he undergoes a true crisis of self.

Author Joshua S. Joseph has crafted a fascinating read which brings into question the format of the traditional hero’s quest mythology and asks us to examine both life and literature through different lenses and perspectives. The narrative style presents us with an unreliable figure who is constantly in crisis over his decision-making, and this is both entertaining and frustrating to watch as Dak makes his choices and we sit back helplessly. This makes for really engaging reading and prompts many important questions about the nature of compassion, those we choose to help in our lives, and what our greater ambitions say about us as people. Overall, I would highly recommend Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism to readers who are fans of literary works, narrative fiction, and intelligent plays on duality, human nature, and the wider questions of philosophy around our choices.

Select quotes from the book:

“And between the poles of isolation and interaction, we find battles either with our minds or others’; at the same time, within each is the path to peace, love, joy, and meaning.”

“In a society like ours, today, under our modern values, I think the hero is the villain. The hero is by definition something apart, greater than, unfair in its allocation. And to champion anything or anyone as better, or more deserving - this is today’s blasphemy.”

“To feel isolation among other people is the true torture of the mind and soul. Loneliness in a crowd; alienation amongst one’s own; reclusion without privacy; confinement amidst the happy sounds of people: this is what destroys people.”

“Perhaps we just all feel broken inside, deeply wounded, suffering if silent and composed, and seeing ourselves reflected in the broken other cannot help but inspire compassion.”