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Monday, May 17, 2010

"Lex Trent Versus The Gods" by Alex Bell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Alex Bell Website
Order "Lex Trent Versus The Gods" HERE
Read FBC Review of The Ninth Circle
Read FBC Review of Jasmyn

INTRODUCTION: "Law student Lex Trent’s world is inhabited by fearsome magicians, aging crones and a menagerie of Gods and Goddesses. And while Lex is seemingly dedicated to his legal studies he’s always enjoyed a challenge – which is why he leads a double life as the notorious cat burglar ‘The Shadowman’ who has been (luckily) evading capture for years. But Lex’s luck is about to run out because the Goddess of Fortune has selected him to be her player in the highly dangerous Games. Losing is not an option for Lex (particularly as it so often involves dying) but can he really win each of the perilous rounds? Given that the reward for doing so is money, fame and glory – all things that Lex is quite keen on – he’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure he will... and he’s certainly got good experience of cheating."

I have become a big time fan of
Alex Bell's novels since her debut with The Ninth Circle two years ago, debut that I ordered from The Book Depository based on an excerpt that hooked me. Her second novel in the same vein, Jasmyn was an asap and I remember reading it the moment I got my copy soon after publication and reviewing it immediately which is relatively rare for me since I prefer leaving a little space between reading and reviewing to achieve some perspective.

When I heard about
"Lex Trent Versus The Gods", I was not sure if I would be interested since overall I tend to read little YA and little fantasy humor/superheroes and since the book has no US edition so far, I could not browse it in store to decide. However the early reviews intrigued me enough to consider ordering a copy from the U.K. and I have to say that while lighter and not as big a favorite as the previous two novels, Lex Trent Versus The Gods was still great fun and a read that entertained me and made me laugh out loud quite a few times. As long as you do not take it very seriously of course but just let go and enjoy the ride the author offers here with the flying magical ship on the superb cover as a literal instance.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Lex Trent Versus The Gods" stands at about 350 pages and after starting with a prologue that sets up the universe of "The Lands Above" and "The Lands Below", continues with nineteen named chapters and an epilogue that "foresees" more adventures in this quirky and imaginative world, adventures that this time will be a "get and read asap for me", no more hesitation.
The opening lines of the novel that describe its setting are of the "I want to read this now" kind:

"No one knew the pre­cise date when the Globe had split in half. For many hun­dreds of years the Lands Above and the Lands Be­neath had been noth­ing more than a metaphor­ical, sym­bol­ical di­vide. But then, one day, the Gods de­cid­ed that they had had enough - more than enough, in fact - of their sub­jects com­plain­ing and pes­ter­ing and whin­ing at them day and night. Be­ing the fo­cus of so much wor­ship can be a tir­ing busi­ness. The Gods need­ed some­where that would be qui­et - a place they could call their own. And thus, one fate­ful day, the earth shook and trem­bled and a great split ap­peared right across the cen­ter and then the two halves cracked apart like a gi­ant, cos­mic, galac­tic East­er egg. No one alive to­day could re­mem­ber the Great Di­vide, of course, for it had hap­pened many millenniums ago now. One might think the plan­et had nev­er split in half at all had it not been for the lad­ders . . ."

A standalone fantasy adventure with YA and comic overtones

ANALYSIS: The blurb presented in the Introduction is reasonably accurate except for the "many years" part since Lex has been in Wither City- the legal capital of the Globe - only for about a year after a farm (where else?) upbringing and another year of let's say wandering...

Hungering for adventure and the wide-world, Lex fled the farm in circumstances that are explored later in the novel and when down to his last penny which he decided to gamble in a Game of the Gods, he discovered that it is quite easy to part owners and fat purses in a stadium's excitement.

Lex started his career as conman, gambler and adventurer as a follower of
Jezra the God of Wit and Daring, but chance (!) made him switch to Lady Luck when a con gone wrong, some angry marks chasing him, a rundown building refuge and a Goddess in misery at being abandoned by her last follower and in danger to have all her churches closed who offered him a deal he could not refuse, all led to this change of allegiance.

This little summation of events that occur in the first several pages of the novel show how the description above fails to capture the amazing inventiveness and sense of wonder of the novel. The Gods love interfering in humanity's affairs, magic is real though the magicians - "enchanters" - tend to be a nasty lot with peculiar habits and of course there are the celebrated Games which have quite an interesting format.

Three Gods with his/her own human contestant, each offering a challenge in whatever environment they chose, all recorded live by the mysterious powers of the Gods and shown after suitable editing on crystal globes in stadiums throughout The Lands Above - though increasing lethality led to a little tweak of having a substitute also to backup the main contestant and of course a crazy method to select this substitute and insure his/her willingness to participate, while the contestant usually has a choice of participating or becoming a literal wooden chess piece(!).

"Lex Trent Versus The Gods"
is unabashedly a romp which strongly depends on our willingness to suspend disbelief and go with the flow while marveling at the combination of familiar and weirdness the author throws in.

Portraying Lex as supremely self-confident, charming but very selfish and with a "pull from the hat" solution for each challenge he encounters was a gamble, since if the authorial magic does not work to enchant you, the chances are you will dislike Lex and would love nothing more than to whack his arrogant bottom and wipe out his oh-so superior smirk and the book will fail. However at least for me, this gamble worked out very well and I found myself very entertained by Lex's antiques and by the contrast with his companions' earnestness, while I would turn the pages impatiently to see what new zaniness will be next.

"Lex Trent Versus The Gods" ranks an A from me for its inventiveness and zany fun and I am in for more Lex Trent fun and games as hinted in the epilogue.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

Thank you for this review. I have been looking at this book then not thinking of it again, until I see it. It sounded interesting yet I didn't know why I kept putting it back. It's not that it's YA it just didn't grab me by the synopsis of the book.

This review helped with that. Thank you for helping me learn a little more about the book. I like the idea of the gods and such. So I think I may add this to my list now. Thank you again.

Liviu said...

Thank you for your kind words; the book is much more fun than the blurb indicates

Melissa (My words and pages) said...

You are welcome. I am looking forward to the book now.


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