Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lex Trent Versus The Gods by Alex Bell

I like inventive YA books that take familiar mythology and twist them to create new worlds and interesting concepts. I like caper stories. I like stories that focus on cocky anti heroes like thieves and conmen. With a list like that I should have been right into Lex Trent Versus The Gods, Alex Bell’s YA debut.

It contains an interesting setting; a world split into two halves, the Lands Above, inhabited by those who are not Gods, and the Lands Below, curiously in an inversion of the regular trope, inhabited by the Gods. It was hard to pin down exactly what time period the author was aiming for, it seemed to shift depending on where the action was. Some settings were medieval in origin and others resembled the 19th century, there was also a mention of action figures and plastic bags, which come from the 20th century, but the rest of the non magical technology was largely pre industrial. The ‘hero’ of the piece is Lex Trent, an insufferably cocky, amazingly lucky thief/conman. In an effort to escape justice and under a powerful enchantment Lex is used as the ‘player’ by his Goddess the Lady Luck, along with his reluctant former employer, the straight laced and highly moral lawyer Mr Schmidt, in a game the Gods play amongst each other for their own amusement using mortals as their pieces.

It’s a cool idea and the setting allows for all sorts of fun; a village of fairy godmothers, a magical hat, an enchanted flying ship, Alex Bell gave her imagination full reign with this one, she mined Greek mythology quite heavily and there were also elements of Paul Stewart’s and Chris Riddell’s Edge Chronicles, especially in the naming of some of the creatures and the idea of the worlds being tethered to each other via a series of ladders.

Given all these elements I should have loved Lex Trent Versus The Gods and should be happily devouring it’s sequel (Lex Trent: Fighting With Fire) by now. Why didn’t this happen? Mainly because of Lex himself. The character is a seventeen year old thief/conman, somewhat in the mould of a young Locke Lamora or Raymond Feist’s Jimmy the Hand, but after initially appealing to me, he proved to not have the charm of the other two, and I couldn’t warm to him. He starts out incredibly cocky and willing to stab anyone in the back to get ahead, and that’s how he ends up. Despite multiple opportunities to change and his greatest strengths (arrogance, duplicity) also being shown up to be his greatest weaknesses, the character never alters and consequently remains rather shallow and one dimensional. I found his unwilling accomplice Mr Schmidt a far more interesting and layered character (now a book about him may be really worth reading). I had hoped Lex may change, but he never did, and seems destined to continue in the same vein in the sequel. Another small nit pick was the lack of a strong female character, aside from Lady Luck, and she doesn’t really classify as a main character, there are remarkably few women in Lex Trent Versus The Gods, it would have been nice to have a female version of Lex to slap him down or best him once or twice. The opportunity was there to do this with Lex’s twin brother, but it wasn’t taken, and Lucius was used as Lex’s whipping boy for most of the book.

I realise I’m not the target audience, but I’ve read YA with more multi layered and far more likeable protagonists in the past, it may be that I’m comparing Lex Trent Versus The Gods unfavourably with my last few reads, which were books that grabbed me early on and refused to let me go until I completed them. I was genuinely reluctant to put those books down and kept going back to them every chance I got, I unfortunately didn’t get that with Lex Trent Versus The Gods.

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