Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Book Review: Lex Trent Versus The Gods by Alex Bell

[Buy this book on
Amazon in the UK]

"Law student Lex Trent’s world is inhabited by fearsome magicians, ageing 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."


Lex Trent Versus The Gods marks the YA debut of young British author Alex Bell, and her third published novel, all told. Informed in large part by her time as a law student, the first of what promises to be a hugely entertaining series centered around the titular farmhand-turned-adventurer manages to pull off an incredible feat indeed: believe it or not, it makes both the legal profession and the ditchwater-dull systems which underpin it... fun!

Initially, Lex isn't an easy character to sympathise with. As smug and self-satisfied as they come, he's done some truly awful things in his short life - abandoning his once-beloved grandfather to a terrible wasting disease Bell calls the soulless wake foremost among them - and if indeed he feels any remorse over his actions, he isn't quick to show it. Since escaping the pressures of his troubled family two years before the start of the story, in fact, Lex has made quite a name for himself as The Shadowman, a prolific conman and thief.

Of course, cheaters never prosper - or do they? In any event, Lex's luck finally runs out when a museum robbery goes woefully wrong and he's taken into custody by the police. When the opportunity presents itself, however, and it doesn't take long, he easily escapes the long arm of the law - and just like that, Lex on the run once again. By all rights, it seems he has something more substantial than luck on his side... and in Bell's well-wrought fantasy world, where Gods walk among men and the Globe has been split neatly into two halves joined by a great axle of ladders, he does.

Lex Trent Versus The Gods has, at its heart, a series of three trials that Lex finds himself competing in; much, I might add, to his own excitement. With a harassed lawyer by the name of Mr. Schmidt as his unlikely assistant, Lex is hand-picked by the Goddess of Fortune herself to play a dangerous game the deities of the Lands Beneath have conceived, the better to entertain themselves... or else be turned into a life-sized chess-piece likeness of himself. At the end of the day, there's really no question that Lex will play the game for Lady Luck. The only question is whether or not he'll survive it.

Bell's first novel for young adults speeds along like an enchanter's ship with a high, warm wind behind its sails. She keeps the pace brisk by ensuring that her characters rarely linger for long in any one place, though glimpses of the myriad locations Lex and his companions flit in and out of over the course of Lex Trent Versus The Gods will leave readers hungering for another opportunity to see the wonderful world Bell has created for her anti-hero to exploit.

There's action in abundance, intrigue to keep you guessing and surprises around every corner; there's wisdom, humour and character everywhere - and there is, latterly, a darker aspect to Lex's adventures, brought to light in several narrative digressions which explain his reasons for abandoning his family. But don't keep your little ones away from Bell's fantastic YA debut on that basis: she treats the thread concerned with the soulless wake with a gentle touch that never threatens to overbear on the more jovial remainder of her novel. In the end, there's something here for every reader to enjoy, be they young, old, or somewhere in the decades of limbo between those two states.

Lex Trent Versus The Gods sets an admirably high standard for all-ages fantasy. Fast-paced and full of wit and insight, Alex Bell's first YA effort makes the dullest things fun and sets the scene for another adventure that I can only hope is the equal of this cracking yarn.


Lex Trent Versus The Gods
by Alex Bell
February 2010, Headline: London

[Buy this book on
Amazon in the UK]

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