Lex Trent versus the Gods by Alex Bell

Lex Trent leads a double life: to all outward appearances the self-assured young man is a law student and interns with a respectable law firm during the day, but at night he becomes the Shadowman, a notorious thief and burglar who has pulled off some incredible heists, partly thanks to help from the goddess of Luck.

Unfortunately Lex gets caught during one of his burglaries early on in Lex Trent versus the Gods. Forced to go on the run and pursued by his former employer, he prepares to leave town and start over elsewhere, when suddenly he is recruited by Lady Luck to become a participant in The Games, a set of contests organized by the Gods. The playing pieces are, naturally, human beings: if you refuse to play, you get turned into an actual chess piece, so most people just end up taking their chances. The stakes are fame and wealth, which is irresistible to Lex, but as soon as things get started, he learns that the situation is more complex and more personal than he expected…

Lex Trent versus the Gods is the first novel in the Lex Trent series, as well as the first YA novel by author Alex Bell. I haven’t read the two fantasy novels she wrote before the Lex Trent series, and based on this novel, I unfortunately have no desire to do so. Lex Trent versus the Gods has a few redeeming qualities that may make it palatable for readers on the younger end of the YA scale, but it also has so many problems that I truly had to struggle to make it through the end.

The main issue, which jumps out at the reader from the very first page, is the poor quality of Bell’s writing in this novel. Run-on sentences appear with disturbing frequency, almost on every page. Here’s an example of a double run-on sentence (which is something I’d never really encountered in a professionally published work): “His own clothes were damp with sweat from the few minutes that they had been out on deck and he never had liked Heetha’s sun, always doing his best to avoid it and it was even worse at this altitude.” (Chapter Nine, p. 142) This is from a finished copy of the book, by the way, not an uncorrected advance copy.

The other feature of Bell’s prose I found tremendously annoying was her habit of constantly using “for” instead of “because” and “whilst” instead of “while”, e.g. “[…] the lawyers liked Lex for he had a pleasant manner and an open, honest face.” (Chapter One, p.5) and “He needed to lighten the load a little whilst he still could […]” (Chapter Three, p. 32) This wouldn’t be an issue if the rest of the novel was written in a similar style, but almost everything else is simply modern, plain, even chatty prose, which would be perfectly acceptable and even fun to read (aside from all those run-on sentences).  As a result, those few formal-sounding words sound like an inexpert role-player speaking modern English with a few thee’s and thou’s thrown in for effect.

Annoying prose tics aside, the plotting and characterization in Lex Trent versus the Gods are just not up to par compared to some of the high quality YA fantasy being produced nowadays. The only character with any semblance of depth is our anti-hero Lex Trent: a cocky, selfish, annoying brat with very few redeeming qualities. I love stories featuring anti-heroes, but there needs to be some depth, some justification, something to connect to for the reader. Despite his family background story, Lex never really gains the complexity needed to be a true anti-hero and instead just remains an annoying, selfish kid with a over-sized ego. As for the rest of the cast, it’s so thin that most of them verge on caricatures.

Plotting is breezy at best. Your ability to suspend disbelief at some of the ridiculous coincidences Bell uses to keep the story going will be sorely stretched. Some characters, even gods, suddenly turn inexplicably dim-witted when there’s some ruse that has to work for the plot to progress. Oh, and Lex has a twin brother – can you guess how he’ll be used in the story? Your first guess is probably right.

So, unfortunately there’s really not much to recommend here. Lex Trent versus the Gods has a few positive qualities: it’s fast-paced, for one. It’s got a few little surprising magical items that I hadn’t seen before. There’s a case of seafood poisoning that’s really unique. And, thank goodness, it’s mercifully short.

Aside from those few bright spots, Lex Trent versus the Gods didn’t work for me at all. I realize I may be overly critical of some aspects, given that this novel is aimed at a younger audience, but comparing it to some of the original, well-written YA novels I’ve read lately, this book is simply not even close to the same level of quality.

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