One thing I’ve developed over the past couple of years is a healthy appreciation for the absurd. I liken it to making daily decisions to laugh rather than cry at the crazy things that can make life seem unfair and random. Shall I get upset? Or should I just chuckle wryly and tell myself that ‘this too shall pass?’ So I decide to laugh, enjoy the ridiculous, and to try and take every situation as it comes.
But honestly? Sometimes things do hurt, sometimes I do cry, and sometimes I need a nudge (or a huge push) to figure out what could be funny when it all seems to be going wrong. That’s where I bring in what I call ‘absurd humor fiction.’ Not very scientific-sounding, but it does the trick. What does it mean? There are books out there full of prose so ridiculous, so outlandish, so fantastic, that they make my reality fade a bit into the background. And when I’ve had my fill and enjoyed my escape, going back to that tough situation isn’t so hard any more.
I’ve needed that absurdity in my life at various times, and many authors capture the tone and nonsense of it very well. Some of my favorites are: Neil Gaiman (Good Omens is a perfect example – it’s so very blasphemous and ridiculous and…silly! It does the body good), Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Patricia C. Wrede (in her Dealing with Dragons series), Diana Wynne Jones (in everything she writes) and most recently Alex Bell’s Lex Trent Versus the Gods.
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.’ He 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 does…and he’s got a lot of experience in cheating.
Lex Trent is a CHARACTER. He doesn’t have any morals to speak of, and he’s devious, funny, clever and conniving. In short, not very lovable, but eminently entertaining. Put him in the midst of a world that doesn’t make (traditional) sense, and you’ve got the recipe for some very interesting fiction. This book was absolutely genius in parts. And it also lagged in parts. But I'd say the good outweighed the rest at least two-to-one.
The parts that were genius were several: the original characterization of Lex, for example. His undiluted thirst for adventure above all else. His resourcefulness, his ability to ‘pull all the facts together and come up with a brilliant solution.’ Another plus: the world-building. The space ladders! I could picture them in my mind. And all of the other zany bits that combined to make this tale silly, unbelievable fun.
I did have a couple of points I was not satisfied on (sad face). I wanted even more ruthlessness in Lex. As the story went on he was unfolded and unpacked a bit – his background explained, his past experiences added to make him more human. I didn’t want that. I wanted him to remain almost sociopathic in his selfishness and adventurousness. Does that make sense? I wanted him to be consistently bizarre.
And despite the marvelous set-up of the world Lex inhabits, I would ask for more showing, and more description by way of conversation. Less telling or narration, as it were. But these are pretty inconsequential things, and could be classified as wants rather than needs. Overall, the story was vastly entertaining, Lex Trent was an anti-hero extraordinaire, and I hope for further stories of his adventures and shenanigans in the future.
I’d recommend this book to those with an appreciation for adventure, absurd humor, fantastic fiction, fictional thievery, and grand con games on a worldwide scale. It’s marvelous fun! If you'd like, check out The Book Smugglers' take on Lex Trent, and also a review at Bart's Bookshelf (from whom I won my copy in a contest!).