Review: Lex Talionis, by R.S.A. Garcia

21806455>>Published: May 2014

>>Finally got around to it: September 2014

“You’ve remembered everything then?”

The laugh that escaped her was both soft and bitter and hesaw a muscle tic in her jaw. “Everything, yes. And you know what they say. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” Her breath caught for a moment, as if in the wake of a sharp pain. When she spoke again, for the first time, she sounded her age. “I had just turned eighteen when they took me. My birthday was three nights earlier. I was still a virgin when they raped me.”

Shocked, Colin could only look at her. Oh, God. How could they do that? What kind of beasts could do that? He wanted to go to her, hold her and tell her that she was safe now, but something stopped him. Something in the way she held herself.

“God. I’m so sorry.”

“I know you mean well, Colin, but it’s my fault. I shouldn’t have trusted anyone. People like me can’t afford that. But I was stupid. I forgot. I wanted to forget.” She paused. “You won’t understand. You don’t know who I am. What I am.”

He said softly, “So tell me.”

The expression on her face when she turned to him grabbed at his chest like a fist. Her calmness was terrible to look at, difficult to comprehend.

“My name,” she said, in a voice that never wavered, “is Shalon Conway. I am the daughter of Jason and Falon Conway and heir to Conway Enterprises. Gilene Conway is my aunt—and the woman who murdered my parents.”

 ***

The debut novel from author R.S.A. Garcia tells the story of a young woman who is happened upon in an alley after having been brutally raped and left for dead. She is taken to a PortCity hospital on Serron, where thanks to the skill of physician Colin Mayfeld and an unexpected alien ally called Oux, she survives. However, she remembers little of who she was or how and why she was attacked—the answers to which form the crux of Lex Talionis’s narrative.

Lex, as she is dubbed (until such time as her memory returns), is an enigma: despite suffering multiple broken bones and lacerated organs—not to mention the revelation that it was not one man who raped her but five—it isn’t long before she summons the strength to get out of bed on her own. She also shows a warrior’s aptitude for combat and can speak a number of different languages; it soon becomes clear to Colin, and to those others helping and/or suspicious of Lex, that she is not entirely human.

Lex is an interesting character, though her DNA has definite shades of River Tam from Firefly. That being said, she’s a strong protagonist, and my interest in her fate is what kept me reading long after the story had lost its initial appeal—the mystery and investigation into what happened to her and why.

While I remained entertained throughout, Lex Talionis is not without its share of problems—some small, some glaring. I noted a number of minor grammatical hitches throughout—problems with hyphenation more than anything. The larger problems, however, have to do with character, tone, and structure.

I mentioned Lex was an intriguing character, but she’s also the only intriguing character. The rest? They’re cut-outs—two dimensional characters who exist to either propel the plot (Chris), to fall inexplicably and creepily in love with the just recently horribly raped and abused girl who looks only a little past eighteen (Colin), or to be moustache twirling caricatures of villainy (the troopers). A few of the characters seem interesting, but feel underutilized in the story—for example, I found myself wanting far more of Anton and his potentially troubled relationship with Troi. Most underutilized, though, is the villain, Gilene Conway, who we’re told is “the worst of a bad lot,” yet remains off the page and in the shadows and thus feels intangible and never that much of a threat—it’s all tell and no show.

With regards to tone, the book feels a bit at odds with its own identity. For example, it imagines a far-reaching set of worlds, some of which feel quite authentic (the detail of the Desolation in particular was excellent), but then resorts to boilerplate sci-fi language and nomenclature, with lots of vaguely named places like the Assembly, the Facility, the Program, the Outsiders, and phrases such as “Then I’ll be up the spacelanes without a hyperdrive.” None of it is offensive or anything like that, but the creativity that’s gone into the creation of the worlds is not matched in the book’s overall language or texture.

But none of these issues were as problematic for me as its structure—namely that there’s a rather large time jump in the middle of the book’s third part. It offers some fairly dramatic character changes and tosses a few unexpected wrinkles into the mix, but everything that’s been skipped feels like stuff I really want to see. It’s possible I will see that material at some point, in a sequel perhaps, but for this novel it felt more confusing than anything. I was left, in the end, feeling as if all the various story threads were merely set-ups for pay-offs still to come; the lack of any sort of closure was frustrating.

As I said above, I enjoyed Lex Talionis for what it was—an initially intriguing popcorn mystery with some excellent action scenes throughout (the author does have a feel for rhythm and motion when it comes to fight scenes). However, I don’t feel I can recommend it on its own, as it simply leaves too much what I feel is essential content for future stories.

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