Lex Talionis is a well written sci fi novel featuring a strong female protagonist in a harsh, gritty story. The author successfully uses different POVs and even time periods, to create a mystery worth reading. Although there are aliens and metahumans, they aren’t used as a deus ex machina and add to the story in very simple but effective ways. The book is a dense read but a mature protagonist and well built world keep the plot moving at an engaging pace.
Story: A badly beaten and sexually assaulted woman is saved from the streets and ends up in a hospital. She has no memory of how she was abused or who she is. As she spends time in the hospital recovering, a large cast of characters will become involved in her case – from the doctor treating her, hackers, police, government officials, even a circus performer and an alien. The more Lex comes to remember, the more she realizes just how much danger she is in.
The structure of the book is quite unique: the first half deals with Lex recuperating and the reader slowly gaining clues as to who she is and how she ended up in that situation. By the midpoint, her memories are restored and we are thrust into the past, and another life, to see the events and how they led up to that point. Finally, a small section at the end continues with how she deals with the memories and their repercussions.
Although flashbacks, especially one that takes nearly half the book, ordinarily would drag the story down, here this conceit works beautifully. There were many characters in the first half and we get to see how they ended up in the position they are in – not just Lex but quite a few others. At the heart of the story is a megaconglomeration, the ruthless woman running it, and meta humans who escaped laboratories in order to free themselves from enslavement. At the center of all that is Lex – not a metahuman herself but possessing traits beyond an ordinary human.
The story is quite gritty and the rape scenes were tough to read but well written so as not to have shock value. Lex is quite a grounded and strong character; it is during the flashback section that we find out exactly why she has such great skills. Interwoven with Lex’s story in the first half of the book is the saga of a ship operator escaping from some horror stalking his ship and killing the crew. The true origin of the horror and its connection to Lex becomes obvious by the second part.
In all, this is very layered and nuanced sci fi – gritty in a Bladerunner sort of way but with interesting and distinct characters. This is a solid 4 stars for me – to make it 5 stars, I think some of the side characters could have been trimmed to make this leaner.
Reviewed from an ARC.