First published back in August of 2011, already accomplished scriptwriter Joanne Reay’s debut novel ‘Romeo Spikes: Lo’Life Volume One’ formed the first part in the ambitious dark fantasy ‘Lo’Life’ trilogy.

DLS Synopsis:
The world as we know it is not entirely as it seems.  Walking amongst us are the Tormentas; their sole purpose to lure carefully selected victims into committing suicide in order for them to extract the victim’s wasted lifespan to continuously extend their own lives. 

However, a secret age-old sect known as the Sinestra is constantly fighting to protect mankind from the Tormentas.  Amongst the ranks are the Hunters – half-human and half-Tormenta, but sworn to protect humanity at all costs.  Having gained the potential for extended life from the failure to fully extract their lifespan by a Tormenta, these Hunters now follow the Sinestra’s strict orders in exchange for vials of life-giving lifespan.

Lola is one such Hunter.  Having been taken under the wing of the infamous Magisters Machinae - Dali, Lola has become a true force to be reckoned with.  Her fighting abilities have been honed to near-perfection over the years of service as Hunter 101A.  But now she has turned her back on the Sinestra and is following her own cause – taking revenge on all of the Tormenta, outside of the Sinestra’s controlling instructions.

With help from her protective mother-like-figure Fan Fan and the cop Alexis Bianco, Lola is working to uncover more and more of the Tormenta.  But the Sinestra have other plans.  Questions surrounding Lola and Dali’s true motives have been raised behind closed doors.  And so Lord Chancellor Vassago decides that they must put an end to Lola’s self-appointed mission for revenge.  An end that will be implemented by another Hunter – Hunter 666A.

If the Tormentas were to band together, their combined threat would no doubt see the downfall of humankind.  And the Sinestra know that the Mosca is due to rise again soon.  Its never-ending mission to unite the Tormenta, and in doing so, enslave all of humanity for the reaping of their lifespan.  But as the prophecy promises, when the Mosca arises, so will the Moera – a powerful protector to counter the threat of the Mosca.

The truth is hidden out there, in the words, minds and paintings all around them.  From a high-security prison, to a suicide-embracing death metal band, to the many achieves of the Sinestra.  The clues just need to be unearthed and solved.  The pieces slotted together.  And the return of the Mosca uncovered before it is too late...

DLS Review:
Joanne Reay’s first book in the ‘Lo’ Life’ trilogy is certainly an intriguing and imaginatively elaborate affair.  From the outset the reader is pretty much bombarded with a veritable avalanche of intricate complexities, that when knitted together, form the whole backbone of the trilogy.

A wealth of characters are thrust upon the reader en masse, with their individual roles in the progressing storyline vaguely defined in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gesture.  However, the characterisation here is peculiarly weak for such a character rich tale.  Indeed, even the likes of the two principal protagonists (Lola and Bianco) are only loosely sketched out.

Instead of taking a chapter or two to embrace the fantastical elements of the tale, allowing the reader to become suitably accustomed to the various laws and complexities of the storyline, Reay instead simply charges on with the an almost maniacal compulsion to confuse, baffle and mystify the reader.

Yes there’s a lot in the novel’s structure, and yes it takes some effort to keep track of who’s who and what’s what.  However, once much of the tale starts to come together, and the reader can take a minute or two to breathe amongst the ensuing mayhem, the tale can become quite rewarding.

The creatively surreal mix of mysterious puzzle-solving mixed with modern-day dark fantasy creates this strangely intriguing beast.  It’s like throwing Clive Barker’s ‘The Great And Secret Show’ (1989) in a blender with Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2003) alongside David Wellington’s ‘13 Bullets’ (2007) and Sarah Pinborough’s ‘A Matter Of Blood’ (2010).  Furthermore, throw in a cross between Niklas “Ghoul” Kvardorth and a hefty helping of character traits from a paint-by-numbers Poppy Z Brite novel, and you’ve got yourself something closely resembling the character of Hash-Tu from the suicide-embracing death metal outfit ‘Stork’ that flitter through the novel. It’s puzzling and surreal as much as it is daunting and elaborate.

There’s just always so much going on in the tale, with so many sub-plots, threads branching off here-there-and-everywhere, and a multitude of wildly-exaggerated characters thrown into the hazy mix.  It’s a head-spinner alright!  And it’ll take you a good two-thirds of the novel to truly get to grips with the plot, the characters, the premise and what the hell it all has to do with the old fella sitting on death row.

Sadly the action itself is a bit too tame and standoffish.  This is a hell of a shame, with so much potential for really getting stuck into some fast-paced thrills to break up of the overall chaos of the plot.  However, when the storyline heats up, so the writing becomes more skittish than anything else; stumbling through the scenes of excitement with little more than a passing glance at the action.

This first instalment into the trilogy does however wrap itself up extremely well, with a sudden rush of an adrenaline-soaked finale that keeps you glued to the book for the final thirty-or-so pages.  Many of the annoying questions that have been lurking at the back of the reader’s mind throughout the novel are suddenly addressed and answered, and a tantalising setup for the continuation into the next book is thrown down before the final curtain is drawn.

All in all, ‘Romeo Spikes’ is a bit of a mixed bag.  I can’t say for certain that I one-hundred-per cent enjoyed slugging through the elaborate layers and intricacies of the tale.  The characters are all in desperate need of fleshing out, with more attention needed to the actual telling of the story, rather than desperately trying to get all of the different aspects crammed into the constantly moving storyline.  That said, with a little (and only a little) persistence from the reader, the novel can be quite rewarding, with plenty of potential for the next two novels to really get stuck into this imaginatively-dark twist on our world.

The novel runs for a total of 405 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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