Finally… I’ve finished my first book from Lex. I have to admit that it took me a while to get through Relentless. Not because it was bad, but because I was distracted. Relentless arrived within the same week as myWii and iPhone. On my way to a gaming marathon or looking for the latest hack, I would pass the damn book and offer it guilty glances. I could imagine my dustyPSP nuzzling the book on it’s binding in a comforting way, offering solace with a “You too, buddy?” I’m sorry I left it so long. It was a good read!
Relentless (the first book of Robin’s Dominion series) opens with boring, chunky Colin, getting off a bus in LA (so pathetic he takes the bus in LA!) and discovering that he is no longer Colin. For some reason, he has switched bodies with a muscular, handsome Grant Burrows, all within the first paragraph of the book. The first 100 pages of Relentless is like getting into a car with a friend drunkenly shifting gears down a darkened highway: you’re off on a fast ride that may or may not be to your liking. Colin/Grant is thrust into dealing with his new identity, his new abilities and his new friends, some of which want to kill him without question. In terms of the whole “new start on life” theme, it is a bit self indulgent, but who wouldn’t want to throw off their current husk for something stronger, faster and sexier? Robin’s writing satisfactorily lets us learn who Colin was, as we go with him discovering who Grant is and who he is to going to be.
The book pulls large from a lot of pop culture cornerstones to keep the story going. I found myself comparing it to themes found in Star Wars (parental issues, mystical powers), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (body switching, paranoia) and even Buckaroo Banzai (shadowy corporations hiding shadowy intent – plus the book was originally printed as a serial). But mostly it takes from The Matrix, due to the religious overtones within that movie. Robin’s 9 to 5 job is a “Catholic Culture” journalist so to compare his book with a movie of similar religious overtones is a no-brainer, but they have so much in common. Much like Neo in The Matrix, Grant has to deal with the “changed world” around him, reluctantly accepting the followers who have been awaiting his arrival for some time, sudden villains with extraordinary powers and his own budding “powers” that stem from the mysterious ring on his finger borne of evil technology. There’s even a shriveled Oracle dispensing vague prophecies towards Grant and the coming challenge he will have to endure. Since Relentless has core plot points accentuated with quotes from the Holy Bible and I’m not that up on Christian (pop?) culture, I am sure I’ve missed other less obvious comparisons. Robin runs a ‘progressive’ Catholic site/blog replete with comic offshoots from his Dominion series and after seeing one of these stories in graphic novel form, I have to admit that Relentless reads a lot better as a comic than a novel. The action is more suited to paneled, visual narration.
Relentless is written in a more looser, somewhat melodramatic style, all the while watching it’s language: the strongest curse word in all of it’s pages is “damn” and the “romantic” moments are brief, somewhat Harlequin-Romance-ish and happen faster than most of the action. There are a couple “roughly he grabbed her heaving shoulders and drew her in” instances that wind up with no kiss. I could compare that with Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene, but that would just be pushing it. It’s an Action Thriller (according to the jacket), so this kind of writing is forgivable.
However… Most of his characters behave robotically and a few are curious 2 dimensional cut outs from various comic books. His Payton character, the hired assassin groomed to take down Grant, could have been Bullseye from the Daredevil comics/movies, right down to the accent. I did question a couple character motivations (it’s not made clear why Payton suddenly gives up his superhuman training of destroying Grant) and some gaping holes in plot points (if a lab assistant can find out that Grant owns a whole apartment complex in a ritzy part of LA within an afternoon, why couldn’t all the people who wanted Grant eliminated do so as well?), but Robin sets up the plot points with such urgency, I didn’t hang on these errors too long.
Get past that, and focus on the action and you’ll have a great ride. But I’m going to either wait for Mel Gibson to pick up the movie option, or happily continue to read it in graphic novel form.