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New adventures in sci-fi

Lexicon by Max Barry Mulholland Books (2013) €18.75 ****

I RECEIVED an unproofed review copy of this earlier in the year, and it kept shifting down the queue, so much so that I received a proper copy some months later.

I finally picked it up, and am I glad I did – in fact, I doubt I could have put it down had I wanted, as Barry's speculative action thriller grabs the reader by the throat and goes and goes.

In much the same way, Wil has been kidnapped, and finds himself in some crazy kind of survivalist on-the-run scenario, in which his captor Eliot always appears to get what he wants. Eliot is a "poet", and uses his words in ways that have more power than seems possible.

They are on the run from Woolf, a rogue poet who has detonated a word in Australia that has left 3,000 dead. We get to know both Wil and Woolf side-by-side – or so it would seem, until one realises that Barry is masterfully messing with time, in such a way that we find out where we are and how it works at just the right moment; it made me feel smart, anyway.

As he builds and builds to the endgame, we lose some of the urgency as motivations become clear; this slight downshift in pace is a bit disappointing, as it feels like Barry has a lot of explaining to get in about the mysterious and ruthless Yeats.

Regardless, it all ends exactly the way I wanted it to, and I'm inspired to visit Barry's previous works.

I can't help wondering if Emily's fella had only told her he loved her, would all the tragedy have been averted? Three words, not so little ... Great, intense fun that I hated to have to put down to go to sleep.

The Golem and the jinni by Helene Wecker Blue Door (2013) €18.75 *****

REALLY hated having to put this one down, and if stupid life wasn't so insistent on interfering, I would have stayed up for 24 hours to remain in Wecker's world.

A big read, I was initially irritated by the design of the book, which amounts to a smallish point-size and a fiddly looking font.

I was also questioning the author's sanity, by starting off this with introductions to extremely nasty, unsympathetic characters while attempting to spin a magical tale of magical beings in a nostalgically magical 19th century New York.

It works, and makes the lovely, sympathetic characters all the more endearing, and so I gave myself over to this in complete trust.

Chava is a Golem, a creature made from clay, designed only to serve her master's wishes.

Said master dies on the boat from Danzig to Manhattan, and she is left to make her way alone. Ahmad is a djinni, a genie released from his bottle in Little Syria by a tinsmith; he is free in body, but his spirit is tethered by an iron cuff he can't remove.

Despite being magical in a human world, Chava and Ahmad's essential differences cause them to fall out, and this is not only heartbreaking but dangerous when Chava's creator makes his way to the New World, looking for the secret to eternal life ...

Ah! This is glorious, old-fashioned storytelling of the highest order, rich with detail and full of humanity, humour and pathos.

Loved every single solitary word of it.

The Tower by Simon Toyne HarperCollins (2013) €14.98 (eBook) ***

THE last instalment of Toyne's Sancti trilogy, I came to this without having read the other two.

It reads like a stand-alone, sort of, which is probably a good thing: I got the feeling that there was history behind the characters, but it didn't impede the narrative to a great degree.

Religious fanaticism is at the core of this end-of-days tale, and it moves back and forth in time, without the brio of Barry's opus.

Lots of physics and NASA stuff explained in dialogue, making for unwieldy exposition.

The Third Kingdom by Terry Goodkind Harper Voyager (2013) €21.99 **

THIS too is a sequel, and it stands less well alone than the above.

The storytelling was remarkably repetitive, as if the author thought his readers would read a chapter, put down the book for a week, and then return to it, needing their memories to be refreshed.

For example, one chapter repeated, several times, that Sammie the sorceress was only 15. We got it the first time, in fairness: young sorceress is young.

I'm all for sword-fighting mystical worlds, but this didn't capture my imagination.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown Hodder & Stoughton (2014) €11.50 (RRP) **

IT'S amazing how girls have cornered the market as lead protagonists in dystopian young adult fiction.

Brown seeks redress, and his lead is a 16-year-old boy called Darrow, who has seen his father and young wife die at the hands of the Society. Is he strong enough to lead the revolution from the very bowels of Mars?

This is loaded with the kind of jargon that colours futuristic fiction; the tone around the neologisms is stilted and the action not well explicated.