When I first saw the cover of Joanne’s Reay’s debut novel Lo Life: Romeo Spikes, my first reaction was – ‘oh no, not another coming-of-age saga filled with angst-ridden teenagers and vampires that twinkle in the sunlight.’ How wrong was I!?
Reay’s credentials are extremely impressive. She’s been a documentary maker for The Discovery Channel and has worked as a writer/producer for the BBC. With this background, it’s little wonder that her first novel – part of a planned trilogy – is such a cracker.
It may sound like a bit of a review cliché, but I literally was hooked by the end of the first chapter. Reay’s supernatural subjects are demons known as Tormenta who do exactly what their name suggests – torment vulnerable humans until they are left with no option but to commit suicide. And it’s just at the point of death that the Tormenta steal their victim’s span, which gives the demons extended life form.
Reay’s Tormenta come in various guises – an army sergeant who identifies and bullies a struggling cadet, a florist who exploits their grief of her customers and a counsellor within the police service who deals with officers who are suffering trauma … you get the picture.
Romeo Spikes tackles the issue of suicide and self-harm head on. As the author explained: “Suicide amongst young adults is escalating so quickly that the World Health Organisation now rates it as an epidemic. I found this saddening but also somehow mysterious – suspicious even. And it gripped me. So I guess you could say that ‘Lo Life is the supernatural side of suicide.”
Romeo Spikes is bursting with well-developed characters, especially the main female protagonists. There’s Lola, the extremely ruthless and efficient hunter who tracks down and kills Tormenta; and there’s Alexis Bianco, the hard-as-nails cop with a fascinating back-story.
As much as I loved the book, my only criticism is that perhaps too many characters have been created. A vast majority of the chapters start by introducing new characters, and as the action is building to the climactic ‘good versus evil’ battle, I found myself having to flip back to earlier in the novel to re-acquaint myself with who was who. Maybe it’s just me, but at times it did get a bit confusing.
With action that spans from Biblical times right up to the present day, this fast-paced paranormal thriller is violent throughout, tender at times and also extremely well-written. There are shadowly religious figures, a good dollop of voodoo and blood-soaked battles with Lola kicking some serious Tormenta ass.
Reay drops what could be a tantalising teaser into the end of the last chapter, and I for one will be anxiously awaiting the next Lo Life instalment, Black Antlers, which is due out next year.