* I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.*
Blurb: Xen is new to this; having lost his wife he thought his life was over. Discovering a new gift, however, gives him purpose. Suddenly he finds he can see beyond the physical, inside to what lies within people.
He soon discovers the danger this strange gift brings, as he seeks to gain control over it before it destroys him. With the power comes problems: public nudity, assault, a cult, even murder… It’s a race against time as he flees through Italy, evading Interpol, obsessed followers and dangerous criminal enemies.
Eventually, after many mistakes, he discovers his purpose. Just in time to save himself, and maybe the world too.
In the author’s afterword he describes himself, and his writing, as ‘strange’. Whilst I cannot speak to the accuracy of applying that to the man, I tend to agree with him about the work; there is definitely strangeness here, if by this you mean unfamiliarity and difference to the standard/expected.
The story is mainly told in first-person narrative by the protagonist, Xen, interspersed with occasional excerpts from the reports of ‘Agent Spencer’. Xen explains during the narrative that the text forms his personal journal, but is more of a scientific record of events and his experiments. As a result the tone tends towards the detatched and unemotional. Xen’s feelings are described analytically rather than emotively and therefore there is a distance from both the narrative and the narrator which precludes too much emotional investment in his adventures.
This is countered by an intellectual engagement: there are thought-provoking moral questions about the nature and scope of consent; how far intentions are weighted against results when trying and failing to help others; and a particular focus on the very nature of our perceptions of ourselves and each other. There is a narrative dissonance between the ‘facts’ that the narrator is recounting and his perceptions of them recorded in the narrative, parallel to the reader’s awareness of how those actions would naturally appear to the outside view (which is first confirmed then challenged by Agent Spencer’s alternative point-of-view insertions).
Plot is not the main driving force of this story. It is about discovery of the self; the journey from grief to release. There is a thread of adventure running through events, but despite cults, drug dealers and Interpol appearances this is not an action thriller. Such events are explored in terms of what the protaganist can learn from them and how he develops along his personal crusade (or one man trail of disaster, depending on your perception!).
Overall this is an odd, somewhat uncomfortable read, but morally and intellectually stimulating. If you’re looking for something different from the usual, and are interested in psychology, perception and questions of should and ought, then this may be it.
Thinking on my new name was just the start of my new existence. I had big plans for great achievements yet to be considered. I had seen my path to salvation and to happiness. To lead a new life, one of purpose and dedication, was my new goal. I would live the new life of Xen to discover the reason for my ability. Thanking my rescuer and host, petting and stroking Millie to say farewell, my plan is to chase the purple flame. If I could discover its purpose, I could discover my own.
– Douglas Brain, XEN