Published by Penguin on June 18th 2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Science Fiction, Thrillers
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics—they are taught to persuade. Students learn to use language to manipulate minds, wielding words as weapons. The very best graduate as “poets,” and enter a nameless organization of unknown purpose. Whip-smart runaway Emily Ruff is making a living from three-card Monte on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. Drawn in to their strage world, which is populated by people named Brontë and Eliot, she learns their key rule: That every person can be classified by personality type, his mind segmented and ultimately unlocked by the skilful application of words. For this reason, she must never allow another person to truly know her, lest she herself be coerced. Adapting quickly, Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy, until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love. Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Parke is brutally ambushed by two men in an airport bathroom. They claim he is the key to a secret war he knows nothing about, that he is an “outlier,” immune to segmentation. Attempting to stay one step ahead of the organization and its mind-bending poets, Wil and his captors seek salvation in the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, which, if ancient stories are true, sits above an ancient glyph of frightening power. A brilliant thriller that traverses very modern questions of privacy, identity, and the rising obsession of data-collection, connecting them to centuries-old ideas about the power of language and coercion, Lexicon is Max Barry’s most ambitious and spellbinding novel yet.
So Shannon at River City Reading recently wrote a post entitled Recently Read, Head to Head where she talks about how reading The Word Exchange and Smarter Than You Think back to back influenced how she thought about each book. That’s not exactly what happened here, but I did enjoy The Word Exchange so much that I went to seek out another language-based novel. Max Barry’s Lexicon seemed to be an obvious choice so I picked it up.
The comparisons between the two end at the fact that they are both centered around language. Other than that, they are very different books.
I enjoyed Lexicon very much! It’s a very well done action novel and it moves fairly quickly. I found the characters to be engaging and interesting. I liked the slow reveal of the Poets and the gradual development of both Emily and Will’s personality.
For some reason this book had an X-Men feel to it. I think it mostly had to do with the language academy – a boarding school for talented outliers in society and the changing of birth names to those of famous poets after graduation. Emily had moments where she felt very ‘Magneto’ in the book.
I also loved delving into the language myths that surround various cultures. True story – I was maybe 9 or 10 the first time I read Genesis 11:1 – 9 (The Tower of Babel story). I was so aggravated that I actually threw the Bible at the wall. (Side note: This is the only time in my life I ever remember being angry with ‘god’.) Lexicon notes that the tower of Babel myth is not about humility – it’s about language, which was funny to me, because that’s how I always had read it.
This book is tons of fun. It definitely should be in your beach bag (or carry on).
Did you enjoy Lexicon reader? Did you get the Book Riot Quarterly Box with it? (If so, I’m jealous.) What other language novels can you recommend?