Tag Archive: Lexicon

Aug 18

Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry

I work part-time for ye olde local library while I’m finishing up master’s (in working in ye olde libraries).  However, Saturdays are dead days.  Saturdays with a drizzling rain are the deadest of days.  And there’s three of us running the circulation desk.  So, to help pass the time, I went over to the new shelf and pulled off the first book with a cover that caught my eye.

I finished it two minutes before we closed.

Max Barry’s Lexicon is pretty damn good.  Almost fantastic.  Certainly worth the read.  I feel like I’m writing pull-out quotes for a movie poster.  But it was really good.  And I didn’t really sleep the night before, so it was great at keeping me awake and interested which is not always the easiest thing to do.

Although the book is cut into four roughly equal-sized sections, the bulk of the story is told in dueling narratives.  The first story follows Wil (with one l, which in retrospect, was kind of important).  He is trying to escape from an airport while two unknown men try to kidnap him.  Well, he escapes them for a half second, finds his girlfriend in the parking lot, but it turns out she’s been brainwashed into trying to kill him.  So he ends up escaping with the men who are trying to save him because he’s special. Wil’s story is about running.  There’s a lot of running (as a thriller is wont to have).

The other storyline follows Emily Ruff, a street urchin from the west coast.  She gets an offer to attend the exclusive Academy on the east coast that will teach her to harness her skills for persuasion.  See, this world has a shadow organization that uses special words to unlock people’s minds and force those people into doing whatever you want them to do.  And the Academy tries to find people who have the ability to learn how to do this.  They teach them words of power, and once they learn them and join the secret organization they’re called “poets” (because they’re good with words, get it?).  Well, Emily is a wild child, because, you know, street urchin, and she doesn’t really fit in.  So when she eventually gets kicked out (and forced to move to Australia), you can tell that rumblings are coming in the future.

You can feel that these narratives are coming together, but the surprises aren’t telegraphed too early, and I felt like I was discovering things just a chapter or two before they were going to become important.  So, suspense and mystery, but one that the author lets you figure out before he just tells you.

Now, I have to ding the story on a few fronts.  At times, I got a little bit of whiplash from the rapid shifts in time and perspective.  If you’re not careful, you can think that stuff is happening now when it’s really then and that the past is actually happening at the present.  Usually not an issue, but don’t let your mind wander during section breaks.  Also, naming all the bad-asses after poets doesn’t really make sense.  Oh, and making a big deal about how they wouldn’t name Emily after Emily Dickinson because DIckinson was too famous, and then turning around and having poet-spies named Virginia Woolf, William Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and Patti Smith is just a little disingenuous.

I’m having a hard time deciding whether this was more thriller, more fantasy, or more sf, but I’ve decided that it’s good and that I enjoyed the ride and that I’m interested in reading a little more Max Barry

JMF Rating: 9/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF