Lexicon by Max Barry (2013)
Goodreads Summary: At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics–at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as “poets”, adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school’s strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell–who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. 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 Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he’s done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry’s most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love–whatever the cost.
This is the second book I’ve read by Max Barry, the first being Machine Man back in 2012. And wow, his books just are so incredible, very creative, unique, and so thought-provoking. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and I now want to go back and read some of his older stuff, not to mention I’m eagerly anticipating whatever he writes next.
Lexicon was the perfect book for me because it has science fiction elements, it’s action paced, I loved the characters, felt the setting so strongly, and it also involved words and language, a topic which I really enjoy reading.
At first it wasn’t entirely clear what was happening in the book. But as I continued to read, things unfolded and little hints were dropped and I felt so smart for picking up on them, even though I’m sure that’s how Barry intended the reading experience to be. I felt like the entire book was a mystery that I was slowly unfolding and discovering.
Usually I don’t like books with split perspectives and times, but this one worked so perfectly and so well I can’t imagine the book being as good if it was written in a straightforward, chronological order. There were so many layers and elements to the book that I couldn’t stop reading because I had to see how things turned out, why certain people may (or may not) have changed their behavior, and so much more.
I went into this book knowing next to nothing about it and so I won’t give a lot of details here because I don’t want to spoil the experience for the reader. All I can say is go out and read this book as soon as possible! I saw in another review that you shouldn’t pick it up until you have several days free because you won’t be able to put it down. I second this recommendation because I tore through it so fast and didn’t want to do anything else until I finished it. Highly recommended!
My Rating: 5/5 stars