Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry (9780143125426): Penguin Books (2013)

Words have power.

As a writer and a librarian, this is the pillar of my faith.

When used by a master, words can change the world. They evoke emotion, propel progress, and inspire imagination. They can also provoke fear, entrench the status quo, and confound the mind. All things are possible with words.

In the world of Max Barry’s cinematic thriller, Lexicon, a shadow-organization of “poets” have unlocked the power of words to “persuade” individuals to perform any act they see fit. Through a combination of neuropsychology, sociolinguistics, and ancient verbal alchemy, these poets can unlock the tumblers of the mind and control individuals, the media, and, thus, world events, on an unprecedented scale.

This smart, action-packed novel follows the lives of Emily and Wil as they get sucked into this world of control and manipulation. Emily is a down-and-out street hustler with an uncanny ability to read people. After being recruited to join the organization, she is taken to a private school in Virginia where she is educated in the poets’ system of psychological profiling, and in the “lexicon”, a series of ancient, powerful words. These words can allow her to “compromise” her subjects, subjugating their will for her instructions. Wil is a regular guy, a carpenter, who, when the book opens, has been attacked in an airport restroom, is asked a series of nonsensical questions, and has had a needle placed in his eye. His day goes downhill from there. The two protagonists’ stories intertwine around a deadly environmental incident that occurred in a small town in Australia called Broken Hill. The secret of what really happened in the dusty mining town, and the ongoing consequences of it, are the crux of the plot of the story, a plot which includes many harrowing chases, much violence, and a schism in the poet’s organization.

Barry (Jennifer Government, Syrup) has created a tightly-plotted and crafty modern thriller. The prose, despite the novel’s highfalutin premise, is never flowery and often clever. The characters are interesting and the antagonists (especially Yeats) are fleshed-out and full of juicy menace. The two main plotlines expertly roll into each other and form a perfect storm of conflict and revelation. This novel is hard to set aside, even when the story is done. Highly recommended.

Lexicon will be available in paperback from Penguin Books on March 25, 2014.

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About Shedrick

I am a professional librarian and a part-time writer that's working to do that the other way around. I currently live in North Texas in the lovely city of Denton (“The Home of Happiness“) with my lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, I can sometimes be found in a pub (or the American equivalent) enjoying a fine brew.
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One Response to Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

  1. Pingback: Review: The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White | Serial Distractions

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