Book Review: Lexicon

Or, The Power of Words

[Today’s post is going in conjunction with another resource out there for you fellow literary sorts, by the by, so let me just give a shout out and say: I use Grammarly - the best plagiarism checker out there - because every time an author is scammed, a Sad Panda is born. And really, what do you have against Pandas? They are fuzzy (also like some writers) so any counter-argument is invalid and anti-cute. Thank you.]

As a writer, Max Berry’s Lexicon comes predicated on a notion dear to heart: the (mystical) power of words. Because who among us has not read and wished to see a true glimmer of magic in their scribbles? But with power (yes, I know you’re expecting “responsibility”, but this is where I say: psych!) comes the shape and capability of a weapon. Since the dawn of time, men and women have used words as shields and spears both, but in Berry’s entertaining new novel, poets are literally walking, talking weapons.

The power, you see, is in the suggestion. Poets’ power has always been in the rhythm and rhyme, the melody and the makeup of their works, and for Berry’s organization of manipulators on display here, the right sequence of sounds can actually pop the cork on a whole person. Suggestion, destruction, domination…all of these things become possible, without any pesky interference from the logical bits of the brain.

Unless you’ve built up something of an immunity to that sort of thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lexicon, you see, takes us down the trail of languages lost and tensions raised by crazy people and somewhat megalomaniacal figures empowered not by radioactive superpowers, but words themselves. A town has gone silent: Broken Hill, Australia, is no more. In this science fiction tale it seems certain wild cards from a group known as the “poets” are likely responsible—people taught to manipulate and coerce, and to generally be the best of the best.

Enter Emily Ruff and amnesiac Will—the former, a sharp-tongued youth from the streets; the latter, a survivor of Broken Hill that may have the answers everyone’s seeking. Between them? A boarding school, a lot of secrets, and a manhunt from not only a former poet, but the current leader of the poets as well. Both want Will’s memory. The only question, really: who will be quicker on their toes?

It’s a fast-paced contemporary adventure, it certainly must be said. The idea it’s built around (if I might partake of the recap rap) immediately winds up this little scribbler’s heart because of the fact that words are already magical for me—but how Berry’s engage the idea is, more generally, fascinating in and of itself. Like the kid in school that always said he couldn’t be hypnotized, you have to start to wonder: just how durable is the human mind and what lies behind our decision-making process?

The book is told through alternating viewpoints, with each chapter bouncing between the aforementioned Emily and Will. Together, they piece the whole of the story together, with more than a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s structured well. As Will is in the dark, so are we, and there is the sense that we are piecing it together with him.

Launching Berry into action-based sci-fi, however, has its own share of thorns. The action, while genuinely exciting, can be a bit scattered—not only in how your sense of acceptable reality must be adjusted, but more generally, his descriptive qualities can leave the scenes a little muddled or vague at times. He is, in general, not the most descriptive, or intricate, but his ideas are sound and engaged in a creative display. Some of the characters could probably stand a little more humanization to them as well—i.e. a little more depth, if you please—but the main characters, the focus, are well-flushed out and there are some genuinely moving moments contained in their threads.

Overall, it’s a relatively quick read that, if you’re looking for something to engage and charm for a few days, will do the trick. It’s sophisticated without being overbearing; suspenseful without maddening; entertaining without losing focus. It won’t tax the mind or leave you contemplating deep truths as to the nature of man or the future of mankind, but it will dazzle you with a magical wink, demand smiles and frowns in equal measure, and manipulate your heartbeat with some rather explosive displays.

Now, vartix fintign nabula karepsis: and remember, friend, when you get me that hot cocoa, I like it with little marshmallows. Thanks!

Put to the stars? 4/5

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Lexicon

    • Definitely worth it–and an entertaining way to welcome in the New Year. Just wondering if Max Berry will make a game out of this one, like he did for Jennifer Government. Either way: enjoy!

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