24 March, 2014

Book Review: Lexicon

From Goodreads: 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.

Thoughts: I purchased this after hearing Max Barry on the radio talking about it. It sounded intriguing - people who can control you simply by knowing the words to speak to compel you. We all know words have power, but words that grant absolute power over someone - interesting.
I loved this from the moment I started reading it. Barry's writing is entertaining and absorbing. The story follows two people - Emily and Wil - and you watch as their stories start to converge, coming together to an explosive climax. Unfortunately it is one of those books where you can't say too much without giving stuff away, but needless to say it took me right to the end to work out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and even then I wasn't too sure. 
The story is not linear - in any sense - which can make it a bit confusing to start with, but I think that's part of the point. A lot of the time the characters are confused, not sure what is happening and trying to make sense without all the information they need. But slowly you and the characters get the information, things fall into place and you start to understand it. 
Lexicon is a roller coaster ride of a read - it's fast, furious and fabulous. Highly recommended.