Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

Genre: Science Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Penguin (June 18, 2013)
How I got this book: Bought
Links: Amazon Goodreads

Blurb 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.

My rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Almost perfect. I highly recommend it.


I absolutely love the premise of this novel.  And I love how, scattered throughout, are thought-provoking passages discussing the power of language to influence our beliefs and opinions, a topic that couldn’t be more relevant in this media-saturated world.  I don’t want to make this book sound pedantic – it’s not! – but it’s been a while since I’ve encountered a novel that’s both entertaining and intellectually stimulating.  Lexicon isn’t just fluff; it’s deeper than it appears on the surface.

The plot is fast-paced with great action sequences, though parts of the story are extremely depressing and sad.  I love how not everything is explained, but you figure out bits and pieces as it goes along until a larger picture slowly starts to form, and even then I had no clue what was going to happen.  This book kept me guessing until the very last page, literally.  Midway through, the story becomes an emotional roller coaster.  It gave me hope for a happy ending, and then crushed it, and then gave me hope again, only to crush it again, and over and over.  It felt like I bounced back and forth between hope and despair fifty times, never knowing which emotion the book was going to leave me with.

Overall, Lexicon is an extremely engaging, well written, intensely emotional book.  I would give it 5 stars except that it depressed the hell out me, pissed me off, made me laugh and cry and rejoice, and oh my gosh my feelings can’t handle it.  Really, though, it was so, so good.


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About Lesley

I love big dogs, ravioli, and all things nerdy. Books are my crack.
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