Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry


Title: Lexicon

Author: Max Barry

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Scifi, Romance

Publisher: Penguin Press
Publication Date: June 18 2013
Hardcover: 390 pages

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.

Would I recommend this book:


The story opens with a needle plunging into Wil’s eye. In the meantime, his kidnappers are asking him: “Would you describe yourself as more of a dog person or a cat person?” and “What is your favorite color?” and et cetera.

Ridiculous but gripping, isn’t it?

The idea of the book is that words have power—simply put—and there are individuals who call themselves “poets” who practice this power. So, basically, these individuals are capable of killing by using specific “words”. How? Words can cause an individual to drop all their defenses and become persuadable. And the reason why these individuals are known as poets is because they are named after famous poets in order to hide their true identity. This is because once a person knows you, they are capable of distinguishing which segment you belong to and which words would best work on you. I bet you’re thinking: If these individuals can’t even trust their own, then that just smells trouble. You bet.

As you well know, we have a dual-narrative: one being Emily’s and the other, being Wil’s. While we have Wil being taken captive because he is the only person to have survived the tragedy at Broken Hill, Australia, we have Emily, a hustler from California who is whisked away into a school in Virginia that teaches special individuals the meaning of words. So, you are being thrown back and forth between the two protagonists, but eventually, their stories collide and intertwine. This is handled very well and you will be satisfied.

Now, I’d rather not say anymore than I already did because I think it would take away some of the magic about going into an amazing story, like this, while blind. I was very taken aback by this back and highly recommend it! 

Romance: Yes.

Favorite Section:

That’s what’s happening if you’re getting all your news from one place. If you stop listening to someone the second you hear a word or phrase you’ve been taught belongs to the enemy, like “environment” or “job creators,” that’s what you’re doing. You might be an intelligent person, but once you let someone else filter the world for you, you have no way to critically analyze what you’re hearing. At best, absolute best case scenario, if they blatantly contradict themselves, you can spot that. But if they take basic care to maintain an internal logical consistency, which they all do, you’ve got nothing. You’ve delegated the ability to make up your mind.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars


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