The Word is Control
Author: Max Barry
We all know that words have power, right? As the communicators of emotion, they hurt and heal. As the communicators of fact they give promotions and take away jobs. But they’re vectors – the words themselves have no power – but what if they did? What if hearing a word could rob you of your conscious will? That would be a whole new, incredibly powerful Lexicon.
Author Max Barry relies on words to do a whole lot more than tell his story in Lexicon. In a non-linear story that takes us back and forth through a series of, shall we say, unfortunate events, we learn about Emily, a teenager living on the streets and by her wits. When she finds herself being recruited into a very elite, very secret school for those working to perfect the art of verbal persuasion she’s taken from a life of poverty and abuse into a place where her street skills are worse than useless – they’re dangerous.
In another timeline/storyline we’re with Will, kidnapped at an airport and witness to things he has trouble believing are true. He isn’t sure what the man Elliott wants from him, but the longer they’re together the less he trusts his own memory of who he is and how he came to be in such a precarious position.
The two stories are most definitely connected, though non concurrent. As we weave between them we begin to see what the lack of a controlled upbringing costs Emily and how the age old tale of absolute power corrupting absolutely plays out among every segment of society.
Lexicon is a weird book, no doubt. But it’s weird in such a cool and original way that I was completely hooked even when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. Barry manages to connect his storylines just enough to keep the reader turning pages, giving us just enough understanding of each situation to pull us into the next chapter.
His concept is at once brilliant and wildly implausible. That’s what makes it so much fun. The science fiction aspect of massively powerful sets of words that can be used as the ultimate persuasion is tempered nicely with more relatable discussions of the power of words and language in familiar realms like advertising and politics. We buy into the expanded power of his lexicon because it’s built so firmly on the one we already know and understand. Or think we understand…
I thoroughly enjoyed Lexicon. Emily is an intricately built character – we see her go from street rat to prodigy to something else entirely. She seems shallow and unformed when we meet her because she is – just a young girl with nothing on her mind but base survival. It’s fun to watch the experiences she’s given turn her into a very different sort of adult. The antagonists shift and flux as the story pulls together and just when we think we know who to root for, the story takes a twist and we’re pulling for someone and something else.
Overall, Lexicon is a fast paced, well plotted sci-fi thriller with a great premise and interesting characters. The non-linear format (which sometimes drives me crazy) works well in this case, keeping the tension high and the truth coming out at just the right pace. A solid recommendation for any sci-fi or just plain thriller fan.
– S. Millinocket
See more books like this in our Schools of Magic reading list.