Anywayz. My dear friend lent me an arc of this book. I tore through it in a day and a half and could think of nothing else in the meantime. It's hard to summarize this without giving something major away but I'll try. Lexicon takes place in the present day, or even a few years earlier (Kerry is about to win the democratic nomination). There is a sinister all-knowing all-seeing team of conspirators (unclear if they are actually linked to the government or just quietly running it from behind the scenes) called poets. The poets figured out that every human being can be classified into one of 300 or so personality types or "segments," and that once you learn someone's segment, there are specific words for that segment that you can use and the person, upon hearing (or reading) those words, will become "compromised" and essentially become your mind slave. The organization seeks out kids who demonstrate aptitude at persuasion and brings them to the academy to learn how to wield words and also how to build up their own defenses so they'll be immune to compromise from others. Most terrifying of all is something called a "bareword." The bareword transcends personality segments. If you utter the bareword, you can control anyone in the world and make them do whatever you want.
We learn pretty early on that a poet called Virginia Woolf (all poets get the name of a significant literary figure once they graduate) unleashed a bareword on a small town in Australia a few years back and it caused everyone in the entire town to die...except one person, a guy named Wil, who is now being hunted by the poets. The bad poets want to kill Wil because they cannot stand the fact that someone might be immune to their control. Then there are some good poets (or maybe just one), led by T.S. Eliot, that want to save him in the hopes that he can remember the bareword and help them prevent a future mass killing event.
I liked this concept a lot. It's dystopian, but it's not such a stretch. Max Barry makes it hauntingly believable. Like to the point that this type of thing could almost be going on right now in our society. There are a lot of references to the internet and social media and the fact that we constantly bemoan the increasing loss of privacy in America and yet show no restraint in terms of sharing personal info about ourselves on social media (SUCH AS THIS VERY BLOG, *SHUDDER*), opening store credit cards so they can track our every move, etc. And it is these personal tidbits that the Poets collect in order to figure out what segment everyone belongs to and wield total control over people with words.
The dynamic between Wil and Eliot was probably my favorite part of the book. They have a very pleasing banter, with Eliot always seeking to control his every emotion and having no filter when it comes to telling Wil how inept he is, while Wil is a complete basket case most of the time. Example:
"Do you trust me?"
"Do I trust you?"
"I phrased that badly," Tom (aka Eliot, who recently kidnapped Wil and almost murdered him) said. "I mean, if I tell you your life depends on doing exactly as I say, without hesitation, can I rely on you to do it?"
"Sure, Wil said, then, because that didn't sound very plausible, added, "Maybe."
"That's not really good enough. Maybe leaves you maybe alive.
then later, after a narrow escape from some bad poets, Wil asks:
"What's your plan?"It was just very enjoyable to see this dynamic develop between them. You can sense Eliot starting to develop a fondness towards Wil, even though he is extremely skilled at hiding it, and Wil gradually develops as well into less of a panicked wreck, though Eliot is loathe to give him any credit for it. I have rarely seen such realistic and also entertaining dialogue as in this book. You could really envision a movie with these two, kind of like a Sherlock and Watson vibe at times (I actually pictured a bumbling Martin Freeman as Wil).
"These people, they're going to find us again, aren't they? They're looking for us right now."
"So we need a plan."
Eliot nodded. "True."
"Do you have one?"
"I have a short-term plan,"Eliot said. "I plan to finish your eggs."Wil said nothing. "Food is important. I'm serious about the protein."
"Do you have a plan or not?"
"Shouldn't you, I don't know, be concerned about that?"
"I am concerned about that."
"You don't look concerned."
"Would it make you feel better if I were sweating? Running to the bathroom to blow my cookies? It shouldn't. A panic state is not helpful to good decision making."
"It would make me feel better if we were moving," Wil said. "Like if you got your eggs to go."
"Well, I like to know where I'm going before I try to get there. It's a mistake to try to execute a plan before you've thought of one, in my experience."
One thing I was less enthused with was the character of Emily, who is recruited off the streets of San Francisco at age 16 to become a poet. Everyone keeps referring to her uncommon aptitude for persuasion, how even though that she's not good at self control, it's worth the risk in taking her on because she is incredibly gifted. But I just never really felt it. In her test to get into the academy, she has to persuade random people on the street to cross to the other side of the street. I am not bragging here but I honestly think I could have passed this test...all she did was say things like HELP! Or "Come grab a 50% off coupon to the Gap!" and people flocked over to her...it just didn't seem that remarkable to me. I also never really felt that connected to her, which may in part be due to the fact that she's sometimes being controlled by other poets and it's not always clear when she's acting based on her own motivation or because she's compromised.
I also wish we would have learned more about the poets themselves, what their endgame was, what really motivated them to do all the crazy stuff they did, etc. Maybe I am just too used to reading series these days, but I kind of felt like this could have been expanded into two or three books, or just one much much longer book. That way the characters could have been fleshed out more and we'd learn more about the poets themselves.
Without giving away any spoilers, I will conclude by saying the final 30 or so pages of the book seemed to me to be a hot mess. Possibly this is because I was reading an arc and some loose strings were tied up in the final copy...who knows. I had the feeling that I missed some major element of the plot because I couldn't understand what was happening or why people were behaving the way they were. I reread those pages hoping to glean some more insight but still came up empty. If anyone has read the published book I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the ending.
All in all though this is one of those books that consumes you fully while you're reading it. The first 20 pages or so are confusing and a bit slow, but once you get through that it's over and you need to put your life on hold until you can finish. I was at a family event this weekend and almost lost it a few times when certain beloved family members had the audacity to try to talk to me while I was reading. In retrospect, I can see that I was the rude one, but it's not my fault! I was compromised...blame the bareword.
Though this is not YA, I think it will appeal to YA fans who enjoy fast-paced dystopian novels. There is definitely a romantic element to the book--one that I personally found irritating, but many YA fans would probably enjoy. It's a little longer than your average YA book but like I said, it consumes you, and you can still read the whole thing in about a day or two if you have some time on your hands.
4 stars !