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Lexicon: A Novel Paperback – April 1, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Words have power to persuade, to coerce, even to kill. And so they have since the days when wordsmiths were called sorcerers. Streetwise teenager Emily knows nothing of this until she is recruited to join a clandestine international organization that seems bent on taking over the world through the power of language—the reason, perhaps, that its members call themselves poets. In the meantime, a young man, Wil, is kidnapped from an airport by two mysterious men determined to unlock a secret buried deep in his brain. Yes, Wil and Emily will be brought together in due course, but in the meantime there is a great deal, some of it abstruse, about language in this fast-paced, cerebral thriller that borders on speculative fiction, but none of it slows the nonstop action that takes readers from Washington, D.C., to a small town in the Australian desert, a town whose 3,300 residents have all died mysteriously and violently. Could the cause have been the power of words at work? The poets sometimes seem a bit too omnipotent, and the book’s chronology is occasionally a bit confusing, but otherwise this is an absolutely first-rate, suspenseful thriller with convincing characters who invite readers’ empathy and keep them turning pages until the satisfying conclusion. --Michael Cart --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

A New York Times Summer Beach Read
An Amazon Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Pick June 2013
A Best of June iBookstore Pick
A Time Magazine "What to Read Now" Pick
A Huffington Post Best Book of Summer 2013
A Salon "Summer's Best Reads"
A Hollywood Reporter "Buzzy Books for Hollywood's Reading List"
A Pittsburgh Post Gazette Beach Read
A Kirkus Ten Best Novels for Summer Reading 2013

“A dark, dystopic grabber in which words are treated as weapons, and the villainous types have literary figures’ names. Plath, Yeats, Eliot and Woolf all figure in this ambitious, linguistics-minded work of futurism.”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
 
"Imagine, if you will, a secret group of people called Poets who have the power to control others simply by speaking to them. Barry has, and the result is an extraordinarily fast, funny, cerebral thriller."
Time Magazine
 
"Imagine blending the works of Neal Stephenson with Michael Chabon and the end result would come close to the world envisioned by Barry. The words brilliant and exemplary aren’t adequate enough to convey the amazing craft of Lexicon."
—Associated Press
 
"A clever blend of sci-fi and thriller, with touches of romance and humor… persuaded me anew that words are, indeed, the bomb."
—Dallas Morning News

"It's a pitch-perfect thriller, a jetpack of a plot that rocketed me from page one to page 400 in a single afternoon, and it kept me guessing right up to the end. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction, and you've got something like Lexicon."
Cory Doctorow, Boingboing.net
 
"[A] speedy, clever, dialogue-rich thriller."
—Salon
 
"A crazily inventive conspiracy thriller."
—io9.com

“Brazen and brilliant”
—The Wichita Eagle
 
“Mind-bending... an action novel that nicely exercises the brain as well as the heart rate.”
Shelf Awareness
 
"A large helping of both action and thought… anyone who knows 1984 will remember the fanger of allowing people to love each other—but Barry handles it with skill."
—Infodad.com
 
"An absolutely first-rate, suspenseful thriller with convincing characters who invite readers’ empathy and keep them turning pages until the satisfying conclusion."
—Booklist (starred)
 
"A scary and satisfying blend of thriller, dystopia, and horror."
Library Journal
 
"An up-all-night thriller for freaks and geeks who want to see their wizards all grown up in the real world and armed to the teeth in a bloody story."
—Kirkus (starred)
 
"[An] ambitious satirical thriller… amuses as much as it shocks."
—Publishers Weekly
 
“The sort of thriller that pricks real-world anxieties about privacy and coercion while rushing on with an outlandish clockwork plot.  Lexicon’s clockwork is excellent, too: The book succeeds largely through Barry’s skill in managing his reader and his plot, suspending disbelief by intercutting a pair of storylines until they inevitably intersect.  He always chooses immersion over exposition, letting his reader feel his way through the Chomskian mix of surveillance-society paranoia and linguistic geekiness.”
—Philadelphia City Paper
 
"I bid you, read this book… Not that much of anything is certain in this blistering literary thriller. Lexicon twists and turns like a lost language, creating tension and expectations, systematically suggesting and then severing connections."
—Tor.com
 
"About as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell. Lexicon reads like Elmore Leonard high out of his mind on Snow Crash."
Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians and The Magician King
 
 "Lexicon grabbed me with the opening lines, and never let go. An absolutely thrilling story, featuring an array of compelling characters in an eerily credible parallel society, punctuated by bouts of laugh-out-loud humor."
Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats
 
"Dazzling and spectacularly inventive. A novel that jams itself sideways into your brain and stays there."
Mike Carey, author of The Devil You Know
 
"I don’t know how you could craft a better weekend read than this novel of international intrigue and weaponized Chomskian linguistics. It’s the perfect mix of philosophical play and shotgun-inflected chase scenes. Like someone let Grant Morrison loose on the Bourne identity franchise."
Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will be Invincible
 
“Insanely good.  Dark and twisted and sweet and humane all at once.”
—Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City and The Shining Girls
 
"Best thing I've read in a long, long time."
Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143125427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143125426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (512 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #71,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Max Barry (1973-) is the author of five novels, including "Lexicon," the New York Times Notable Book "Jennifer Government," and "Syrup," now a film starring Amber Heard. He is the creator of the online political simulation game "NationStates," for which he is far more famous among high school students and poli-sci majors than his novels. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

153 of 175 people found the following review helpful By Hugh C. Howey on June 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This may very well be my new favorite novel. For the past 20+ years, it's been ENDER'S GAME, but LEXICON moved me like few novels ever have. The plotting is intricate enough to warrant a second or third reading (It says something that I just ordered the hardback of a book I already read as a review copy). The writing is top-notch. There is a description of what love means that would make The Bard blush. There is a sex scene that is powerful and stirring without being raunchy. There is a ton of action, two characters that will live with me for the rest of time, and a respect for language that runs to the heart of this book.

I've been amazed in the past year that readers will drive hours to see an author or will beg to send them a book to be signed and sent back, but that's precisely how LEXICON makes me feel. I will cherish this book. I will never forget where I was when I read it (Australia, fittingly). And I plan on reading it again soon.

Kudos, Mr. Berry.
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65 of 77 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on June 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Around a year-and-a-half ago, I was introduced to the writing of Max Barry with his witty satire Machine Man. While it didn't make me go out and seek his other books, it was definitely good enough to make me willing to give him another shot. That shot wound up being Lexicon, a book that has some of the same magic that worked in Machine Man, but wrapped up in a plot that just doesn't work.

Lexicon is centered on two characters who initially don't seem to be related to each other. Wil is coming home after an airplane trip when he's kidnapped by mysterious figures. They want information from him, but he has no idea what to tell them. Meanwhile, Emily, a homeless teenager with a gift for con artistry is recruited to go to a school that, not unlike Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, teaches magic.

It's not truly supernatural magic, but rather the magic of the power of words. The graduates of this school are known as poets and are able to use language to manipulate people and affect all sorts of events. Some words are just a bunch of nonsense syllables, but have the power to control people's minds. Then there are the powerful barewords, words so powerful that they can raise or bring down civilizations. Essentially, it is all fantasy with a science fiction foundation.

It reminded me of the Monty Python sketch about a joke that was so lethally funny that even looking at could kill; where that sketch was played for laughs, Lexicon tries to be more serious. It is a reasonably entertaining book, but the plot is too muddled to make it a good book. The non-linearity of the story is a little bit wearing, but the bigger problem is in the premise itself. Not only did I have a hard time buying into it, I had a hard time even understanding how it fully worked.
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68 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Jordan Michel VINE VOICE on May 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've enjoyed Max Barry's previous novels, and I thought the premise for this one sounded great. Unfortunately, Barry just wasn't up to the task of writing the novel his premise deserved. The idea of an underground society full of people who are so skilled at persuasion that they can basically control people is interesting. But it requires someone who knows a lot about persuasion and linguistics. Barry displays little understanding of either. The way he's written the book, you could replace their mastery of language with any other fictional mind-control tool and have the same effect. I don't think it's a spolier to say that all this persuasion comes down to some made up words. Pair the right made up word with the right kind of person, and they become susceptible to your control. But there's only the briefest explanation of how and why these words work.

That being said the plot kept me engaged. It kicks off with action and leaves the reader trying to make sense of everything going on. There are two plot lines set at different points. Although you can tell the plot lines will converge, I was not able to predict exactly how they would come together.

If you're looking for some mildly entertaining sci-fi, it's a fine pick. But if you were hoping for a clever book with something intelligent to say about language and its power, look elsewhere.
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56 of 72 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAME on April 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Max Barry isn't the first writer of recent vintage who has opted to create a work of speculative fiction devoted to the destructive power of words; Ben Marcus' "The Flame Alphabet" is a notable, and perhaps, better, example. With "Lexicon", Barry offers readers a spellbinding alternate history work that will remind readers of a cross between a young Neal Stephenson ("Zodiac", "Snow Crash") and Elmore Leonard ("Get Shorty"), that, is truly, to quote Time magazine media critic and author Lev Grossman, a work that is almost the "perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell". Indeed, "Lexicon" is especially noteworthy for its intricate, rather suspenseful, plotting, though exhibiting far less sophistication than anything I have read from the likes of Graham Greene, John Le Carre or China Mieville, but still displaying more than enough to keep readers in suspense until the very end. To his credit, Barry offers readers a novel that is almost as compelling a novel of ideas, as it is of fast-paced action; however, his level of sophistication, especially with regards to his world building of the "poets" and their secret history, pales in comparison with the best I have seen from the likes of Neal Stephenson ("The Diamond Age", "Anathem"), China Mieville ("The City and the City", "Kraken", "Embassytown"), Paolo Bacigalupi ("The Wind-up Girl"), Matt Ruff ("Bad Monkeys", "The Mirage") and William Gibson ("Neuromancer", "Count Zero", "Idoru"), to name but a few.Read more ›
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