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Lexicon Hardcover – June 18, 2013
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*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
"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."
"An extremely slick and readable thriller."
"Barry has a gift for spinning complicated plots that aren’t weighed down by their intricacies. His prose here is dark and incisive, and he creates sympathetic (and often quite funny) characters. There’s nothing inherently scary about words, and yet the author acknowledges that they have the capacity to throw entire societies into chaos, Tower of Babel-style. In Barry’s world, evil dwells in the everyday ways the public is manipulated by language—through politicized media, push polling and targeted advertising—and words become as frightening and lethal as a looming pandemic. All this makes Lexicon more sophisticated and laden with subtext than your average genre thriller, and clearly reaffirms Barry’s status as a gifted purveyor of suspense."
—Time Out New York
"Lexicon is a strange combination of romance, thriller and science fiction. 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."
"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."
"A crazily inventive conspiracy thriller."
“Exceedlingly original... incredibly empathetic and insightful”
—The Barnes & Noble Review
“Brazen and brilliant”
—The Wichita Eagle
“Mind-bending... an action novel that nicely exercises the brain as well as the heart rate.”
"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."
"An absolutely first-rate, suspenseful thriller with convincing characters who invite readers’ empathy and keep them turning pages until the satisfying conclusion."
"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."
"[An] ambitious satirical thriller… amuses as much as it shocks."
“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
"Poets, then, wield words like weapons, and in Max Barry’s searing new novel, that’s exactly what they are, because the right sequence of sounds can unlock a person, essentially. Render someone open to suggestion. Tell them to do a thing and they will, without question. Well, vartix velkor mannik wissick! 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."
"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
Top customer reviews
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The characters were well fleshed out, natural, and made you feel for both antagonist and protagonist. Barry has a great way of setting the scene for each destination, making you feel as if you're there beside the characters.
I'm an avid sci-fi fiction reader, so I'm really surprised this flew under my radar. As a linguist, the dissecting of what words really are and how they can have power over people really blew me away, so I would say it's definitely a must read.
The only critique I would have, if any, is that the overall villain didn't have much of an impact at the end. There didn't seem to be a motive other than what feels like an overplayed theme, so other than that bit, I thought the book was excellent.
A school/academy that focuses solely on training people to manipulate people based off their personality types or "segments." You can see where this could go from a micro to a macro perspective. Every action you do on the internet? You're being profiled and manipulated. Conspiracy theory! Yes! This is nothing new as it lightly satirizes marketing and social media and its influence. However, there's a lot more involved with Lexicon than waxing the poetic on conspiracies.
The novel opens simple enough: the protagonist, Wil, has a needle piercing his eyeball by one of his two assailants. They seem to be searching for something in his head. What then follows is a chase where the assailants and Wil are the ones being pursued. And then the novel shifts gears; we're now a few years back in a different storyline featuring the young, street smart grifter, Emily being invited to join a very different type of school. From here we watch as the storylines between Wil and Emily intersect and go forward together.
I love a good conspiracy story, although this is maybe the second one I've ever read; the rest generally from watching X-Files, various movies, and the like, but never really read. The first had to do with the Roman Catholic Church and vampires. Yes. I said vampires. However, as previously mentioned, it touches lightly on the global conspiracy aspect, but just enough to get the reader thinking. Subjects also lightly tread upon include neurochemistry, psychology, and profiling to name a few.
It's a well thought out thriller that moves at a frenetic pace as the search for that mysterious something in Wil's head has us turning the page at whiplash speed in order to find out what's so important in his head that he has to have a needling piercing through his eye to get to his brain?