Lexicon by Max Barry

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.

Lexicon has one of the most gripping beginnings I have ever read. It’s creepy, it hits the ground running, and the combination of a familiar setting and horribly fucked up situation is incredibly compelling.

Emily is a clever street kid who makes a living from conning people out of their money. She draws the attention of a mysterious organization’s recruiters and is flown out to take the entrance exams at a school for learning the magical art of persuasion.

Wil is missing significant chunks of his memory and is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets—those who have survived to graduate from the strange school of magic and learned to control others.

Their two stories slowly begin to interweave as the novel progresses, often skipping around in time to tell things in a nonlinear order that maximizes suspense. I’m a huge fan of Claire North’s works, and Lexicon reminded me strongly of books like The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch.

If you’re interested in linguistics, nonlinear storytelling, or a darker take on magic schools, you’re in for a treat with this book. For those of you who enjoy audiobooks, both narrators were fantastic. The audio was also able to pull off some neat tricks that normally wouldn’t be possible with a single narrator.

Overall, I loved this book. It was by no means perfect (one particularly unpleasant near-rape scene comes to mind), but I enjoyed it immensely.


Check out Lexicon on Amazon or Goodreads.

One comment

  1. I think this book had some great ideas, but i really despised the ending. It made me secon-guess everyone’s motivations — not in a good way, but in a “how can this be logical” way — as well as stretching the limits of coincidences to the extreme. Good idea, less-than-good execution.


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