Aussie Book Review: Lexicon by Max Barry

lexicon Lexicon by Max Barry


Review copy provided by publisher

Hachette, July 2013

 Synopsis- Two years ago, something terrible was unleashed in an Australian mining town called Broken Hill. Thousands died. Few people know what really happened. Emily Ruff is one of them. She belongs to an elite organisation of ‘poets’: masters of manipulation who use language to warp others to their will. She was one of their most promising recruits until she made a catastrophic mistake: she fell in love. Wil Parke knows the truth too, only he doesn’t remember it. And he doesn’t know why he’s immune to the poets’ powers. But he knows he needs to run. As their stories converge, the past is revealed, and the race is on for a deadly weapon: a word. Because the poets know that words can kill…

 Review- Lexicon wasn’t quite what I’d expected and I’m left feeling a little uncertain about whether I actually enjoyed it or not. I do give the author credit for his imagination and execution of a story that on face value seems simple but is really quite complicated. The plot is intelligently weaved between the present and the past, set in both America and Australia. But there were some areas of the story that for me did let it down.

The viewpoints are split primarily between 16 year old runaway Emily Ruff who is recruited into an exclusive school in Virginia to learn the power of persuasion. Words are used to manipulate and influence. Despite Emily’s lack of discipline, she becomes very skilled at persuasion, the first thing she’s been really good at. She hopes to graduate as one of the elite ‘poets’ and work for a related agency. I won’t go into too much detail about all the ‘word’ stuff because the author does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could!

During her studies, Emily develops feelings for another boy in the program which has drastic consequences for him and also for her own position within the school. She is sent away to reside in the outback town of Broken Hill in Australia until she is called upon for her skills. So Emily uses her persuasive powers to make a life for herself in a foreign country with nothing but the clothes on her back. During her years in the regional town, Emily falls for local paramedic, Harry. The most special thing about Harry is that he is resistant to her persuasion, something she hasn’t experienced before and really admires.  In the meantime, the agency makes contact with her and gives her a mission. The only problem is, Emily now has ties, connections and a love in Broken Hill and may not be able to follow through with the task…

The other main character in Lexicon, is Wil Parke who we are introduced to during the first chaotic scene where he is being tracked down by one of the poets. Wil has no memory of his time in Broken Hill, but he was supposedly there when the disaster hit and he has the secret weapon hidden somewhere in his mind. The poets will do anything to get the weapon, the word.

As the past and present begin to merge and the paths of Wil and Emily cross the events that led to Broken Hill’s destruction comes to light and they must come up with a solution to break free of the holds of the agency to have a different future.

Emily is a character I quite liked, even though she was borderline psychopathic at times, but her strong feelings for Harry made her more human for me. She’s smart but self-destructive; she’s impulsive and selfish… but somehow endearing. Wil, I couldn’t connect with at all. He’s introduced in a chaotic confusion and that transferred to me as a reader. I didn’t know what was going on for him and as the story continued I didn’t really care. I was more concerned about getting through the scenes with Wil so that I could get back to what was happening with Emily.

Lexicon is part thriller, part scifi and really quite a mixed bag! It’s sometimes pacey and sometimes slow. Sometimes I was turning the pages quickly to find out what happened next, other times I was tempted to skim so the story would move forward. It’s clear I remain ambivalent about this story. I gave it 3.5 stars because it was clever and Emily was intriguing and I didn’t give it a higher rating because my interest lacked at times and I didn’t quite connect with Wil earlier on- though I did like Harry immediately. If you like to be confused sometimes and intricate plot lines and quirky characters then Lexicon may just be up your ally. However, if you like a simple story arc or characters who have emotional depth, then Lexicon may not be a good fit. But, I’d recommend checking out other reviews before you make up your mind for sure.

Overall Rating


“It was okay”

Lexicon can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

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