“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”
From The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Words have power that can inflict irreparable harm or heal an old wound. They can be used to instruct, obfuscate and persuade. In Lexicon, Max Berry weaves a world where words are literally weapons and those who wield them, individuals who call themselves Poets, are a force to be reckoned with.
Wil Parke wakes up in an airport bathroom being held by two strange men. They have stuck a needle in his eye. When they realize he is conscious, they try to calm him while simultaneously asking him very odd questions. They need to determine if he is the person they are looking for and, if he so, get him to safety. Someone is making a very determined effort to kill him. . .
Emily Ruff is a sixteen-year-old runaway in San Francisco. She ekes out a living playing three-card Monte in tourist congested areas of the city. One day a young man who should have been an easy mark wins. Emily can’t figure out how it happened. She sees him again the following morning, confronts him and he responds by asking her odd questions. Based on her answers, Emily is flown to Virginia to a private school for further testing. The students in this school are taught a classical education. They are also trained in identifying personality types and the words that can be used to influence, manipulate and control those individuals. Emily becomes a skilled and talented student in the program, however it also becomes clear she lacks the discipline that the most talented Poets possess. This will either make her stronger than the rest, or be her undoing. . .
These two individuals, with disparate backgrounds and almost nothing in common, will end up at the center of a war of words that could have cataclysmic consequences for the world.
In Lexicon, Max Berry has created a thriller that combines the pressing contemporary concerns of privacy, identity and data collection/mining with the almost mystical belief in the power of words as receptacles of power. The result is a compelling and disturbingly believable globetrotting game of cat and mouse where the reader will find it difficult at times to know which is which. The stakes and tension run high (as does the casualty rate!). There is a great deal of violence and one specific occurrence in the book could be difficult for some readers. The concept of training people with the proper aptitude to use words offensively and defensively is both fascinating and frightening as Barry describes it. And the idea of using psychological concepts to classify and define individuals to determine the best ways to control them (and the new ways this was being accomplished using interactive websites) is chilling. This is a novel that unsettles and excites equally to the very last page.