Lexicon / Max Barry
New York: Penguin, 2013.
I read this crazy adventure story in one night -- couldn't put it down! It was a lot of fun. Basic premise: there are power words that can get past people's defenses and persuade/compel them to do your bidding.
Expert practitioners of this art of persuasion are called Poets, and go to a training school to master the power of the lexicon. As the story begins, one main character, Wil Jamieson, is attacked in an airport bathroom and kidnapped by unknown assailants. Meanwhile, Emily, a street hustler, is recruited for further education by representatives of the school. She makes it in to the academy and works her way through a couple of years in just a handful of pages -- the story moves very quickly and doesn't always indicate the sequence of events very clearly. For example, Emily's story starts years earlier than Wil's but you don't figure that out until later.
In any case, Emily ends up going rogue and leaving the school, expelled for certain actions she's taken. She is exiled to a tiny town in Australia to serve out her penance. But despite her expertise in coercion, she is vulnerable herself, and becomes implicated in a disaster in which a Bare Word is exposed and causes over 3000 deaths..... the plot thickens.....
There was a lot of creativity and certainly a massively fast-moving plot in this story. It was clever and entertaining, despite the flaws. For me, the flaws lay in the timeline -- it moves back and forth between present and flashback with no real markers -- this becomes confusing particularly near the end. You can figure it out if you just keep reading, but if you need to know where you stand at all times you might find it a bit discombobulating!
The other flaw, which I only thought about after finishing, was that Barry posits this great power of words targeted at specific personality subtypes -- it's a great invention, treating the brain like a computer that can have its code hacked -- but all that the Poets seem to use it for is death and destruction. There's no bigger plan in evidence, and we don't really know why there is even a school for this. There is a huge body count in this book, people are violently expiring every few pages, and then there's the death of an entire town all at once....
But it was a fun read, and if you like lots of action, creative invention, and don't need something to make perfect sense, (oh, and have a tolerance to violent incidents, of course) you might like this one!