Conceptually brilliant, Max Barry's LEXICON is a slice of the surreal that blends magical, criminal, sci-fi, and romance elements into a delicious concoction for the mind.
"Words aren't just sounds or shapes. They're meaning. That's what language is: a protocol for transferring meaning. When you learn English, you train your brain to react in a particular way to particular sounds. As it turns out, the protocol can be hacked."
The power of words is exemplified by Barry's ability to craft a language into a form of magic. An organisation devoted to harnessing the power of Poets, recruits a seemingly down and out young women living day to day, surviving on the fruits from her con on the streets. 16yr old Emily, while poor, is rich in will and determination. It's these traits that serve her well as a student and survivalist.
"Everyone's broken," Eliot said, "one way or another."
Wil Parker is at the other end of the equation, an outlier connected to an extinction level event that occurred at Broken Hill. As the sole survivor, he's suddenly thrust into a violent world he never knew existed - all while slowly unravelling the mystery to his own identity. His first appearance in LEXICON has him chased by mystery men, shot at, witness to murder, and the target of an abduction attempt. This breakneck pace doesn't let up throughout the novel.
As a fully trained Poet, Emily is exceptionally dangerous, having accumulated the knowledge of barewords, she wields great power - power that causes catastrophe be it willingly or unintentional. Her path linking to Wil is a testament to complex yet logical and seamless plotting. The events of LEXICON play out in equal parts action/thriller, sci-fi/romance.
"...we believe a bareword belongs to a fundamental language of the human mind - the tongue in which the human animal speaks to itself at the basest level. The machine language, in essence."
There is a deep seeded longing in Emily that's endearing and unsettling, while Wil is a protagonist in the accidental hero mould. Barry does a great job at establishing these core characters in such a complimentary fashion to one another.
LEXICON is a rare book - one that combines multiple plot threads into a seamless portrayal of believable events. The past and present nature of the plot lines ensures the protagonists aren't without meaning, their plights accountable, and the ramifications of their actions damming.
I thoroughly enjoyed LEXICON from start to finish and will now look to track down Max Barry's previous books.