Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school’s strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell—who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he’s done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated tow nof Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry’s most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love—whatever the cost.
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Imagine, if you will, a secret group of people called Poets who have the power to control others simply by speaking to them. Barry has, and the result is an extraordinarily fast, funny, cerebral thriller."
"An extremely slick and readable thriller."
"Barry has a gift for spinning complicated plots that aren’t weighed down by their intricacies. His prose here is dark and incisive, and he creates sympathetic (and often quite funny) characters. There’s nothing inherently scary about words, and yet the author acknowledges that they have the capacity to throw entire societies into chaos, Tower of Babel-style. In Barry’s world, evil dwells in the everyday ways the public is manipulated by language—through politicized media, push polling and targeted advertising—and words become as frightening and lethal as a looming pandemic. All this makes Lexicon more sophisticated and laden with subtext than your average genre thriller, and clearly reaffirms Barry’s status as a gifted purveyor of suspense."
—Time Out New York
"Lexicon is a strange combination of romance, thriller and science fiction. Imagine blending the works of Neal Stephenson with Michael Chabon and the end result would come close to the world envisioned by Barry. The words brilliant and exemplary aren’t adequate enough to convey the amazing craft of Lexicon."
"A clever blend of sci-fi and thriller, with touches of romance and humor… persuaded me anew that words are, indeed, the bomb."
—Dallas Morning News
"It's a pitch-perfect thriller, a jetpack of a plot that rocketed me from page one to page 400 in a single afternoon, and it kept me guessing right up to the end. Imagine Dan Brown written by someone a lot smarter and better at characterization and at hand-waving the places where the science shades into science fiction, and you've got something like Lexicon."
—Cory Doctorow, Boingboing.net
"[A] speedy, clever, dialogue-rich thriller."
"A crazily inventive conspiracy thriller."
“Exceedlingly original... incredibly empathetic and insightful”
—The Barnes & Noble Review
“Brazen and brilliant”
—The Wichita Eagle
“Mind-bending... an action novel that nicely exercises the brain as well as the heart rate.”
"A large helping of both action and thought… anyone who knows 1984 will remember the fanger of allowing people to love each other—but Barry handles it with skill."
"An absolutely first-rate, suspenseful thriller with convincing characters who invite readers’ empathy and keep them turning pages until the satisfying conclusion."
"An up-all-night thriller for freaks and geeks who want to see their wizards all grown up in the real world and armed to the teeth in a bloody story."
"[An] ambitious satirical thriller… amuses as much as it shocks."
“The sort of thriller that pricks real-world anxieties about privacy and coercion while rushing on with an outlandish clockwork plot. Lexicon’s clockwork is excellent, too: The book succeeds largely through Barry’s skill in managing his reader and his plot, suspending disbelief by intercutting a pair of storylines until they inevitably intersect. He always chooses immersion over exposition, letting his reader feel his way through the Chomskian mix of surveillance-society paranoia and linguistic geekiness.”
—Philadelphia City Paper
"Poets, then, wield words like weapons, and in Max Barry’s searing new novel, that’s exactly what they are, because the right sequence of sounds can unlock a person, essentially. Render someone open to suggestion. Tell them to do a thing and they will, without question. Well, vartix velkor mannik wissick! I bid you, read this book… Not that much of anything is certain in this blistering literary thriller. Lexicon twists and turns like a lost language, creating tension and expectations, systematically suggesting and then severing connections."
"About as close you can get to the perfect cerebral thriller: searingly smart, ridiculously funny, and fast as hell. Lexicon reads like Elmore Leonard high out of his mind on Snow Crash."
—Lev Grossman, New York Times bestselling author of The Magicians and The Magician King
"Lexicon grabbed me with the opening lines, and never let go. An absolutely thrilling story, featuring an array of compelling characters in an eerily credible parallel society, punctuated by bouts of laugh-out-loud humor."
—Chris Pavone, New York Times bestselling author of The Expats
"Dazzling and spectacularly inventive. A novel that jams itself sideways into your brain and stays there."
—Mike Carey, author of The Devil You Know
"I don’t know how you could craft a better weekend read than this novel of international intrigue and weaponized Chomskian linguistics. It’s the perfect mix of philosophical play and shotgun-inflected chase scenes. Like someone let Grant Morrison loose on the Bourne identity franchise."
—Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will be Invincible
“Insanely good. Dark and twisted and sweet and humane all at once.”
—Lauren Beukes, author of Zoo City and The Shining Girls
"Best thing I've read in a long, long time."
—Hugh Howey, New York Times bestselling author of Wool