Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > The Demon's Lexicon

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
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Jul 11, 10

liked it
bookshelves: urban-fantasy, ya, 2010
Recommended to Shannon (Giraffe Days) by: Roxane
Read in July, 2010 — I own a copy

My friend Roxane, of The Honeyed Knot, consistently recommends fabulous Fantasy and Speculative Fiction books to me. She recommended The Demon's Lexicon to me last year, a book I'd glanced at but wasn't interested in reading, but on the strength of her recommendation I took another look. The blurb still didn't interest me all that much, but you can never predict what book you'll end up falling in love with, and we all know how misleading blurbs can be. Well, sadly, this was one recommendation that fell short of the mark.

Nick and his older brother Alan have spent all their lives running from magicians, moving from house to house in an attempt to stay one step ahead. Their father, Daniel, is dead, killed by the magicians when they were just little boys, and the same attack left Alan with a permanent limp. Their mother, Olivia, keeps herself shut in her room, alternately pacing the floor or having bouts of madness, leaving the boys to look after themselves.

Alan runs the family: quiet, thoughtful, sensitive, artistic and clever, he is everything Nick is not. Nick is a teen of contrasts: beautiful to look at, but cold and angry and violent by nature. The only person he cares about is Alan, and when Alan gets a demon mark (that will lead to full-on demon possession) while trying to help a boy called Jamie and his sister Mae, Nick is determined to save Alan, no matter who gets in the way. But when he discovers Alan's been lying to him and his world, his truth, is not what he believed it to be, Nick is no longer sure what is true, or who to trust.

Granted, there is lots to love in this book, and while I found the ending predictable (more on that later), the ending was also so satisfactory that it improved my overall impression of the book. Told from Nick's perspective (but not narrated by him), we get the full gamut of his personality, or lack of, and here is where the story - or Brennan's writing - failed. I'm happy to get necessary details in the early chapters, the establishment of characters, their history, their motivations and goals. But to belabour the point, ad nauseum, in every second paragraph! Better effect would have been achieved if, after establishing that Nick doesn't understand love or kindness, knows no fear, and has trouble connecting with others, even his brother, that after that had been established (which it was, promptly), to have then backed up a step and shown us what this looked like, with fewer repetitive inner monologues and more body language, subtle gestures, letting us understand his nature by what's missing. I liked Nick, a lot, and he and his brother Alan were multi-dimensional and even believable. But their characters, their physicality, was pretty much ruined by Brennan's habit of sharing with us Nick's thoughts before and after every single bloody action or bit of dialogue.

I am, obviously, exaggerating on the frequency of this, but that's how it starts to feel. It's not that it's irrelevant to the story, or that it makes Nick less likeable or sympathetic - on the contrary, Nick is a different and engaging protagonist, even if it did feel like Brennan was doing everything she could to kill my interest in him with her heavy-handed prose.

The writing also made it predictable for me: I am not the predicting type, much preferring to let things unfold and be revealed without actively trying to guess the mystery, but this just shouted itself at me. It was quite clear from early on what the deal with Nick and Alan was; I just didn't know the logistics of it. I was aware there would be a twist in the story, but there was just a revelation that came as no surprise, and then as I said, the "twist" had pretty much been shouted at me since the beginning. I still don't intend to spell it out, as much as I'd like to, but did no one else find that the heavy emphasis on Nick's personality was like a big neon arrow pointing at the truth?

It began promisingly, but quickly became bogged down by the writing. There is some lively humour here though that I really enjoyed - Jamie especially has some lovely ironic lines, and I think Nick actually does have a sense of humour, though that may be something of a plot-hole in the story. There seemed to be some inconsistencies - plot-holes, even, though because I read a few books at the same time I can never be sure I didn't just space out and miss a detail. For a while there I struggled to keep going and felt burdened by this relatively short novel and the need to finish it, but I am glad I did, because the ending made up for a lot of its weaknesses.

"Lexicon" basically means "vocabulary"; the vocab of a language is called a lexicon. Alan makes an excellent point at the end of the book, when he says that words only have power because we give it to them; they are only as powerful as we let them be. We give words power, not the other way around. It's an excellent message not just for teens but for all of us, to remind us of how words gain meaning and power, can be used to hurt one another, trap each other (within prejudices, stereotypes, and cruelty), and limit each other's personal power - our confidence, self-esteem, abilities and so on. It was highly relevant to the story, and the ending. I did love the ending.
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