A somewhat more elaborate review: You should be in the mood for this book before you read it, so you'll enjoy it fully. There's a strong current oWow.
A somewhat more elaborate review: You should be in the mood for this book before you read it, so you'll enjoy it fully. There's a strong current of conspiracy/hidden power/nature of humanity hoohah running through it, and there's at least one character whose story and development you become engrossed in, and it's very well written, in terms of exposition (its narrative timeline is what you might call "serpentine," but it works), pacing, dialogue and such. But what it really is is a highly enjoyable shoot-em-up, quippy one-liner, this-town's-not-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us, who do I root for? action story. If you want to read one of those that treats you like you have a vocabulary and a brain, I think you'll enjoy Lexicon.
The premise is that each of 200 or so human personality types are susceptible to certain primal words, different and effective to varying degrees for each type, which "unlock" their minds and make them malleable to suggestion, even subservience. We have a shadow group that finds promising young people to teach these words and how to do all that (and how to prevent it being done on them), making them "poets": agents of this shadow group, the overall stated purpose of which actually escapes me. (I don't think it's ever made clear. But it's OK!) One of our main characters is an exceptionally gifted "poet" prodigy who ends up at pretty drastic odds with the organization. And meanwhile, there is something called a "bareword," a word with power so primal as to make anyone who sees it more or less a slave for life to the next suggestion they get, regardless of personality, training, or anything else. These pop up every few hundred years or so, and sometimes trigger massive shifts in history (e.g., Babel). And hey, look, we've found one!
We follow the prodigy, a poet who considers himself responsible for her fall from grace, an "outlier" who is for some reason immune to the effects of the bareword, and assorted others -- and when I say "follow," I mean we wind our way through the narrative as it's structured, which is definitely not chronological -- as they fight for power, or survival, or love, or redemption, things like that. It's a page-turner without artificial cliffhangers -- it's a really good story, and you want to know what happens next, and how it ends. Very satisfying, throughout.
I alluded to one of my minor issues with the novel above, i.e. there's onecharacter you really care about, and that's about it. Others range from somewhat implausible to downright one-dimensional. But the villains are easy to hate, and the dialogue among some of the implausible, one-dimensional characters is real snappy. You don't feel cheated by the lack of Multifaceted Characters Struggling to Make Important Decisions in the vein of "literary" fiction. The pieces fit the board perfectly....more
The narrative structure is going to make you grumpy. We have two POV characters, a freelance assassin whose narrative is always first person, and an iThe narrative structure is going to make you grumpy. We have two POV characters, a freelance assassin whose narrative is always first person, and an in-over-his-head cop whose narratives are either first or third person. It takes a little while, but I suppose you get used to that.
We have in the book a world where a malformed protein is invading people (you find out how near the end) and causing them not to be able to sleep. After a while, this leads to what the doctors call losing your shit, and eventually death. Basic society is breaking down, hard, as we begin the story. There’s no cure that anybody is aware of, but there is a drug that can bring much-needed relief to victims. (You’re right: it lets them sleep. Ish.) Many people have sequestered themselves inside a MMORPG, the chits and currencies and treasures of which are valuable enough to enough people that “real world” crime has a piece of the action.
You know superficially how the two viewpoint characters are linked fairly early on, but the whole truth comes later, and is underwhelming. There’s no real villain of the piece. There’s no obvious solution anybody is striving towards. The cop has a wife who’s sleepless and a baby who might be, but, speaking for myself, I really didn’t care. Any more, I might add, than the viewpoint character himself did — over and over and over he has to tell himself that it’s really important that he make the world a safe place for his baby. He has to do this because he doesn’t actually feel it.
The assassin’s nonchalance-o-meter is dialed up to 9 the whole book, making it awfully difficult to give a shit about him, either. The story ends, as stories will, with some characters doomed for their flaws because they couldn’t change, and others who change and are therefore rewarded. Neither one, though, seems even a little realistic. It certainly isn’t satisfying.
Pessl's first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, had an unusual effect on me. I didn't The Passage- orPresumed Innocent-love it, and it didn'tPessl's first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, had an unusual effect on me. I didn't The Passage- orPresumed Innocent-love it, and it didn't make me a wreck for five days like The Road; what I would say it did was it delighted me. It was slow going and awfully pretentious for a while, but by the time it was over I thought I'd been jolted by low-level current and things were still kind of buzzy and I didn't have full feeling in my extremities. Ok, not that last part. The point is, I really liked it, and I'd been excited about her next book for a long time.
... And it, Night Film, I mean, was ok. It was pretty good. It was [other noncommittal adjective]. The first two thirds read like a very well-written mystery/thriller, including even one goose-bumpy moment that made me hope the payoff was going to be a lot cooler than it was. After about 90 (short) chapters, it tried to become Literary Fiction, capital L, capital F, and characters went through Trials and Made Choices and were Transformed and there was Symbolism and Thought-Provoking Ambiguity and it was all kind of twee. Not every question was answered, and I suppose that's the way life is, but there were a couple you might have liked to see tied up in little bows. I don't think it was just me, I think you're deliberately led to expect a more remarkable conclusion than you get.
It is well-written, even the dialogue is well-written, which is a compliment, but is also a backhanded one. Pretty much every character in the book sounds like Marisha Pessl when they talk. Marisha Pessl has a wonderful vocabulary and rhythm and writes evocatively, but the reason you notice that is that not everybody is like that, least of all fictional characters, whose personalities and presences you would prefer be varied and interesting. Dialogue-wise, I missed Elmore Leonard at times for reasons beyond his having recently died.
This is all coming out sounding more negative than the book deserves, though, because it is an absorbing story, you genuinely care about the characters you're supposed to be caring about, and you never quite know what's going to happen next, and you're in a hurry to find out. Not bad! Just not fantastic. In-between....more
So. We've had the Twilight Saga and endless reheatings of same. Teenagers who learned to love reading from Harry Potter have had to gorge themselves oSo. We've had the Twilight Saga and endless reheatings of same. Teenagers who learned to love reading from Harry Potter have had to gorge themselves on dystopian-and-possibly-paranormal romance after paranormal-and-possibly-dystopian romance since then. Hollywood took a masterpiece like World War Z and turned it into an Apocalypse Yawn movie everybody had seen a dozen times before. It was all leading up to this book.
OK, that's a little overboard. But: this 20-year-old (ish, when she started writingBone Season) Oxford student looked upon these works and saw that they were without form, and void, and often sucky, and mostly unoriginal. And yet there was something attractive, exciting and even edifying hidden underneath the chintzy Divergent/Aberrant/Enclave/Matched/Maze Runner/Number Four/5th Wave/Eleventh Plague wallpaper, a story our culture wants to hear today.
That story is about a young, potential-filled main character struggling to survive some combination of conditions we literally can't understand, because they only exist in fiction, and ones we understand all too well, such as a suffocating security state, or remote and uninvolved parents, or unrequited love, or whatever. The character learns there are more people like her than she realized, suffering many of the same indignities, and feeling just as hopeless. Learning that and thereby learning more about herself, she discovers that she has strength heretofore untapped; depths, you might say, unplumbed; enough to make a dent in the awful world that squanders her and her peers' potential, if she's courageous enough to try. Look at it from 50,000 feet and it's a story about hope in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and that would be why today's readers dig it so much.
The Bone Season is the first of a projected seven-book series, set in an alternate world (circa 2059) where clairvoyance -- many, many different strains of clairvoyance, as it turns out -- has become a fact of life for a small but significant percentage of the population. This "unnaturalness" is aggressively and routinely purged from the population of the "London Citadel," Britain being one of nine European countries under the thumb of an ubergovernment called Scion, which rose to power in response to the clairvoyant menace. Clairvoyants powerful and clever enough to avoid this fate secret themselves into one of a number of "mime-crime" syndicates, the bosses offering protection from discovery and euthanasia in exchange for criminal service. Our main character is a special kind of clairvoyant (remember, strength untapped and depth unplumbed) whose career in one of the crime syndicates is cut short when she is discovered by something quite a bit worse than Scion. (Bonus: It's supernatural!)
What follows is an absorbing, ass-kicking story wherein our Paige Mahoney discovers her strength, reorders her priorities and attempts feats of heroism the two-bit gang member "Pale Dreamer" would never have imagined herself attempting. We learn about Paige faster than she does, and this is the novel's greatest strength. We understand who Paige is and what she has to do -- what she will do, invested as we are in her story -- even as she remains stubborn, and resists change, and tries to avoid responsibility. (Paige is the book's first-person narrator.) There's a lot of showing-not-telling going on in this book, and it's marvelous. Everything Paige does flows from who she is, and even when we readers can see she's being obstinate and self-destructive and merely delaying the inevitable, we're never rolling our eyes and wondering what's taking her so long to wise up. She'll get there, but it won't be because she has an artificial epiphany in Chapter 12 that drives us toward the novel's formulaic ending. (There isn't one of those, to be clear.) Paige is an indelible character. You'll love her.
The novel avoids dropping false choices in front of Paige, ham-fisted turns of events that force her one way or the other. We believe in her just like and to the same extent as her co-MC does, and are just as patient waiting for her to come around. There is nothing about Bone Season that feels artificially manipulated, or manipulative. At the end there is triumph (to a degree), cut with loss and heartbreak, and when you hear a character explain that if we never see him again it's because everything is great and if we do, it's because everything's gone to shit, we root for everything to go to shit, because we want the next book to be as good as this one, and to spend more time with Paige and the other characters we've come to know....more