Book Review | Lexicon by Max Barry

Lexicon by Max Barry

I’ve been reading Max Barry ever since I found a copy of Syrup in a pre-loved book store many years ago now. I picked it up for a buck or two and read it that night. After reading that one I immediately knew I wanted to read everything else Mister Barry had put out.

I returned to the book store and found Jennifer Government and later ordered Company online. I then had to wait patiently while he wrote Machine Man, which he drip-fed to his fans through a page page-per-day posting on his website.

Come to think of it I really should re-read and review those earlier works. As many new books as I have lined up that I want to read, I continually find myself drawn to re-reading my favorites.

So enough about the other books, what is this one about I hear you ask.


Sticks and stones break bones.
Words kill.

They recruited Emily from the streets. They said it was because she’s good with words.

They’ll live to regret it.

Wil survived something he shouldn’t have. But he doesn’t remember it.

Now they’re after him and he doesn’t know why.

There’s a word, they say. It shouldn’t have got out. But it did.

And they want it back…

The premise of this one had me hooked even if it wasn’t written by one of my favourite authors. There are words which when uttered to the correct type of person can break down their defences and put them under your control. Not words as such, more sounds (example: “Contrex helo siq rattrak“) that trigger a certain reaction in your brain.

The people who can do this are called “Poets”. People who show potential in persuasiveness are selected to attend a private school where they are trained to hone their talents. They learn how to segment people into personality groups, with each group responding to different trigger words.

Emily Ruff, a card hustler from the streets is selected for this training. The blurb says they’ll live to regret it. She’s possibly the best there ever was, but also impulsive and uncontrollable at the same time.

The story flips between past and present, the past where we learn of Emily’s time at school and thereafter, where she’s sent to Broken Hill, Australia as a punishment. During her time there she falls in love with a paramedic named Harry, who turns out to be immune to persuasion by poets.

In the present we find something catastrophic has taken place in Broken Hill, with every inhabitant killed. It’s all tied in to the Poets and Emily, and a mysterious object from the dawn of time called a bareword.

The bareword is like the trigger words, but infinitely more powerful. Anyone who looks at the strange carving is immediately and completely open to any suggestion or command given.

Lexicon is dripping in mystery and action and it moves along (for the most part) at a cracking pace. There’s one thing I picked up during this re-read, a minor detail I think I overlooked in the first time, which was why Harry was immune to the words. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line about what his baby mobile was made from. It wasn’t explicitly mentioned this was why, but it’s the conclusion I’ve come to.

Overall I loved reading this book. At least I assume I did of my own free will. But if there’s anything this book teaches you, your free will may not be that free after all.

TL;DR Version

Contrex helo siq rattrak. Read this book!