When The Demon's Lexicon was published in June, people made an awful lot of noise about it, probably because its author, Sarah Rees Brennan, was already sort of an internet celebrity, admired even amongst published authors such as Holly Black (Spiderwick) and Cassandra Clare (City of Bones). I had planned to read Lexicon then, but had other pressing matters to contend with, so I put that plan on hold.
About a week ago, I walked into Borders, got myself a copy of Sarah Rees Brennan's debut and started reading. I finished it today.
So, here goes my review. At the onset of the book, we are introduced to two protagonists, Nick and Alan. Nick is a tough boy with a filthy mouth who likes nothing more than to kill magicians, because, frankly, that's the same way they feel about him. Alan, Nick's brother, is the very antithesis of Nick – kind, perceptive, smart, and willing to risk his life for others, especially his brother.
Magicians in Lexicon are not what we are used to, the contemporary sort. They're not wand-brandishing teens. They're cold-blooded murderers. To attain power, they must consort with demons, providing these beasts of darkness something in exchange for power. The more generous this something is the greater the power a demon grants a magician. And nothing can be more generous than a human being for demons to possess, as demons want more than anything to come into our world.
Sounds a bit original, that is until you've read The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud (published way before The Demon's Lexicon), which actually utilises this idea in a more fun, dangerous and clever way. I can't hold that against Sarah; hardly anything is original these days.
Magicians belong to circles, like vampires belong to covens. One of these circles, led by a dangerous and fierce magician, Black Arthur, has been tracking Nick and Alan for a long, long time, because their mum, Olivia, stole an amulet from Arthur and he wants it back. The problem is the amulet is keeping Olivia alive. Giving it back to Black Arthur would mean killing their mum, and Alan cannot allow that.
There are a number of things about Lexicon that really grated on me. I swear, at so many times, I think my brain liquefied, solidified and liquefied again and again while I chopped through the book.
Now, let it be known, I'm not the kind of person who rips on the works of authors just for the fun of it, particularly the works of debut authors. I hope to be a debut author someday and I wouldn't be pleased if I stumbled upon a site/blog and saw a bad review of my book. But in this case I think I owe it to myself to be sincere, and I would totally understand if other reviewers felt the same way about my book.
Are you for real?
No, honestly. This guy gives his talisman to a chick, which leaves him exposed to demonic attacks. Sure enough, he gets branded with a first-tier mark. What that means is that he's on the initial stages of unwillingly handing out his meat-suit (human body) to a demon for possession. I've done some pretty dumb things for girls just to impress them, okay? Most guys have. Girls too. But this is like Harry giving up his wand in Deathly Hallows when he knows the death eaters or Lord Voldemort is just around the corner. The book clearly states that the boys are on the run from Black Arthur, and Alan dishes out his talisman to a girl? Why, I ask? No rational reason is given, not by Alan or the writer.
Alan's stupidity must be fuelled by some kind of exquisite form of liquid kryptonite, because it shows no sign of giving up the ghost. As the book progresses, Alan continues to make questionable and illogical risks all for the sake of Jamie and Mae (the other protagonists). I won't name all his errors, as I don't want to give too much away, but it did make me wonder how Alan was able to survive Black Arthur's wrath this long if he is this dumb.
Yeah, I know he's a nice guy who loves helping people, but he takes the whole Hero Complex phenomenon to a whole new, ridiculous level. Harry Potter had a Hero Complex thing going on. However, Rowling was clever enough to disclose it in such a way that when it led to a disastrous outcome (it was Harry's desire to save lives that brought about Sirius' death) her readers – I – didn't think, 'Harry, how could you be so daft?' In Alan's case, I kept screaming at the pages, 'BUT, DUDE, WHAT YOU'RE DOING MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE!'
And, Nick – all that inner voice yapping on and on about not giving a crap and being the focused brother and being the sensible brother, blah, blah, blah – this bloke couldn't slap Alan and sit him down for a much needed lecture: 'Alan, bro, I feel you, dude. Okay, I don't, cos I think you're a little pussy. But I kinda understand that you need to save lives. However, you have a mum who's insane and a bunch of magicians waiting to bite our asses at any given chance. Don't you think you should, maybe, tone down the risks you take for strangers a little bit? I mean, it's only logical, right?'
I would have put Alan's and the other characters' aggravating idiocy aside as 'character flaw' had Sarah not utilised it to advance her plot. The fact of the matter is, if Alan wasn't dumb, there wouldn't have been an adventure or a novel, to begin with. It's like reading a book where it is stated that the hero knows the villain is the villain, and that the villain is capable of anything that could lead to the hero's death. The villain invites the hero to his house and offers him a cup of coffee. As a reader, you think, 'But that coffee might be spiked. I wouldn't drink that. Surely this hero must think the same thing.' But the hero drinks the coffee without a second's thought and collapses, shivering. And that's how the plot begins, because now the hero must find a way to survive and kill the villain. However, common sense dictates that the hero should not have drank the coffee in the first place. So, in order for the plot to move forward, the hero has to be dumb enough to do things he's not supposed to do. Get it? That's exactly how The Demon's Lexicon reads.
Let me recount a more practical example for your comprehension, this time from the book. Jamie and Mae, the other protagonists, are intertwined with Nick's and Alan's lives, because Jamie has a third-tier mark on his self and Alan is determined to help him for two reasons: he's nicer than Santa on Christmas day and he has a huge crush on Mae (the same Mae he gave his talisman to, which eventually got him marked). At some point in Lexicon, Alan concocts a plan that involves taking on the magicians face-to-face. Mae decides that she and Jamie are coming along for the ride. I pause my reading and think, 'Jamie and Mae have no combat experience or any experience whatsoever in dealing with magicians. Why should they accompany Nick and Alan to the lair of one of the most power magician circles? Surely, they're just going to get caught and used as leverage to Nick and Alan's detriment.'
Naturally, Nick shares my opinion, and when he voices out his concerns, Mae replies with something like, 'There will be four of us. Four is better than two.' Alan agrees, saying, 'Yeah. That makes sense. We can split in twos.'
Are you f-ing kidding me? Does this Alan knucklehead want to get laid that bad? Imagine Harry going to fight death eaters and taking Aunt Petunia with him, reasoning: 'There's two of us. Two is better than one.' Huh? Oh, yeah, and they did get caught.
That's how things mostly unfold in Lexicon: nice Alan comes up with a dumb plan, feminist Mae superimposes herself on everything and everyone (I hate girls like that), gay Jamie just sits in a corner, blabbering gibberish, and tough Nick, who sees the stupidity in everything (even in things that aren't stupid), cannot seem to put his foot down and say, 'Enough is enough, guys. None of this makes any sense.'
As if that isn't enough, further into the novel, Alan gets the upper hand in the battle against the magicians by shutting off the electricity in the house. Black Arthur, in all his infinite glory and power, cannot, for the love of God, create light. Dude, you're supposed to be a powerful magician. You've got mates who can transform into birds and wolves, and you can't create simple, bloody light?
Prose-wise, Sarah is both fluid and infuriating at intervals. She can write, no disputing that, but she gets carried away at times and jumps overboard, especially in action scenes, leaving me confused rather than engrossed.
Frankly, The Demon's Lexicon needed more tightening before hitting bookstores. Sarah and her agent should have waited an additional year. It pains me when I read books with so much wasted potential (and this book had about as much potential as Graceling, let me tell you). The dialogue between characters was, in most cases, extensive and monotonous. Don't get me wrong – they were well written, but they could have been shorter. Sometimes Nick and Alan talked about the same thing they'd spoken about two pages ago, coming to the same conclusion and just wasting time.
The plot, while riveting in some parts, is not without its issues. This book should have been a novella. In fact, I think it started out as a novella, because it felt way too stretched to me, as if Sarah didn't have much to write about and decided to dump in random stuff in order to bloat the book. The aforementioned plan by Alan to attack the magicians (which takes place towards the end) could have happened earlier in the book. The beginning was great. The end was great (though unnecessarily prolonged to delay the book's climax). The middle was irrelevant.
The mythology anchoring Lexicon and its upcoming sequels is sound, which is probably why my review score isn't below 5. Most young adult books today are usually about some douche bag chick falling for some emo vampire/angel/[insert favourite paranormal specie here] in a biology class (Fallen; Hush, Hush; et la). So, it's refreshing to see a female author taking a different route, kind of like Kristin Cashore.
Another reason this book gets a high rating from me is the twist. Actually, twists. There are two of them. The first one, I did not expect, but I frowned upon because it's been done in so many movies/books/TV shows. But then, Sarah, who is famous for her wicked sense of humour, added another twist right after that one, and I was definitely taken by surprise.
I don't know if I'm going to read the next book, The Demon's Covenant. I think it's written from Mae's point of view, and as I stated earlier, I hate her. She annoys me. Plus, I can tell what 75% of the book will entail: Mae likes Alan, but, oh, she loves Nick, but, oh Alan is safe and understanding, but, oh, Nick is sexy and dangerous. Another love triangle nonsense. I read an excerpt on The Book Smugglers; there seems to be another boy in the mix – McFarlane is his name. So it's a love square then. This is the main reason I stayed away from Wings, which everyone says is awesome. But then everyone said Hush, hush was awesome and "everyone" equals girls who eat all these Twilight rehashes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
By no means, do check out The Demon's Covenant when it's published. I'm quite certain Sarah won't disappoint. Personally, I make it a point of duty to stay far away from young adult books that put love triangles first before actual storylines. That means I don't get to read over 78% of YA novels out today. Love triangles as major plot elements are tacky and cliché and only girls see sense in them. Everyone complains that teen boys these days are quick to ignore books for Playstation and Nintendo. At least Assassin's Creed 2, Uncharted 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Modern Warfare 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum offer more than YA books in terms of plot and character development. No offence.
All in all, a good debut by Sarah Rees Brennan.
Nick was the best character overall, and he kept the book interesting. If it were down to the others? Damn.
World Building: 8/10
Demons live in a different plane; they can be summoned by magicians and asked for powers in exchange for something. Superb. Now, if only Black Author knew how to conjure up light it would have been a perfect 9.
Sucks you in. Keeps in interested. Takes you for a wild ride.
Would have been great. Should have been great. Had Alan and Mae and Jamie had died, things would have been a lot better.
Final Score: 8/10Edit: Since I've decided to read Wings, I'm definitely going to check out The Demon's Covenant.