Thursday, June 04, 2009

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (Summer Reads List Choice)


Nick and his brother Alan are on the run with their mother, who was once the lover of a powerful magician. When she left him, she stole an important charm - and he will stop at nothing to reclaim it. Now Alan has been marked with the sign of death by the magician's demon, and only Nick can save him. But to do so he must face those he has fled from all his life - the magicians - and kill them. So the hunted becomes the hunter… but in saving his brother, Nick discovers something that will unravel his whole past…

Three things about this novel:

1. Sarah Rees Brennan is someone to watch!

2. Bad boys are truly cool

3. Sarah Rees Brennan is someone to watch!

I almost wish that this can be my entire review but I know I'll get beaten up, so here's the rest.

There is so much that is just "right" in this astonishing debut - pace, characterisation, the plot, the feeling of an overall tale being told and the knowledge of more good stuff to come. (No pressure, SRB!)

In Nick and his brother Alan we have two very different people and the author takes great care in exposing us to that - she is very careful with her scenes, allowing us to zoom in on the action taking place and then skipping out before it gets tedious. This makes the book also a deceptively quick read but NOT an easy one. I gulped it down in two half an hour train journeys, two ten minute bus rides and one hour of lunch. And I don't think I'm a fast reader.

We quickly learn that magicians are after Alan and Nick – we have to very quickly become comfortable with the fact that beneath the fa├žade of normality which they project, the boys are very capable when it comes to defending themselves. Alan has his bookish nerdy ways and Nick is the scary one who bristles with weapons and one-liners that are Whedonesque in their aptness.

Into their lives stroll Jamie and Mae Cameron – two kids who know nothing about the supernatural world but they suspect something is going on…and this is proved true when they walk into the aftermath of a magician/demon attack on Alan and Nick.

Nick’s resentment of Mae and Jamie’s presence is another item of conflict and serves to move the story forward rapidly, developing the storyline with great ease. The author keeps the emotional conflict interesting and Jamie’s continued terror in the presence of the inscrutable Nick is used as a comedic foil – it could have been grating if not handled properly but it works very well. Jamie’s terror and Nick’s apparent fearlessness contrasts vividly, serving to highlight Nick’s ruthless character.

Speaking of ruthless character – it’s only been in Kate Thompson’s Creature of the Night that I’ve previously come across someone as distanced, violently angry (seeming all the time) as Nick’s character in Demon’s Lexicon.

Nick cares about no one – Alan is his world. He would do anything to keep him safe and alive. Nothing else enters his mind – it is only that. He intensely dislikes his mother for her insanity, her dislike of him, her apparent love for Alan and for putting them in a situation as vile as this – running for their lives, all the time. Interestingly, unlike in Rob Thurman’s books and many other books written in the YA urban fantasy genre, Demon’s Lexicon is told in third person. I was surprised at first, but the author allows Nick’s observations and his thought processes to highlight how distanced he is from the normal world. It could have been jarring, it could have gone very wrong, we might have turned around and had issues with this awful character but we are pulled up short by how humane the author has made her main character in the small ways that matters.

The climax of the novel, the big reveal took me completely by surprise. You see what happens is…that you need to read the book to find out! I gaped when I read it, having expected a sneaky twist of a twister and you know, I did not expect the revelations. And looking back at what I had read I should go “duh, but of course!”

The novel works on many levels – oh it has the usual urban fantasy and young adult tropes, but it’s a testament to Sarah RB’s devious little mind that it never ever falls into the trap of being a trope and lifts it above being yet another novel following in the wake of the Stephanie Meyer cruiseliner. It is fresh, it is new and most of all, it has introduced two very well developed main characters and a supporting cast set in a world not so dissimilar to our own. Just keep an eye out for that mist.

Summer Reads List Score:
9/10 Stars

Find Sarah Rees Brennan’s site over at . There is also a fun Q&A with Sarah at her UK publishers site here - . I’ve heard from my friends at The Booksmugglers - - that they are hosting Sarah on Monday, 8th June and that there will be a competition.

Sarah will also be in town next week – she will be appearing IN THE FLESH (as opposed to being a hologram) courtesy of the Murder One UK Film Club. Please note that the signing is a public signing but that the film event is only for those belonging to the Murder One Film Club. Those interested in joining, please contact Tania and Trisha on UK number: 0207 739 7796

Murder One UK Film Club


Film night with Sarah Rees Brennan

June 8th (Monday)

6:30pm start

Approx. 7:30pm film start

Venue: HOME BAR (101-106 Leonard Street [EC2], in Shoreditch)

Murder One Film Club presents the launch of debut YA fantasy author Sarah Rees Brennan’s THE DEMON’S LEXICON (Simon & Schuster), plus a screening of her film pick, HELLBOY.


Ana said...

Excellent review my friend. I could not agree more!!

Ailsa said...

Another great sounding book I would love to read. There are so many this summer. The new Scott Lynch is just out too, and a whole load of others.
I'd love to come to the signing, because I'm in London again (yay!), but you don't get London theatre every night, and Dad & I are off to a show.
Hope you all have a great time there! *g*

prophecygirl said...

I agree too! And spookily, we *almost* posted reviews on the same day - mine's going up tomorrow. I also used the phrase 'one to watch', so we must be right! ;)