Rees Brennan, Sarah: (01) The Demon’s Lexicon

The Demon’s Lexicon is the first book in Sarah Rees Brennan’s trilogy of the same name. It’s due out June 2; I read an ARC.

In this contemporary fantasy, there are many different kinds of magic in the world, but the strongest comes from summoning demons and allowing them to possess unwilling victims in exchange for power. Years ago, Nick’s mother stole something from a particularly deadly magician, and his family’s been on the run ever since. The magicians killed his father, and his mother is crazy and terrified of Nick, so it’s effectively him and his brother Alan against the world. Alan is the only thing that matters to Nick, but now he’s in immediate danger of possession and—even more troubling—Nick is beginning to think that Alan has been lying to him all along.

The book is tight-third from Nick’s point-of-view, which is a strength and a potential weakness. I admire its tightness, but Nick’s viewpoint is a difficult one—when I said Alan was the only thing that matters to Nick, I meant that literally. There’s another person in danger of possession who’s come to them for help, and neither he nor his sister naturally appeared in the plot summary above, because I was using Nick as the way into the story. I also felt that some of the jokes Nick cracks—perhaps all of them—didn’t really fit, either the situation or my sense of his character. So while I was anxious about Nick and Alan’s predicaments and eager to find out how they would resolve, I still felt a bit of reserve about the book because of its difficult and distancing voice.

This was particularly an issue early on, when I think the wisecrack density was highest, and I’m not sure I would have kept reading if I hadn’t previously enjoyed the author’s nonprofessional fiction and she wasn’t a friendly acquaintance. But since I had that goodwill, I finished the book, and I’m very glad I did. I love the direction the story takes, and I can’t wait to see how Rees Brennan meets the challenge she’s set for herself. If you try the book and like any part of it, I’d recommend sticking it out until the end. (But I still don’t believe in Nick’s sense of humor.)

You can read the first chapter online. Also, the Japanese edition cover by Hiromu Arakawa is the very best cover in the world (much better than the U.S. cover, I think, which Chad says gives off girl cooties like whoa). [Updated Japanese cover link 2014-05.]

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