The Demon's Lexicon

I was about halfway through Sarah Rees Brennan's stunning novel The Demon's Lexicon when I stopped reading and went in search of my middle son. I waved the book at him and said, "This book is from the perspective of a sociopath. He likes to kill things. He doesn't understand the most basic of human interactions. Touch repels him, he feels anger, hunger, cold and not much else. He doesn't understand the reason behind social niceties like being pleasant towards each other when we're feeling grouchy. He's much worse than Dexter, who is trying to fit in and understands that he's missing the palate of emotions that most people have. And the entire book is from his point of view. We never see a scene from anyone's perspective. The author has made a very brave choice. It's crazy! She's taken someone who should be repellent and made him intriguing and made me worry about him."

The Demon's Lexicon starts out with a homey scene. Nick is fixing the sink while his brother Alan fixes breakfast. Their mother is upstairs in her room. You could be lulled into thinking this is going to be a nice family story, but appearances are deceiving. Mom is quite mad and cringes away from Nick when she sees him. The peaceful breakfast is ruined when the house is attacked by the messengers of bad magicians who consort with demons and have been hunting the family for years. Crazy birds come crashing through the window and go after the two teens. Luckily Nick has a sword stashed under the sink and is able to defend the household.

Once most of the birds are killed or driven off Nick thinks he can go finally have breakfast but instead is horrified when two students from his school appear. They are Mae, a Goth girl and her younger brother Jaime, who is frail and has already annoyed Nick by trying to blend in at school. Nick doesn't have a lot of emotions but disgust and anger are two old favorites. Alan, on the other hand, is delighted to see Mae and Jaime, who he knows from the bookstore where he is working.

Mae and Jaime are freaked out by the bodies on the floor (one of which has turned into a human) and by Nick's sword, but their troubles are great enough to make them stay and ask for help. Jaime has been having some problems, nightmares and such and now a mysterious mark, that have led them to believe something supernatural is at work, and they've come to Alan for help. They know Nick from school but certainly didn't expect to run into him outside of the school setting. Nick doesn't make them feel any more comfortable as he deeply resents their presence and just wants them to go away.

To him they are nothing but trouble and he hasn't the least desire to help them. Not even the fact that Jaime has been marked by a demon not once but three times, which means he is slated for certain possession and death, can make him care a fig. But when Alan in turn is bitten and marked Nick is shaken and determined to do whatever it takes to remove the mark, including risking his own life by dancing at the goblin market, deliberately luring a demon in the hopes that it will agree to remove the mark.

With a dead father and a mother that hates him Nick's brother Alan is the only anchor in his life. Alan has always been there, teaching and protecting Nick, helping him with school, especially with reading which is very difficult as the words seem to twist and lose their meaning, so when Nick discovers that Alan is hiding something he's furious and completely confused. As the brothers, their mother, Mae and Jaime go to extraordinary efforts to save the two boys who are marked for possession Nick has to reevaluate his relationship with Alan, who is now clearly lying about a great deal.

Interestingly, for someone who doesn't have many emotions Nick manages to be pretty careful about other people's feelings. While he acts like his mother means nothing to him he does go out of his way to keep her from seeing him and freaking out. And when Mae seems torn between an attraction to Nick and Alan, Nick walks a pretty narrow tightrope to keep from upsetting the delicate balance. He might want a fling with Mae but he doesn't want to upset his brother. Then when he realizes his brother is lying to him he doesn't know what to do or think. His base has been cut from beneath him. The world is confusing enough to him what with people behaving in incomprehensible ways. With his brother no longer trustworthy he's unsure of his place in the world or his purpose.

Ms. Brennan has written an intriguing, fast paced novel with equal parts action and emotion. From the swordfight on the opening pages forward, something is always happening and the characters barely have time to breathe. I felt as though I was running to catch up, trying to understand what was going on and the way the world worked. It took a good third of the novel before I felt at home with the story and could relax and just enjoy it. But then something happened that was so astonishing that I literally screamed, freaking out my youngest son who had been innocently killing zombies in his video game and didn't expect such a hullabaloo from me. Demon's Lexicon is an amazing work. I'd love to hear what you think of it once you've read it. You can read the first chapter here: http://www.sarahreesbrennan.com/demonlexchapter1.html

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Todd who writes in to say, "Tried to watch Terminators (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1350512/) on SyFy the other night. Lasted twelve minutes. Seemed like twelve hours." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.