Review: THE DEMON’S LEXICON by Sarah Rees Brennan

10Feb10

Title: The Demon’s Lexicon
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year Published: 2009

Recommended: Most certainly, to those who can stand a little angst and are interested in the concept/genre. If you don’t tend to like urban fantasy (or, to a lesser extent, YA) this isn’t going to be the book to astound all genre expectations, but I don’t see that as a problem. I’ve heard enough about “transcending the genre” to last a lifetime.

Spoilers: I avoid them, I really do I swear. Mostly. I’m bad at this, aren’t I? But I won’t give away the ending.

I think perhaps I should surrender myself to the fact that whatever else I read in between, it’s the YA that I want to review, or at least that I feel most qualified to comment on.

The Demon’s Lexicon has been buzzing around my brain for a while, annoying me into reading it. I heard about it ages ago, before it actually came out, and then I started to see its eye-searing cover (oh god the colors oh god) at the book store. (There will apparently be a new cover released, which while still not my cup of tea at least looks like it hasn’t been stained by the guts of evil clowns.) Then I wandered over to the author’s blog, and found her sense of humor right up my alley, chuckled my way through some of her reviews (which contributed no little amount to my insane library stack) and finally succumbed and put the Demon’s Lexicon on hold at Ye Olde Splorg.*

The basic premise: Nick travels around with his older brother Alan and his mother. Dear old mum, who hates and fears Nick, used to be a human-sacrificing, demon-summoning magician, and now the trio are on the run from a bunch of other magicians, who like to kill people and cause lots of property damage. Meanwhile, the fairly innocent Mae and Jamie are looking for help after Jaime has been marked by a demon, priming him for possession. They go to Nick and Alan for help just as a magician shows up, and what with the dead body on the floor and all it’s a bit hard for the boys to pretend they have no idea what Mae and Jaime are talking about. Cue hijinks.

Apologies for being more blather-y than usual, it’s the schoolwork.

Nick is a bad-boy, unlovable and violent. Alan is a sensitive sort, an academic, but with great aim and the usual demon-hunting arsenal. The book is entirely from Nick’s perspective, which sometimes worked and sometimes drove me up the wall. Nick, you see, is full of angst. Sometimes, that angst made me, in turn, angst for him, and those times it worked. I like angsting with characters, I admit. I relish a good brood. But other times, Nick’s unpleasantness was just too much to stomach or sympathize with, and I spent a goodly amount of time wishing we could hop to someone else’s head.

Nick is unpleasant enough that despite the hints of possible romances, I rather pitied anyone who tried to get involved with him. I figured that Nick had some secrets, things even he didn’t know about himself, and while I didn’t put the pieces together precisely by the end, I was pretty close. This revelation, which I will not spoil I swear I’m trying so hard, is very well done, with well-detailed hints woven into the worldbuilding, but ultimately it just made me want even more to leave Nick behind and follow some of the other characters. Which I think is actually happening in the next book.

I was constantly grateful for the three non-viewpoint main characters, Alan, Mae, and Jamie, who all managed to alleviate Nick’s assholery in various ways. Alan, the self-sacrificing older brother, has some major secrets and an infuriating (to Nick) tendency to be nice to people, and put himself in danger for them. This tendency is why Mae (who flits between the brothers romantically, and will hopefully get some fun out of Bad Boy Nick and then do the smart thing and fall for Not a Jackass Alan) and Jamie (who is adorable and awkward and panics and needs a smexy boy of his own in the next book because it’s not fair that Mae gets all the attention) end up as semi-permanent fixtures in Nick and Alan’s household. The three have great chemistry with each other, and even though the brother-sister pair don’t exactly get along with Nick (and he despises them), they have some great exchanges with him. Poor Jamie keeps getting hauled along on Nick’s team whenever Nick and Mae are on the outs, to amusing results.

One of the impressive things about this book is the world-building. The rules of magic and demons and so on were intricate, consistent, and set up perfectly so that the surprises at the end flowed naturally from the world. I always appreciate that in a story. The magicians, the “Goblin Market,” and all the various bit characters had their place, and there was only one bit that seemed like a glaring set-up for future plotlines without any real current relevance (a character was included whose impact on the story was itsy bitsy in proportion to the attention spent on her. She’s on the cover of the next book, so obviously she’ll be important later, but this sort of thing often seems off to me). The villains had lovely, normal names like Gerald, and yet were properly frightening, and even if the demons themselves didn’t inspire me overmuch, everything around them, from summoning them and containing them to using their power to cast spells, was great fun.

This is the sort of book that inspires fangirlish devotion (not from ME, just in GENERAL, I most certainly do not fangirl thank you very much, don’tyoudaresayanythinghelen). The potential for romantic pairings, the bad boy versus the sensitive soul, etc. In my usual contrary way, that makes me want to dislike this book, but I can’t. It’s fun, it’s well-written, the worldbuilding is just unique enough to make it stand out from the pack. With the caveat of the angst, it’s easy to recommend this to anyone with an enjoyment of the genre.

*The Seattle Public Library’s website is spl.org, and I have never been able to think of it as anything but “splorg.”

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