Title: The Demon’s Lexicon
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s (UK) /Margaret K. McElderry (US)
Publishing Date: June 1, 2009
Paperback: 432 pages (UK) / Hardcover: 336 pages (US)
Stand Alone or series: first in a planned trilogy but this book stands well on its own. No cliffhanger.
Summary: 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…
Why did I read the book: our good friend Karen Mahoney has been raving non-stop about this book. And you know what? she was RIGHT.
“The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that Nick kept his favourite sword under the sink.”
The Demon’s Lexicon starts with this opening line and it’s a great beginning because it serves the book well . This line is significant in the way it shows how the “abnormal” coexists with the “normal” in this world. Right there and then, I am taken. And this feeling only increases as I read and every single time I had to put this book down, I felt its absence. Much like an umbilical cord between myself and it, there was a calling, something that connected me with to it; I kept thinking about it when I wasn’t reading , mostly theorising about the main character and what it all meant. I am in a way, a few days after reading The Demon’s Lexicon, still hooked in its characters, still thinking about them but mostly still overflowing with admiration for the author. For what she did, for what she dared, for how she constructed the characters, the world, but mostly for how she showed a wondrous dark world and amazing, wonderful feelings such as sensitivity, devotion, fondness and sacrifice through the eyes of a character that feels none of these very same feelings and who is, at every turn and all the time, conscious of this….lacking.
16 year old Nick is the main character – 3rd person narrator of the story, the only character with a point of view. He lives with his crazy mother Olivia and his older brother Alan. They try to live a normal life as much as they can but there is nothing normal about them. Olivia is a magician, a human born with magic and with power. Mostly with the power to communicate with demons, beings that live in a world they hate and who will do anything (possess, promise, seduce) to get into ours, to get even a small measure of what is like to be human. Magicians who want more power will open circles to bring them in and they help them possess and mark humans. Once you get three marks, that’s it, you are dead.
Nick, Alan and Olivia have been on the run all their lives – Olivia once stole a talisman from a very powerful magician who has been trying ever since to get it back. Nick and Alan’s father died protecting them, in the same night that Alan got crippled. Nick is the main warrior of the family, he fights demons with his sword and knives and will do anything, anything to keep Alan safe. Alan is not powerless though – he is a mean shooter, and he never ever misses. Together these two work to keep their mother safe – although Nick often muses that they would be better off if she just died. Yes. That’s right, the kid often thinks and sometimes speaks to Alan that their mother should just die. It is not so difficult to understand why though – since Olivia seems to truly, deeply hate Nick: she doesn’t even look at him.
Not that it matters to him – I don’t think I ever read a book from the point of view of such a cold, angry, harsh character. Nick’s narrative is bleak and joyless although not humourless. Sometimes all he can think of is to kill and to maim. He seems to be able only to understand lust .This anger becomes even greater and almost overwhelming when his brother Alan is marked by a demon. Alan, who is smart, sweet, selfless, is trying to help two kids – also siblings – Jamie and Mae. Jamie has two marks and his death is certain as soon as he gets the third (a matter of “when” not “if”) and Alan helps him by absorbing one of the marks. A fact that utterly dismays, mystifies, puzzles Nick. Why in the world would his idiotic brother puts himself in danger like this? Alan carries a crush on Mae and that is perhaps part of it but Alan has had many crushes for Alan has been trying to be loved for such a long time. So, what is it? What is it that makes Mae do anything to keep HER brother safe? Or Alan want to help their undeserving mother so much?
He is completely unable to understand any of these feelings as much as he is incapable of understand written words (he is dyslexic) . He only understands that Alan needs to be saved at all costs even if the only think that can save him is the death and blood of a magician. All of a sudden the hunted become the hunger as the brothers go after who were after them. Alan is the brains of the operation and Nick is the fighter.
Nick is a character that makes it hard for the reader to connect with – it is so very hard to feel sympathy for Nick but it is impossible NOT to feel for him. Because (and this is the strength of this book and of this writer) through his eyes , through this mind that lacks….something, we see this world of connection, this world of feelings and we as readers, KNOW exactly what he doesn’t know and what he is missing. Whenever Alan says something or touches Nick and Nick is puzzled, we just know that it’s love that is moving Alan. As is love that movies Mae to help Jamie. This book is about brotherly love and devotion and it is awesome. Every single character that lacks a point of view comes into life via Nick’s observations and it is another sign of this writer’s talent that all of them are so well developed. Jamie is a sweetheart , the funny guy in the midst of such terrible things; Mae, the resilient one (and possibly a wrench between the brothers – oh-oh a triangle!) and Alan, the one that carries the world on this shoulders. After the (incredible, ass-kicking, beautiful, sad, surprising, jaw-dropping) climax of the book, Alan comes away as one of the most strong and giving characters I have ever had the pleasure to encounter.
And I beg of you, don’t let the bleakness and the (seemingly) endless anger that Nick feels put you off this book. It is sometimes, a difficult book to read but in the end there is recompense because everything has a reason. Because there is lacking yes, but there is something in the lacking. I did have moments of doubt (would a teenager be SO angry all the time?) but as soon as I realised where it was going, and when I read where it did went (could I be any more obscure? But trust me, you don’t want this spoiled),I could not help but to be unequivocally astonished.
The characters shine in this book. But the plot is equally strong and so are the details of the world. Sarah Rees Brennan is Irish and the story is set in the UK and there is insight into everyday life (at school or for example run-down houses and their shabby lace curtains, that is SO true) over here and this is one of the reasons why I like it so much. And I am not even going to talk about the Goblin Market and the Dancers. That’s for you to discover yourself.
And don’t be surprised if The Demon’s Lexicon makes my top 10 of 2009.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
I LOVE this interaction between Nick and Alan:
“I know you’re worried” Alan said. “Don’t be. How many people with first marks have we seen? How many first marks have you removed? How is this different?”
Nick turned his gaze from the window to Alan.
“This is different”, he said. “This is you”
Alan looked terribly pleased for a moment, and Nick realised that his brother had taken this as one of the ridiculous, sappy things Alan was used to saying all the time. Nick had only meant what he’d said. It had never been his brother before.
Thankfully Alan did not make a fuss about it. He could believe Nick had said any stupid thing he wanted, so long as there was no scenes.
All he said was, “Here, have your dinfast. Then we can start packing”
“Dinfast”, Nick repeated.
“Dinner and Breakfast!” Alan said triumphantly. “Like Brunch”.
Nick subjected him to a long, judgemental stare. “There’s something very wrong with you,” he said at last. “I thought you should know”.
Undaunted or perhaps just unsurprised by this news, Alan began to do the dishes. He pushed Nick’s sword away with sudsy fingers to make room for a wet frying pan.
“Where do you fancy living next?”
“London, ” said Nick, because he thought that Alan would like it.
Alan looked pleased, and he saw he’d guessed right.
Verdict: Undoubtedly one of the best YA books I have ever read. If you like Melissa Marr, you can’t miss this one.
Rating: 8 (leaning towards a 9) – EXCELLENT
Reading Next: Darkborn by Alison Sinclair
ETA: SARAH REES BRENNAN HAS JUST ACCEPTED OUR INVITATION FOR A GUEST POST ON HER INSPIRATION AND INFLUENCES. HER ARTICLE IS GOING TO BE PUBLISHED NEXT MONDAY AND THERE WILL BE A GIVEAWAY!!