Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

Plot Summary: Nick and his brother, Alan, have spent their lives on the run from magic. Their father was murdered, and their mother was driven mad by magicians and the demons who give them power. The magicians are hunting the Ryves family for a charm that Nick's mother stole -- a charm that keeps her alive -- and they want it badly enough to kill again. Danger draws even closer when a brother and sister come to the Ryves family for help. The boy wears a demon's mark, a sign of death that almost nothing can erase...and when Alan also gets marked by a demon, Nick is desperate to save him. The only way to do that is to kill one of the magicians they have been hiding from for so long.

I have heard much about Brennan as a fanfiction writer. I’ve never read her stuff since I don’t really like fanfic, but she has definitely made a name for herself this way. And I think that’s great. So I happily picked up a copy of THE DEMON LEXICON.

The concept behind the story is very intriguing. And I think the author ties everything together fairly well at the end (though she left some pretty big clues, so the twist wasn’t so surprising to me). I wasn’t too thrilled about Nick, though...

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below. Big ones.

Nick isn't exactly your typical teenage boy. He's pretty much empty of all emotions, and he’s scary. Really scary. Why? Because...

If you don’t want to know the big twist at the end of the book, then stop reading because I’m about to reveal it.

Okay, I’m revealing it now...

...Nick is not human. He’s a demon in a human’s body, put there by his father before the human body was even born. Demons don’t have emotions, so Nick doesn’t have them either. He feels no love, friendliness, sympathy, or empathy. The closest thing he exhibits to an emotion is his devotion to his brother, Alan, and anger when Alan’s safety is threatened.

Because of this lack of emotion, I found it difficult to connect with him. In fact, I couldn’t stand him.

It's possible, though very difficult, to write a great book with an unlikable character. INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch is a good example. The main character does something horrifying, and yet the reader was still able to connect with him. Lynch did this by giving his readers insight into the character’s mind, allowing us to understand how something so awful could happen.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to connect us to Nick. He revels in scaring people, he insults those who need help, and he ignores anything that doesn’t directly affect him. Basically, he’s an incredibly selfish jerk. I thought there was way too much of this, and of him constantly telling the reader that he feels nothing.

Which brings me to the biggest issue I had with the story.

If I say that I feel nothing, that means something to me and to others around me. When my emotions overwhelm me, that also means something – I know what it is to feel nothing because I know what it is to feel something.

For Nick to constantly tell me that he feels nothing implies that he knows what it’s like to feel something. But he doesn’t. And, since he’s never had emotion, there's no way he could understand the lack of it. He is who he is, and only understands what he’s experienced.

I thought it would have been more plausible for him to openly not understand what everyone was talking about, and then either get annoyed or try to figure out what all that feeling stuff meant. This also would have provided me with a connection to Nick. If he had tried to understand what emotion was all about, especially since he has such a strong connection with Alan, then I would have had some respect for Nick. As it was, I didn't.


C.R. Evers said...

Sounds interesting. I skipped the spoilers because I'll probably read it.

PJ Hoover said...

As always, I love our reviews. I read it and enjoyed it, but you're totally right about his lack of emotions. I had a really hard time liking him.

Spartezda said...

I loved Demon's Lexicon, but I figured out the twist early on, so I really enjoyed his faltering attempts to inclue himself--he did actually have a few instances of suddenly 'getting' a notion, like when Jamie explained empathy and then Nick figured out in several places, Oh, that's what they're doing.

I also really liked her deconstruction of the Dark Brooding Violent Hero so many girls fall for, because as the author's said places, the important thing about That Guy is that he is not right, and he cannot be fixed by true love or therapy. So I enjoyed seeing that carried through fully.

Plus, of course, Alan is also terribly awesome. ;) I love the way he's set up in the very first chapter, the crippled exterior and sweet appearance drawing people's attention away from the sharp mind and sharper aim. Which plays out precisely the same way in the larger context of the novel, so even the reader's attention is distracted away from what's going on underneath with him.

Anna said...

Thank you so much for this review! It's balanced and thoughtful.

I've been intrigued by this book ever since I first heard of it because I'm a HP nut and I'm familiar with the author's fanfiction. I'll definitely read this as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Christina Farley said...

Hmmm, interesting. I might check it out.

Marina said...

As you say, very hard to write an unsympathetic character.

I tried to write a book about a mother who walks out on her kids as well when she dumps her cheating husband, because I wanted to explore what could make a woman do that. But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't identify with such a character. (Not that I'm saying I can't imagine real people having compelling reasons to do it, just that, as a writer, I couldn't bear to spend a whole book inside such a person's head.)

So the premise kept getting watered down and watered down till I ended up with a "likeable" character who couldn't do it either.