The Demon’s Lexicon

By Sarah Rees Brennan [LibraryThing]

Nick has spent his life on the run from magicians and the demons they call up, with only his brother Alan and his crazy mother. But when a couple of kids come to him and Alan for help and Alan gets marked by a demon, Nick discovers that Alan has been lying to him for his whole life and nothing — not Alan or even Nick himself — is what it seems.


I’d heard a lot about The Demon’s Lexicon before finally reading it, and most of that was very good — and about Nick. Nick is the main thing makes the book so interesting: while he fits roughly into the “dark and broody boy” archetype, he’s an almost totally unsympathetic character. For all intents and purposes, he’s a sociopath. He has no empathy whatsoever, feels nothing, and can easily kill without a second thought. The only thing standing between him and complete blankness is Alan, who he loves desperately and will do anything to protect.

I think Breenan walks a very fine line with Nick. He’s not a character people should be able to identify with, but having a completely non-empathetic protagonist could also make it hard to enjoy the story, since it’s entirely told through Nick’s POV. But Nick manages to stay readable if (for me) a little frustrating. I spent most of the book a little bit bothered that, while he was very interesting, we didn’t know why he was like that — but that problem is cleared up by the end. I think overall the character works well and I did certainly end up caring about him, even though I’d never identify with him (which is generally my preference as a reader).

But I think it’s also one of the few problems with the book, even aside from my personal preferences. Nick’s POV is uncaring, so it isn’t like he asks other characters what they’re feeling or why, how they’re doing, how they got to be the way they are. Because he never gets into anyone else’s head — he just doesn’t care — the reader doesn’t get to, either. I felt somewhat cut off from the supporting cast throughout, which included characters I probably would have otherwise been able to empathize with. Mae and Jamie, the kids who go to Nick and Alan for help, are pretty interesting; we see glimpses into their lives before the book, we see some of their relationships and interests, but there’s never much of what they’re feeling — not much sense of how scared they are over the sudden introduction of demons to their lives, even when they find out, early on, that Jamie’s mark means he’s going to die. I think having a better sense of the peripheral characters might have evened out the narrative a bit, and made up for some of what Nick lacked as a protagonist. (I didn’t spoiler cut that because it’s likeā€¦chapter two.)

All that said, I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking the book or the way the Nick was written. It all came across as very deliberate, very well thought out and well executed by Brennan. It wasn’t my preference, which meant the book never quite clicked for me as a reader, but it was still a good read and I can definitely see why other people enjoyed it so much.

I really liked the book’s world building and approach to magic, magicians, and demons. For most of the book, I was feeling a 3.5 cupcake rating — and then I hit the climax, the last 40 pages or so. That was really, truly brilliantly executed. I thought I’d seen the big twist coming — I certainly saw part of it — but the final reveal? Wowzers. So at last second, this book got knocked up to four cupcakes, and after that climax, I will definitely pick up the sequel when it picks up.

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    6 Comments »

    1. Kristi said,

      January 18, 2010 @ 9:16 pm

      I pretty much echo your thoughts on this all the way through. I enjoyed the book, but I agree, reading it from Nick’s point of view kept me feeling very distant from not only the other characters, but Nick himself. I mean, it’s not like he really let us into his own head all that much – not exactly an introspective character. I do like Brennan’s thoughts on writing a sociopathic character over on John Scalzi’s blog. And I’m excited to see that the sequels are going to be from some of the other characters’ points of view, which will probably give things a completely different feel.

    2. Olive Wednesday said,

      January 19, 2010 @ 4:29 am

      Sounds good! The “magicians who conjure up demons” sound an awful lot like the Bartimaeus Trilogy, though.

    3. Rebecca said,

      January 26, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

      @Kristi – I think WP might have eaten your link. Do you have it (or should I go looking *g*)? Also, I didn’t know that about the sequels! I’m much more excited for them now.

      @Olive Wednesdasy – Hey, I guess it does. I haven’t read Bartimaeus, so that hadn’t occurred to me, but it does sound like a pretty similar basis for magic. I wonder if magicians-conjur-demons comes from actual folklore or somesuch, or just coincidence. Hmmmm.

    4. Jess said,

      February 3, 2010 @ 1:35 pm

      @Rebecca – Magicians-conjur-demons goes back at least to Faust. I’d guess it comes from fairy tale-style deals with the devil, but that’s just a guess.

    5. Cyndy Otty said,

      February 20, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

      I believe Kristi is referring to this post on Scalzi’s blog.

    6. Active Voice » The Demon’s Covenant said,

      September 19, 2010 @ 6:07 pm

      [...] I reviewed The Demon’s Lexicon earlier this year, I wrote about my biggest issue with the book being the narrator, Nick: I think Brennan walks a [...]

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