Genre: science fictionish thriller (it’s set in the real word but if someone speaks the right sounds to you, they can make you do anything)
Length: 390 pages
Setting: various places in the U.S. and Broken Hill, Australia, present day
Interest: I saw it reviewed in a GeekDad post as one of the best books of 2013 (yes, it’s been on my to read list for a while). I finally got around the reading it.
Summary: Emily has been living on the street, making a living playing three-card monte One day, she’s contacted by a recruiter for a school for gifted persuaders. She nearly flunks the testing to get in (and cheats to pass), but soon beings classes about language. Emily always tests the boundaries of what’s allowed, which eventually gets her kicked out of the school her junior year. She’s sent to Broken Hill, Australia and told to make a life there for a possible second chance. She basically gives up on ever getting back on the good side of Yeats (the head of the school/organization), going so far as to fall in love with Harry, one of the Broken Hill residents. Her plans are altered when Yeats calls her back. She’s set up in neurolinguistics and eventually discovers the labs are hiding a secret – a bare word that can completely compromise anyone. She is able to steal the bare word and slowly makes her way back to Broken Hill to escape with Harry. Too bad Yeats secretly compromised her to test the bare word’s ability to compromise everyone. Only Harry is unaffected, and Yeats uses Emily to try to find Harry and see why he’s immune. There’s a breakaway group that’s also trying to find Harry in order to stop Yeats.
Final thoughts: A very interesting book on so many levels. First off, it’s all about the power of language. If you can figure out the underlying personality of someone, you can control them with the right words. The school Emily attends teaches the students how to identify personalities and compromise them. Of course, once you have some power, you want more. The bare word provided absolute power over everyone. I didn’t understand why Yeats thought he could start a religion and prevent a Babel event (which was the end result every other time a bare word was found). Of course, there are things in a person even more powerful than a bare word, so Emily was able to fight back in the end.
Emily was also an interesting character. She usually tried to do things her own way, which often got her into trouble with authority. Because she was kicked out of the school before her senior year but was still curious about how words worked, she crafted rules for power words from first principles. She also fell in love with someone she couldn’t influence. Harry didn’t find words important, so the standard power words didn’t work on him. That allowed him to survive the massacre at Broken Hill, but also meant people started to hunt him down to figure out why he was immune.
This book was a bit tricky to read because it jumped around in time on a regular basis. Sometimes it was hard to tell whether you were in the present (Harry running from Woolf and Yeats) the recent past (Emily’s life after Broken Hill) or farther past (when Emily was recruited to go to the school). The book would be a great one to reread since I would have a better sense of which time period I was in for each section. When I first started the book, I didn’t even realize for a while that the book jumped around in time and how all the characters were related. I was disappointed with the last two pages of the book. Without spoiling the ending, I couldn’t see how that end was possible. It wasn’t explained, either. We just get a quick flash and done. Either take it out or give me more details. Don’t keep me hanging like that!
Title comes from: Words have power and the words in your lexicon determine your power.
Reading challenges fulfilled: #48 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge and an X in my Title Reading the Alphabet challenge
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