Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

The Demon's LexiconThe Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan (Simon and Schuster - McElderry) almost went awry for me. A number of friends of mine have reviewed this book, with mixed feelings, and for the first fifty pages or so, I was grasping for what I think is the author's strength: snatches of nervous, awkward, cynical, wry, and sometimes just silly humor. While I think wickedly funny, sarcastic, and quick-witted teens can be tough to write, much less make realistic and integrate into a story like this, the characters in The Demon's Lexicon show those traits, and they do eventually turn up here.

Nick and Alan, and their mother, have been running from the magicians that killed the boys' father nearly all their lives. When Alan is marked by a demon, they have to find and kill a magician to save Alan's life. But it gets much more complicated when Alan agrees to help siblings Mae and Jamie, because Jamie's been marked for death as well. The story is told from Nick's point of view--angry, out-of-place Nick. He's still sympathetic, though, as you follow his adventures in trying to keep his brother safe.

While reading this, I appreciated a couple of things very much. First, the story starts where it ought to start. I've read a half-dozen YA fantasy books lately where there's an extra 50 pages at the beginning that don't really belong. Sure, we get some backstory, some characterization, but it's almost separate from the overall plot: everyone talks on the phone and does normal teenage things, but has a bad feeling or notices strange things happening. We get hints, but it's the hint that the real story might start soon.

Second, the story is self-contained. Far too many YA series lately are using the first book to set up the next book. There's some tension, or there's some task or puzzle to solve, but it's nothing high-stakes, really; at the end of the book, some high-stakes problem is finally revealed, and the problems in the first book are revealed to be minor. In that case, maybe we could just skip to book two! The Demon's Lexicon doesn't wrap up every little detail, and is certainly open for (and is) a series, but the first book is self-contained in terms of story arc.

Third, and finally, I'm finding lately that I have epilogue fatigue. Ends of stories are rushed, and then there's an epilogue covering months or years--but somehow, these don't create a feeling of winding down to a satisfying ending. Instead, I find myself wishing that any really important bits were in or implied in the final chapters. Perhaps I don't need to know the character's life story--just the character's story for now. The Demon's Lexicon ends in a satisfying way, without detailing all that happened in the future.

Have you read this one? Whether you have or have not, are you feeling any book structure fatigue lately?

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