Saturday, 27 October 2012

Book Review: The Demon's Lexicon trilogy

Title: The Demon's Lexicon, The Demon's Covenant and The Demon's Surrender
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Year Published: 2009-2011
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Action, Romance

I wanted to like this series. I really did. The reasons for this are twofold: first, not one, but two of my friends liked and recommended it; second, I've lurked on the author's blog and she seems really funny (those recaps!) and nice (as far as I can tell from my observations as a creepy internet lurker). In the end, however, The Demon's Lexicon series just wasn't really my cup of tea, though I can see why it might appeal to others.

The Demon's Lexicon introduces us to the Ryves brothers, Nick and Alan, who have been running from evil magicians their entire lives. Enter Mae and Jamie, two siblings from Nick's school who suddenly find themselves in need of magical help. Various kinds of fighting ensue. The novel is told from Nick's point of view, which was not a particularly fun place to be. I mean, I get that he has an unfeeling sort of personality, but some variant of “Nick didn't care, but he did it because he thought Alan might like it” pops up on every other page and I got fairly sick of being told about this over and over again. I couldn't really get into the plot either (despite heaps of action), nor could I bring myself to particularly care about the characters. The last third of the book, however, took me by surprise. At this point, all the various sub-plots come together in a really interesting way and I finished the book relatively quickly. While I enjoyed the ending (the book works as a standalone, thankfully), I wouldn't have read the sequels had I not already borrowed all three books.

In The Demon's Covenant, we have a continuation of the adventures of our intrepid four as they continue to oppose evil magicians (but I won't say anything about the plot because spoilers). I was actually a little disappointed that we weren't in Nick's point of view any more (given the ending of the last book), but oh well, Mae's point of view proved to be an easier read (replace “Nick didn't care...” with various metaphors and similes). The plot meanders more than in the previous book, and I wasn't really ever sure where things were going, or if they were going. Though I wanted to like Mae, the fact that she (minor spoiler alert!) dates/befriends her brother's bully – despite Jamie openly hating him and despite Mae seemingly loving Jamie the most – rubbed me the wrong way. As with the previous book, I didn't find myself compelled to pick this up again after I'd put it down. Then boom. Another great third act.

The series finishes with The Demon's Surrender, told now from the point of view of Sin, a relatively minor character from the previous books. At this point, I was getting a bit bored of the whole “Market people vs. magicians” conflict, which seemed to move sideways rather than escalate (if that makes sense). Still, I found this book to be the easiest to “get into” out of all of them. The writing seems more balanced and I also found Sin to be more likeable than Nick and Mae. Coincidentally, this is also the book in which all the romantic sub-plots become fleshed out, though it did seem a bit contrived at times to have Sin present while the other couple talked about their relationship. On this note, I also didn't buy Nick's “romance”; it felt like something was missing between the previous book and this one (not in a good way) and I couldn't make the jump. At any rate, the conflict and action are better paced in book three, with major events happening in the middle rather than just at the end. The ending itself is fairly satisfying too.

As far as YA urban fantasy goes, this series is pretty original (no vampires or werewolves). The demonic aspect of Brennan's world was really interesting and the books were at their best during the times they explored this. However, I wanted more world-building from this series. It's set in Exeter and London, but I didn't really get a sense of place other than the general “urban” kind of feel and the occasional landmark name-drop. The same goes with the Goblin Market and the world of the magicians in general. While these were described in a fairly detailed way, I could only get a superficial impression of what they were. Given that all the action occurs in these places (no hopping around cities to save the world), I would have liked more depth.

My other main problem was that this was a character-driven series and my failure to bond with the characters doomed me to diminished enjoyment. Despite the changing narrators all having different personalities, there's a same-ish quality to the writing – for example, the occasional quirky hook of a sentence or pretty turn of phrase, the same kind of descriptions and so on. In other words, since the writing style is similar in all three books, what didn't work for me in the first book also didn't work for me in the second and third. Worse, I couldn't even root for the villains, as they all felt a bit two-dimensional. This, for me, diminished the tension in the books even further.

Now for a bunch of even more subjective nitpicks/comments. First there is the humour: there's quite a bit of it, it is funny, but it feels a bit like internet humour and it was therefore a strange experience to be reading it a book (see the author's website for examples of said humour). Second, while some might find the many t-shirt slogans mentioned (eg. “Romeo and Juliet Wouldn't Have Lasted”) to be a particular treat, I personally found it distracting since I could not help but think of the Author Appeal. Third, included on p206 of The Demon's Covenant is my personal berserk button: arterial blood is described as dark (seriously, is this a thing now?). In all honesty though, these won't annoy you unless you have a (read: my) specific set of stupid pet peeves.

I'm sorry I didn't like this series as much as I wanted to, I really am. This was probably my own fault, since I started the series after my YA urban fantasy craving had passed. The premise is unique, the dialogue is snappy and the way the endings came together was well done every time – there's plenty to like. But I felt had to push my way through this series, I didn't really care about anyone, and it was just not to my (subjective) taste. My recommendation, if you want to give this a shot, is to read the first book and see how you go from there: if you like it, great, go read the next two. But if you don't, then I'm betting you won't much like the others – in which case, just go watch Supernatural or something to get your brothers-fighting-supernatural-forces fix instead.

Alex's Rating: 2.5/5

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