Sarah Rees Brennan

Demon’s Lexicon, book 3

Margaret K. McElderry (2011)

ISBN: 9781416963837

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts

On Saturday, I read a book. I read, and read. I begged my daughter to let me read instead of being Mission Control to her game of Super Sisters, I did the occasional household chore and then ran back to my book straight after. I ate lunch while reading. I left my family to their own devices, went and lay on my bed and read until I was done.

This, needless to say, is a rare event in our household. Once upon a time, reading all Saturday afternoon was a normal thing for me, but that was before I became a mother of two. My reading is usually snatched in ten minute intervals, between larger and more immediate demands on my time.

But this was The Demon’s Surrender.

When my honey lifted an eyebrow at my complete immersion in the book, I said firmly, “I have been waiting for this book for FOURTEEN MONTHS,” and he nodded gravely and left me to it. Wonderful man.

I review books all the time, and I was expecting to be able to review this one sensibly, but it turns out I have no ability to distance myself enough from my sheer crazy fan love of this series to be thoughtful and articulate. I’m more – “wheeee, all the right people in the tree, K – I – S – S – I – N -G!” because, baby, all my ships came home to roost, every single one of them.

Brennan has created a very fast-paced, entertaining series of YA urban fantasy with an elegantly simple magical system at its centre (you’re either part of the Goblin Market, or you’re a Magician, and by the way? Demons are scary), and a whole lot of horrible, angsty things happening to cute, witty people with knives. Like if Buffy was British, but better.

She has also done some extremely clever things, snuck in amongst all the distracting banter and hot boys taking their shirts off. At first look, constructing a trilogy in which each volume has a different point of view character, sounds nuts. But in fact, it was the perfect choice for this story. With each point of view change, we get different ways of seeing the various characters, and the world looks slightly different. It’s a way to delve into different corners of the story, quite intensely. The danger of course is that if you don’t like one protagonist, you aren’t likely to wait around for the next book to come out. There are plenty of readers who didn’t engage with Nick, the teenage sociopath who narrated The Demon’s Lexicon, and plenty more who objected to the shift of POV to Mae, a girl with pink hair who has kissed more than one boy, in The Demon’s Covenant. There were even some who were concerned to hear that Sin, a minor character in both those books, was lined up to narrate Book Three.

Ahem. Some spoilers abound below. But I am quite restrained, honest.

Needless to say, I feel a little sorry for anyone who disliked any of Brennan’s protagonists, because I love them all! I also enjoy the way that our opinion of the main cast shifts in the wind, depending on whose eyes we are seeing them through. Nick, for instance, shared with us that his brother Alan was the most important person in the world, and that newcomers Mae and Jamie are irritating, for the most part. He might fancy Mae, but won’t do anything about it because Alan likes her and Alan deserves to be rewarded with the girl.

Mae, unlike Nick, appreciates that her own brother Jamie is hilarious, wonderful and entertaining. She likes Nick a lot more than Alan, especially as she comes to realise how untrustworthy Alan really is. The only thing she and Nick agree on, in their world view, is that Nick is devastatingly handsome.

Then there’s Sin the dancer, who has not been part of the tight foursome who make up the first two parts of the story, and when she has turned up, has been painted as somewhere between a reluctant helper and an active antagonist. But Sin is wonderful.

Much as I came to like Mae far better in her own book than through Nick’s eyes, I really loved Sin in her own book. I enjoyed the fact that she doesn’t like or trust either Alan or Jamie, which made me feel like I came to know both of them far better than when their respective siblings were telling me how great they were. In fact, through Sin’s eyes, I came to appreciate Alan as I never had before, so that the final act which has him in greater danger than any of them, meant more to me than if it were just Nick’s brother and Mae’s friend at stake.

My favourite thing, very favourite thing about this particular book, is the relationship between Mae and Sin. At the climax of the previous book, the two girls were pitted against each other, competing for something they both desperately wanted (not a boy). This is further compounded in this book in which they are both given a smaller quest to complete, to reach their mutual goal. Also, they both have complex and undefined relationships with the same two men. And yet, they respect each other, even when they are unhappy with each other’s choices, and we never ever have the stupid moment where one of them is jealous of the other one’s relationship with one of the boys. In fact, that moment is totally set up in the book in order to draw attention to it, and then THE STORY DOES NOT GO THERE.

In short, this is a YA series which not only respects female characters, but allows to reader to respect more than one of them at a time. It allows two girls to compete, without one of them being the bitch.

Sin is of mixed race – and I think it’s great that this is reflected on my cover of the book, after all that CoverFail business! I’d be interested to hear what POC readers think of her portrayal, as she seemed quite sensitively handled to me and I liked very much that Brennan didn’t shy away from the fact that Sin’s colour would often affect the way she was seen by white people and the way she related to them, particularly with her situation as the carer for two young, white siblings. You can read Sarah Rees Brennan talking here about the importance of diversity in YA and why trying to do the right thing by Sin and her story was important to her.

I’m not sure if that article would make a lot of sense to people who haven’t read the books but it was fascinating to me to read about how the main characters came to be, and how each of them represents a traditional character trope which has been turned on its head – particularly the effect of making the Desperate Nurturer character a boy, and the Wide-Eyed Adventurer a girl, not to mention showing us the inside of the head of Mr Tall, Dark and Dangerous, instead of holding him at arm’s length.

The aspect I had been most worried about with this third book would be that it would be hard to get any satisfying resolution on the Nick-Mae relationship without one of them being the narrator – but, of course, I should have trusted Sarah and her army of eavesdropping protagonists. I closed the final book with a happy sigh, feeling that all was right with the world, and the last several years of hanging out for the first/next/last book in this trilogy had not been wasted.

Except, of course, she’s writing a gothic series next with a family of evil hot blond aristocrats in it. So, of course … I CAN’T WAIT!