Another book I wanted to like, but another book I just couldn’t get into. From my perspective there were two things wrong with it, one structural and one foundational.
I’ll start with the structural issue since for me it was the lesser issue and it might not bother others. The book is set up so we’re seeing two parallel stories. One follows a girl named Emily as she’s brought to “The Academy” to train to be a poet and the other, which is the book opening, is about a guy who gets kidnapped in an airport bathroom because he’s thought to be key to unraveling this disaster. Less then a third of the way through the book you can readily figure out that the story line of the guy is actually the story of the aftermath of havoc that the girl wrought. So we’re actually in two time periods and that just bugs me and seems gimmicky. We also aren’t introduced to where they are going or why so we don’t have a reason to care about this second group of characters. I honestly think the reader might have been better off had we switched POV halfway through and picked up the story in media res as opposed to making it the opening of the book. Like I said, this may be a non-issue for some, but it didn’t work for me.
The bigger issue I have is the foundation of the world. In this world a group of “Poets” (So named because after their time at the Academy is done they take on name of a famous poet, Emily becomes Virginia Wolfe, the Academy is run by Yeats and so on) can manipulate and control humans through language. The author makes it very clear that he’s trying to ground this in reality. Emily studies psychology and philosophy and multiple languages and linguistics to get her skills. When it comes to basic manipulation it all works. I mean, of course you’re going to do a better job of persuading someone to do what you want if you know how they think. The problem comes from the fact that they can use language to do things like make it impossible for the other person to move or make you do as they command. Here’s my issue with that: unless you live somewhere where everyone is a monoglot and you have zero exposure to languages outside your own (which in this day and age is nigh impossible if only because of appropriation of words wholesale into the native tongue) you’ve at been bombarded with syllables and words that make no sense to you, the more foreign the language the less you might even be able to guess at the sounds their making. I just can’t buy the fact that someone saying fxfxfxadfadfs is suddenly going to cause your body to freeze up like that. We aren’t Siri. We don’t get hung up and unable to function because of strange accents/words/letter combination. Our brain has evolved beyond that. This conceit just doesn’t work for me. You almost need that hint of magic or the fantastic to make it work and it just isn’t there. I couldn’t get behind this notion of the Poets work no matter how much I wanted to, and since that failed, I couldn’t get into the book as a whole.
On to the next.