This book! Guys, this book. I have been fooled by this book at absolute minimum three times, and surprised at least four more. It's seriously packed with action, with worldbuilding, and with character development--often sketchy characters, who are hard to penetrate but flawed and fascinating.
The premise is fairly simple: there are people who, through gifts and advanced training, can use words to affect people's neurobiology and effectively hypnotize or force them to obey ("compromise," they call it). The plot is more complicated: we are following two stories. Wil is abducted in an airport and ends up in a major chase where he's not sure who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. He has no idea why this is happening to him, and neither do we.
The other story follows Emily, who's a street kid hustling three card monte in San Francisco when she is discovered by the Poets and brought to their school to be educated. She doesn't quite fit in, but she's an avid learner and boundary pusher.
These stories tie together. These people are on a collision course. This book is intense and clever and so much fun. The world building is smart, and the twists are surprising and inevitable. But the cool thing is that even the few things I guessed "early" (like, before the flat-out reveal) weren't disappointing. The book wasn't relying on the twist, or the surprise, to keep me interested. I felt just as delighted when I knew what was going on as when I was blindsided.
I'm not quite done yet--this is the moment of my most intense thrill when I need to blog about the book. And I'll admit that it's not entirely without holes--at no point, for example, is the mission statement of the Poets really hinted at, even when you're among them. I guess building a hypnotic army is enough? Their mystique keeps you on your toes, but it seems like a bit of a blank spot.
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Okay, I'm back from vacation and I finished the book and holy cow it was awesome. The ending was a little confusing, but the characters all followed their own paths to the end, and it was still a supremely good read. Seriously, every time I thought, "here's the twist, here's the way the story's going to go," I was surprised. Way to go, Max Barry!