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Words have power, but instead of inspiring, what if they could convince and command people to do whatever you said? That’s the premise of this book.

Poets, as they call themselves, have an unnatural gift for getting people to do what they say. Over millennia they have learned to identify a person’s segment, because each segment reacts to different keywords; the words that can bypass the brain’s natural defences and make the person hearing them do whatever you command.

What their secret organisation has been searching for is a bare word, something that can compromise anyone instantly. A so-called Babel event. With it, the wielder could control the world.

Poets learn to hide their emotions, so as not to give away their segment and potential compromise by one of their own. Emily is inducted, despite being too emotional, because she has a strong gift for persuasion. She steals the only known bare word, with devastating results.

It’s a very interesting concept, and you can see how poets would be able to exert significant influence in a world dominated by communication as ours is.

There’s a lot of running and chasing, which were the tough parts for me, they just weren’t very engaging. The scenes about the characters, their thoughts and fears, and learning about how compromise works, were the interesting bits for me.

The story is narrated by Heather Corrigan and Zach Appelman, who switch between the two main characters. It’s a novel approach, and they generally do a good job, although I’m not so sure about Heather’s Australian accent.

Although the ideas in the book are unique, it definitely chimed with my memories of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. It’s a good story and an interesting read that will have you wondering if our animal brains, so geared towards speech, really can be subverted.

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Reviewed: 5th August 2014