Study Guide

The Demon's Lexicon Analysis

By Sarah Rees Brennan

  • Tone

    Sardonic, Self-Deprecating, and (a little) Despondent

    Although the story is told through third person narration, the narrator is very close to Nick throughout the book, which means we see things from Nick's point of view and get a lot of his inner thoughts. And those inner thoughts? They're pretty dark. And funny. And a little sad.

    Because Nick isn't overly fond of people in general, and because he doesn't always know how to interact with them, he tends to relate to others using sarcasm and exceptionally dry humor. Like when he tells Alan, "Oh get in the kitchen and bake me a pie, woman" (1.6), or when he cautions Jamie, who's fidgeting with an oven glove, "Don't hurt yourself with that" (7.52). And while Nick may seem arrogant or self-centered at times—as when he refers to himself as "stupidly good looking" (7.47) or comments glibly on Mae's breasts (7.79)—he's also quite aware of his own flaws (the anger, the apathy, inability to communicate), and more than ready to point them out.

    The result is a great mix of humor and despair that keeps us entertained as we chuckle and cringe our way through the book.

  • Genre

    Young Adult Literature; Fantasy; Gothic Fiction

    Young adult lit generally features YA characters, and The Demon's Lexicon is no exception. With a sixteen-year-old protagonist, Nick Ryves, as well as his brother Alan (age nineteen), and their new best friends Mae (age seventeen) and Jamie (age sixteen), The Demon's Lexicon is YA-packed. But that's not the only thing that makes it YA Lit.

    It also has a focus on characters who are trying to navigate the path from adolescence to adulthood (while simultaneously fighting demons and dealing with magic—those are the bits that make it fantasy), and it features distinctive teen voices as well as teen-centered dialogue and issues.

    As for what makes it Gothic fiction, the list is long. We have:

    • supernatural elements;
    • mysterious houses with secret pasts (or presents);
    • an overall sense of foreboding;
    • extreme weather;
    • extreme emotions;
    • one or more tyrannical romances; and
    • the sounds of footsteps, screams, or other ghostly sounds.

    So yeah—the gothic fiction label fits.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    The great thing about the title The Demon's Lexicon is that you can't fully appreciate it until you finish the book. (Unless, of course, you read this first.)

    Lexicon is sometimes used as a fancy word for dictionary, but if you look it up, you'll see that it also refers to "the vocabulary of a person, language, or branch of knowledge." In other words, your personal lexicon includes all of the vocabulary you have amassed through life experience and education.

    And The Demon's Lexicon? Well that would be all of the vocabulary that Nick has accumulated during his sixteen years as a human. Of course, we learn right away that his vocabulary is somewhat limited, but we don't understand why until we realize that Nick came to the table with absolutely nothing: no link whatsoever to the human experience or its vocabulary. Which, when you think about it, makes the contents of his particular lexicon rather impressive.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    Nick spends the entire book feeling like an outsider:

    • He doesn't make friends the way other people do.
    • He doesn't feel emotions the way other people do.
    • He can never find words (let alone the right ones) to express what he's thinking.
    • When Black Arthur and Alan finally reveal to Nick the truth of who he is, all of these things begin to make more sense—to us, the readers, and to Nick.

    Which is why, after Alan frees Nick from his human body, Nick chooses to return to it. Now that he knows what he is and how to define himself, the right words finally do come to Nick, and he tells his brother, "I won't leave you. […] I don't want to" (17.81).

    What's more, after three hundred pages of feeling uncomfortable in his own skin, Nick begins "slowly to feel as if this body could be his again," and we sense that he's finally going to find his place because he feels "grounded and at home already under his brother's gentle human hands" (17.85). (Sniff. Sniff. Excuse us, please. We have something in our eye.)

  • Setting

    Exeter, London, Tiverton, and Salisbury, England

    One of the hazards of being hunted by magicians is that you have to be on the move a lot. Therefore, the Ryves Bros. & Co. do quite a bit of traveling in this story, which gives us quick peeks at quite a few UK sites, including Gothic cathedrals and ancient battlegrounds, old pubs and close-packed houses with slate roofs. What's the biggest thing we get from all of these little peeks? A sense of the historical weight of the area and the potential for ancient tales, folklore, mystery, and magic to be hidden behind every spire and balustrade.

    The book begins with Nick and Alan in Exeter, but when ravens invade their kitchen (meaning that the magicians have found them once again), it's time to relocate. Nick suggests London because he knows Alan will enjoy being near all of the museums, so they head northeast, and that's where the bulk of the rest of our story takes place.

    There are side trips to Salisbury, where Nick and Jamie are dropped outside Salisbury Cathedral to explore the town and seek out magicians, and though we don't get the details, Mae and Alan take a quick trip to check out Stonehenge. There's also a quick detour to the Isle of Wight, where we encounter yet another residence that could easily be the setting for a Gothic film. (Incidentally, in our minds The House of Mezentius looks a lot like the real life Isle of Wight estate Appuldurcombe House.)

    Put all of these pieces together, including the final scenes which take place in an expansive row house off of Royal Avenue (a rowhouse we imagine may resemble one of these), and you have the perfect setting for this modern Gothic novel.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (3) Base Camp

    Rees Brennan throws in a few cool vocab words (lexicon, crenulated, scabbard, sigil, and the like), but they're relatively spread out and even if you don't look them up (come on… look them up) they won't keep you from understanding what's going on. Plus this book is exciting. It's packed with action (and lust and drama) that will keep you turning pages from start to finish. Overall, it's a pretty straightforward—and really fun—read. Enjoy.

  • Writing Style

    Richly Descriptive Yet Conversational

    If you're lucky, you know someone who has a way with words. You know, that person who, whenever she describes something, you think to yourself, "Yes, that's exactly it." Maybe you're even one of those people yourself. Sarah Rees Brennan definitely is. She uses clever similes throughout The Demon's Lexicon, such as a pipe that groans "like an ancient robot about to fall to pieces" (1.15) or the description of Jamie as someone "who moved gently and apologetically through life, like a hunted animal trying not to stir the leaves as he passed" (7.124).

    And yet she manages to keep things moving and keep the narrative conversational. Despite all of the description, which in some books can seem to bog things down, the writing in The Demon's Lexicon moves swiftly. This is in part due to the quick and witty dialogue that peppers every page, but it's also due to Rees Brennan's style, which manages to be richly descriptive without getting too wordy.

  • Swords and Guns

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes a sword is just a sword. But in The Demon's Lexicon? There's definitely more going on with all this weaponry.

    Think for a moment about who carries weapons, and which weapons they use.

    Alan has a few knives as his disposal, but mostly he relies on his gun. Nick has several knives and a switchblade, but his primary weapon—and his weapon of choice—is his sword. Remember this detail while we take a look at our three main male characters and examine their levels of masculinity. Ready? Here we go:

    • Jamie—who demonstrates many stereotypically feminine qualities in that he is in touch with his and other people's emotions, he cares about relationships, and he doesn't feel a need to be aggressive or initiate action—carries no weapon.
    • Alan—who initiates many events and takes on a protector role in conflicts (two stereotypically masculine qualities) while still being a decent communicator and performing domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning—carries a gun.
    • And Nick—who is stereotypically hyper-masculine in that he, as Alan says, does "the heavy lifting (1.5)," is not in touch with his or other people's emotions, and is highly aggressive and domineering—carries a longsword.

    Are you getting it yet? Their weaponry is directly connected to their masculinity, and you know what that means? It means that all these knives and guns and swords are phallic symbols.

    Yeah, we know—that sounds really strange and kind of ridiculous, but the idea is not that Nick's sword is a penis—at least not literally. The idea is that Nick's sword and Alan's gun are symbols of their masculinity and the power they derive from being males in situations that favor men or stereotypically male characteristics such as physical strength and aggression.

    If you're having trouble believing us, take a close look at the scene featuring the messenger in Chapter 3. For one thing, the repartee between Nick and Alan and the messenger, who just happens to be female, is highly sexualized from the start. When the messenger tells Nick he's looking "very grown up," he replies,

    "I'm entering on manhood. […] You're a stylish, sophisticated, ever so slightly evil woman of the world. Do you think we could make it work?" (3.127-128)

    Add to that the fact that the brothers have her sandwiched between them, with "Nick's sword at her spine and Alan's gun against her stomach" (3.133), and Nick's threat to "'cut the messenger in half with [his] great big sword'" (3.147), and we think you'll have a hard time disputing the weapons-as-wieners argument.

    But hey, feel free to give it a try. We love a good debate.

  • Shadows

    When something happens in the shadows, it seems a little more mysterious than if it happens in broad daylight or under a slew of hundred-watt light bulbs. So when you notice a lot of shadows in a book, you should think twice about what might be going on, and this book has a lot of shadows.

    From descriptions of buildings from afar "looking like no more than the shadows of a larger city" (2.4), to the assertion that Jamie's demon's mark has "torn edges […] black as shadows, black as blood in the night" (2.132), we can see that shadows are associated with hidden or sinister things. So when we see shadows associated with particular people, we might start to wonder if there's something secretive or sinister going on.

    Mum, for instance, is often accompanied by shadows. When we first encounter her, she's standing in a doorway, "her magicians' charms shining with power, her hair falling like shadows over her face" (1.52). And later, as Mum comes out of the house to get in the car, we read that, "Mae and Jamie's faces suddenly changed, as if a shadow had fallen over them. Nick turned to see that shadow was actually Mum's dark form" (3.99). A little further down the page, Mum's "black flag of hair streamed behind her as she went, as if it wanted to cling to the shadows" (3.100).

    All these instances together suggest that either this lady is a little sinister or she's got something to hide, and eventually we realize both are true.

    But Mum's not the only one who's often seen with shadows. When Alan is in the midst of his plotting and planning, he looks up at Nick "with dark troubled eyes, blue under shadows" (4.65). And when Nick sees him at the breakfast table one morning, Alan looks "pale and worn as old bone [… and] there were violet shadows under his eyes" (6.76). It makes sense that the guy who keeps so many secrets would also be cloaked in shadow from time to time, doesn't it?

    Also, when Nick looks at his own face in a crystal ball at the Goblin's Market, he sees something resembling "a shadow falling over a lake, a silhouette that grew more distinct, moving from a shadow into the lines of a face" (6.34). Dun dun dun…

    With all these shadows (and trust us, these are just the tip of the iceberg—there are plenty more), Rees Brennan is letting us know that there are a lot of things lurking beneath the surface in this book and that there are plenty of secrets to be uncovered. Because lots of different shadows appear in lots of different contexts to convey this message, we would say that shadows are a motif in The Demon's Lexicon, not a symbol.

  • Anger

    Anger is another motif in The Demon's Lexicon, and it's one of the things that's used to emphasize the differences between Nick and other characters in the book.

    Although Nick often comes across as unemotional, anger is an emotion he feels intensely. So intensely that it worries him, in fact. For instance, after Alan gets marked by a demon, Nick is enraged at Mae and Jamie because he thinks it's their fault. It's here that we get the line, "He wished sometimes that he could feel angry without feeling the urge to kill, but he never had" (3.87). Gulp.

    Later, as he and Alan are driving home from the Goblin Market, Nick again feels immense anger and wonders "if other people got as angry as he did" (6.50). Throughout the story, we see Nick battling to keep his anger under control. There are times when he wants to hit his brother (2.175) or fly at people's throats (14.56), and while we've all probably had moments like that, the frequency with which Nick reaches such a high level of anger indicates he might have a bit of an issue.

    That said, Nick does manage to keep his anger in check most of the time, so by analyzing this motif, we can probably draw more than one conclusion about what it means. Might we think of anger as an inner demon?

  • Animal Imagery

    Phew. There's so much animal imagery in this book, we'd have a hard time pointing it all out, but here's a start:

    • Nick "prowled around the circumference of the rug" (2.155)
    • "Nick bared his teeth at her in a silent snarl" (3.206)
    • Nick "felt like an animal going back into a harness" (9.174)
    • Nick felt "like a clumsy animal who should not be allowed in here" (11.13)
    • Nick felt like "a savage dog kept on a chain so he would not fly at throats. He felt like flying at throats. He made a sound that was almost a snarl" (14.56)
    • Nick felt like "a tiger in a cage. Arthur looked at him with gentle interest, and Nick only just stopped himself from snarling again" (14.62)

    See what those all have in common? Yep—Nick. He's always snarling and growling and stalking and prowling, which makes us start to wonder about his savagery and what it might mean. So ultimately, all of this animal imagery really helps us to zero in on the theme of Man and the Natural World, which you probably want to know all about so just hop on over to the "Themes" section.

  • Narrator Point of View

    Third Person (Limited Omniscient)

    The way this story is told is one of the most important aspects of The Demon's Lexicon. Although Sarah Rees Brennan uses a third person voice, we remain close to Nick throughout the book, seeing events unfold through his eyes. And guess what? As incapable of lying as Nick is, he still turns out to be a pretty unreliable narrator.

    Why? Because there are crucial pieces of information that he doesn't have (like, say, the fact that he's not human), and therefore his view of each and every event is a little bit skewed. And so, when we get to the big reveal at the end, the part where we—and Nick—figure out what's really going on here, we have to go back through the book and re-evaluate just about everything we thought we knew:

    • Characters whose motivations we thought we understood appear to us in an entirely new light.
    • Events we saw in one particular way take on new meaning.

    It's a pretty amazing task that Sarah Rees Brennan pulls off here, and it kind of makes our heads spin around for a bit—if you've seen the movie The Sixth Sense, you've encountered this phenomenon before. And if you haven't seen it, well, if you enjoy twists and turns (and aren't easily frightened), we highly recommend it.

  • Plot Analysis


    Ravens, Magicians, and Demons—Oh My

    Nick and Alan Ryves are being hunted by magicians who have the ability to summon and control demons. The magicians want something from Nick and Alan, but Nick and Alan aren't giving it up. Instead they just keep moving from town to town trying to stay under the radar… and once they find themselves on the radar? They move again. This is a great set-up for the story, because once we learn this bit of information about the Ryves boys, we know we're in for an interesting ride.

    Rising Action

    The More the Merrier

    Two more teens, Mae and Jamie (who are sister and brother), arrive on the scene and we find out that they, too, have demon trouble. Jamie's been marked by one and someone suggested that the Ryves brothers might be able to help them out—Nick doesn't want to help, but Alan does. Then Alan gets marked by a demon too, and suddenly they're all in this together. The four teens (along with Nick and Alan's dysfunctional mother, Olivia) head off to London in an attempt to capture a few magicians and get both Alan and Jamie's marks removed so they won't become possessed by demons and die slow, painful deaths. So we've got a race against time that's a matter of life and death. How's that for a conflict?


    In the Magician's Lair

    After much plotting and planning (and lusting and arguing), the teens make their way into a house where they know the magicians have set up camp… and they all get caught. While being held captive by the magicians, who are being led by their head honcho, Black Arthur, Nick learns many things he didn't know about his life, the most significant item being that he's not human. He's a demon. And that means that if he were freed from his human body, he'd have the power to destroy lots and lots of people and things, and that's why it's particularly climactic when Alan does just that: he sets Nick free, and Nick obliterates Black Arthur before exiting his human body and flying off into the night.

    Falling Action

    A Bird's Eye View of London

    Nick zooms around London in his ethereal demonic form, which seems a lot like a big ball of energy. He soars over buildings and buzzes Tower Bridge, and he feels free, powerful, safe… and homesick. After sixteen years in a human body, he seems to have forgotten how to live as a demon, and more importantly, he misses his brother and wants to make sure Alan is okay. He goes back to the magician's lair and arrives just in time to see the last of the magicians making a run for it. Olivia's dead, and Black Arthur and several other magicians are dead, but Mae and Jamie and Alan are all fine.


    If the Skin Fits…

    Demon Nick squeezes himself back into his human body and pledges never to leave his brother again. Alan embraces Nick, and Nick starts to think that maybe he can get used to being in a body again. There are a few threads left untied, but we're sure those will be tackled in the sequels. Still, this is definitely the denouement because we finally see Nick coming to terms with who he is (more or less), which is something he's struggled with throughout the story.