5 Novels About the Power and Importance of Words

November 25 2022
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It isn’t uncommon when reading a great book to become so consumed by the plot and the outstanding storytelling elements of the novel that an author’s wordchoice is overlooked. Sure, we get it, why stop to admire a single puzzle piece when you can celebrate the complete picture when the story has reached its conclusion? But it is the syntax of the novel—the thousands of decisions to use this word or that in the construction of each sentence—that allow a novel’s message to reach its intended reader and do so in a clear, effective manner.

To celebrate the power and importance of words, we’ve compiled a list of works that do their part to commemorate diction and communication, down to the very last syllable. Books perfect for any lover of language, especially those who have just completed their latest Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone course and are now on the search for a wordy work of fiction. 

A Conspiracy of Truths
by Alexandra Rowland

There’s seldom a time when word choice is more important than when spinning a lie like your life depends on it. And in the case of Chant—the protagonist of Alexandra Rowland’s A CONSPIRACY OF TRUTHS—one wrong word could mean his swift execution. Chant is a member of an order made up of wandering storytellers, but when he’s arrested for witchcraft, he’s relegated to a cold jail cell in a far-off land. Unsure where he is or what’s happening around him, Chant must rely on his storytelling powers to position himself as a kind of bargaining chip between feuding rulers of a corrupt government. But the clock is ticking, and Chant must weave an intricate web of convincing words before those same rulers execute him for his “treasonous” acts in this backward land. It’s a powerful work of fiction that captures you from the very first page and keeps you captivated with every fantastical story that is spun.

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A Conspiracy of Truths
Alexandra Rowland

A wrongfully imprisoned storyteller spins stories from his jail cell that just might have the power to save him—and take down a corrupt government.

Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.

Or, at least, that's how he would tell the story.

In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his apprentice, a lad more interested in wooing handsome shepherds than learning the ways of the world.

And yet, he has one great power: his stories in the ears of the rulers determined to prosecute him for betraying a nation he knows next to nothing about. The tales he tells will topple the Queens of Nuryevet and just maybe, save his life.

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MENTIONED IN:

5 Novels About the Power and Importance of Words

By Chris Gaudio | November 25, 2022

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Girl in Ice
by Erica Ferencik

For some, words and language are a lifelong career. Take Valerie Chesterfield, linguist extraordinaire, trained in long-forgotten Nordic languages. Seems impractical outside of the classroom, yes, but that’s only until the impossible happens. A fellow researcher in the Arctic appears to have discovered a young girl frozen in the ice who has been thawed out, alive, and is speaking a language unfamiliar to anyone on the ground. Almost immediately, Valerie is beckoned to the Arctic Circle to aid in the deconstruction of this language barrier. She jumps at the opportunity, but her motivation is twofold: of course she wants to communicate with this young girl, but she is also seeking answers in the supposed suicide of her climate scientist brother, who was reported to have walked off in subzero temperatures in Greenland’s barren coast. GIRL IN ICE is the account of this incredible frozen odyssey and shines a bright light on the universal language of being understood.

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Girl in Ice
Erica Ferencik

From the author of The River at Night and Into the Jungle comes a harrowing new thriller set in the unforgiving landscape of the Arctic Circle, as a brilliant linguist struggling to understand the apparent suicide of her twin brother ventures hundreds of miles north to try to communicate with a young girl who has been thawed from the ice alive.

Valerie “Val” Chesterfield is a linguist trained in the most esoteric of disciplines: dead Nordic languages. Despite her successful career, she leads a sheltered life and languishes in the shadow of her twin brother, Andy, an accomplished climate scientist stationed on a remote island off Greenland’s barren coast. But Andy is gone: a victim of suicide, having willfully ventured unprotected into 50 degree below zero weather. Val is inconsolable—and disbelieving. She suspects foul play.

When Wyatt, Andy’s fellow researcher in the Arctic, discovers a scientific impossibility­—a young girl frozen in the ice who thaws out alive, speaking a language no one understands—Val is his first call. Will she travel to the frozen North to meet this girl, and try to comprehend what she is so passionately trying to communicate? Under the auspices of helping Wyatt interpret the girl’s speech, Val musters every ounce of her courage and journeys to the Artic to solve the mystery of her brother’s death.

The moment she steps off the plane, her fear threatens to overwhelm her. The landscape is fierce, and Wyatt, brilliant but difficult, is an enigma. But the girl is special, and Val’s connection with her is profound. Only something is terribly wrong; the child is sick, maybe dying, and the key to saving her lies in discovering the truth about Wyatt’s research. Can his data be trusted? And does it have anything to do with how and why Val’s brother died? With time running out, Val embarks on an incredible frozen odyssey—led by the unlikeliest of guides—to rescue the new family she has found in the most unexpected of places.

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The Great Passage
by Shion Miura & Juliet Winters Carpenter

Language is one thing, but what about loving words so much that you dedicate your entire life to the dictionary? Shion Miura’s THE GREAT PASSAGE features Kohei Araki, a man devoted to the dictionary’s everlasting powers, having spent the last thirty-plus years of his life creating them for Gembu Books. But, alas, Kohei has reached his retirement age and is seeking a replacement who is as passionate as he is about the multiple meanings of words. Thankfully, he soon discovers Mitsuya Majime, a rare-book collector with an educational background in linguistics, buried deep in the publishing company’s sales department. Aided by his new mentor and other wordsmiths, Mitsuya is tasked with a single, very significant task: complete The Great Passage, a comprehensive guide of the Japanese language that spans nearly three thousand pages. In Miura’s beautiful writing, which is expertly translated, we embark upon a journey of human connection inspired by an original, unbreakable bond between man and language.

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The Great Passage
Shion Miura & Juliet Winters Carpenter

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MENTIONED IN:

5 Novels About the Power and Importance of Words

By Chris Gaudio | November 25, 2022

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Our Missing Hearts
by Celeste Ng

In Celeste Ng’s latest work, OUR MISSING HEARTS, language becomes a rallying cry in a dystopian future in which Asian Americans are distrusted by the government. The book’s protagonist, Bird Gardner, is twelve, living with his former linguist father who works at a local university library. If Bird knows one thing, it is not to ask about his mother, a Chinese American poet who disappeared almost three years ago. But when a letter arrives for Bird, he knows it's from his mother, Margaret, and with help from his sole friend, Sadie, he learns that she is the author of a poem protesting a law to “preserve American tradition.” Sadie, having been relocated from her own Asian parents, provides Bird the context to understand his mother’s decision to leave. But it seems she is looking to reconnect with Bird as her letter includes a cryptic drawing that launches him on a quest to find her. A story about the power of written art, Celeste Ng’s new work solidifies her place among the greatest writers of our generation and provides an eerie warning for an unjust future. 

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Our Missing Hearts
Celeste Ng

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The Paris Library
by Janet Skeslien Charles

Few love words as uniquely as librarians. And, as THE PARIS LIBRARY depicts, it is a profession that seemingly has the books to answer just about any question or solve any problem there is. For Odile Souchet, newly appointed library assistant at the American Library in Paris in 1939, the problem is that of an impending war and an evil force. When Nazis take over Paris and capture her brother, she seeks to join the fight, transporting books to Jewish patrons who are no longer allowed to visit the library. She and her fellow librarians survive the war but are met with betrayal. Meanwhile, in 1983 Montana, a lonely teen named Lily looks to distract herself from her mother’s illness by befriending her elderly next-door neighbor, Odile. Sharing a love of language, Lily and Odile become inseparable, with Odile sharing her incredible past and a dark secret that seemingly connects them. Perfect for book lovers and those who live in the library stacks, THE PARIS LIBRARY is the quintessential piece of fiction that embodies the power of the written word. 

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The Paris Library
Janet Skeslien Charles

An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Library shows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.

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Photo credit: iStock / DmitriiSimakov

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