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Max Barry. Penguin Press, $26.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-59420-538-5

The fate of humanity is at stake in this ambitious satirical thriller from Australian author Barry (Machine Man). Picked off the streets of San Francisco after displaying a “natural aptitude” for persuasion, 16-year-old magician/hustler Emily Ruff joins a group of prodigies at “the Academy,” where “poets” learn the magic of controlling others’ minds with words. Meanwhile, hapless Wil Parke, the key player in an internal war between highly trained poets called Eliot and Woolf, is the only person known to survive the infamous “bareword” Woolf set loose in Broken Hill, Australia, two years before—an event that killed thousands and wiped Wil’s memory clean. Eliot believes Wil to be the only one capable of stopping this word that “can persist... like an echo,” and is determined to use Wil in his quest to elucidate the word’s elemental code. Emily’s story and Wil’s story converge in a violent denouement that amuses as much as it shocks. (June)