Emily Ruff, a 16-year-old con artist, is happily working her card tricks on the streets of San Francisco when she meets 'T.S. Elliot.' The 'poet' soon carts her off to a special school in Virginia where she'll learn to use words to "persuade" (i.e. control) people. All graduates of the school take the names of well-known poets before they're let loose to fulfill the school's agenda - which seems to be to control the world.
Unfortunately for Emily she breaks some rules before graduation and is banished to Broken Hill, Australia. There Emily falls in love - a big no no for poets - and comes across one of the most dangerous words in the world, a 'bareword.' Using the bareword Emily causes the death of every single person in Broken Hill except for herself and one other survivor, a blue collar worker named Wil Parke.
Wil soon becomes the target of an evil cadre of poets who are determined to dig through his brain to discover how he lived through the carnage. Emily is a wily, clever girl who can lie/steal/cheat her way out of almost any situation and her journey through the book is fascinating. Unfortunately Emily is hard to root for since no sane person would really like to become acquainted with this conscienceless con artist in real life.
In fact this is a problem with almost all the characters in the story, who seem too self-interested and ruthless to be likable people. Wil is an exception as he appears to be a helpless victim of circumstance caught in a situation he doesn't comprehend.
The book kept my interest and I was intrigued with the explanations/demonstrations of how people are controlled with words. All in all a pretty good book. I'd recommend it, especially to science fiction fans.