Series: ALEX VERUS
Plot Type: Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: Ace
Diviner Alex Verus finally made one too many enemies on the Council of Mages, and now one of them is angry enough to have him executed. Fighting for his life is nothing new, but this kill order also calls for the death of Alex’s dependents—and there’s no way that he’ll let Luna, Anne, and Vari take the heat.
With only a week before he’s history, Alex will have to figure out how to disassociate himself from his friends, scrounge up allies on the Council, and hopefully keep his head attached to his body. But saving himself is going to bring him into direct opposition with his former master and the Dark mages surrounding him. And, this time, escaping with his life might mean losing his soul.
For years, Alex has clashed repeatedly with both Light and Dark mages as he constantly fought the system and insisted on maintaining his independence from both sides. Now, he is in the crosshairs of some powerful mages who have decided that he has gone from irritant to threat and that he must be stopped once and for all. In this fast-paced, nail-biting adventure, Alex finds out the hard way who will stand by him, who will betray him, and how his greatest enemy will destroy him.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Burned is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through NetGalley. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are strictly my own.
The Dark mages are clamoring for admittance because they see Council membership as a means of attaining more power. Here, Alex explains the differences between the two: "So long as magic has existed, there's always been a split between the two paths: the Light mages, and the Dark....Dark mages follow a philosophy called the True Way...[which] says that good and bad as we see them are conventions....A Dark mage would tell you that you only feel stealing is wrong because your parents brought you up that way....To a Dark mage, power is reality. The more power you have, the more you can shape the reality around you....If you're not strong enough to take what you want, it's your fault." (from Fated) The Light mages, on the other hand, support the traditional conventions of good and evil and insist that they are on the side of the greater good, but as we'll see, they're not as pure as they would lead everyone to believe.
Diviners can't predict every action or event because some things are truly random, like the roll of dice. The easiest predictions are made in situations in which choices are the fewest, while those involving free will are among the most difficult. Although Alex doesn't possess any warrior mage powers, he can create spells and use objects imbued with certain powers—enough to protect and defend himself, so far at least. Alex's most prized possession is his sentient mist cloak, which is woven from moonbeams and spiderwebs. This cloak can sense its surroundings and change itself to match, thus making Alex invisible both to human eyes and to detection spells.
Alex's best human friend is Luna Mancuso, a young adept who lives under a horrible curse. Luna's curse protects her from harm, but the harm gets redirected to those who are close to her. In fact, the closer Luna gets to someone, the harder the curse hits them. For example, the first boy she kissed went into a coma. Alex has tried to break the curse but has been unsuccessful, so Luna just lives with it, keeping people at a distance and living a very lonely life. Luna's curse reminds me of Chance, the heroine's on-again, off-again boyfriend in Ann Aguirre's CORINE SOLOMON SERIES, whose magical talent for luck works the same way.
If you like this series, you might enjoy reading about a sorcerer in a different version of an alternate London: Kate Griffin's MATTHEW SWIFT. Click on the series title to go to my review. And definitely take a look at Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES if you haven't already done so.
NOVEL 2: Cursed
NOVEL 3: Taken
This adventure begins when Alex gets two requests: The first comes from a mind mage named Crystal who wants him to provide security at an upcoming apprentices' tournament at her estate, Fountain Reach. The second comes from Talisid, a Council mage who wants Alex to find out who is kidnapping apprentice mages. Alex turns down Crystal because she tries to mind read him and because he just doesn't trust her, but he accepts Talisid's request because it's a challenge and because he wants to protect the remaining apprentices, one of whom is his own apprentice, Luna.
As is always the case, the reader tags along with Alex as he gathers clues but, frustratingly, doesn't always fully explain them to us right away. Almost as soon as Alex begins his investigation, he has to rescue Anne Walker, one of Luna's apprentice friends, from three gunmen who nearly kill her. Anne and another apprentice, Variam, have been under the protection of a rakshasa—a darkly mysterious shape shifter with roots in India who generally takes the form of a tiger. As the plot plays out, Alex, Luna, Anne, and Variam head for the tournament at Fountain Reach because that's where all the clues seem to point. Once there, Alex gradually figures out the identity of the villain—almost too late to save his own life and that of his allies. Just to make things even more interesting, Onyx, a viciously evil force mage, is also at Fountain Reach searching for the kidnapper, and he plans to punish Alex—fatally—for defeating him in their previous encounter back in book 1.
By the time the climactic showdown scene rolls around, Alex has solved the case but, as usual, has also made some new enemies and endangered himself and his allies time and time again. This is another great addition to a terrific series, filled with action, suspense, and plenty of quirky characters. It's a series that must be read from the beginning, though, so don't start with this book. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Taken on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 4: Chosen
The plot follows Alex as he tries to keep himself alive in the face of repeated attacks from Will and his followers, who call themselves the Nightstalkers. Each Nightstalker has a different magical talent, and their combined powers present a lethal force—all focused directly on Alex. In the meantime, one of the Mage Council's enforcement officers requests Alex's assistance in tracking down Richard Drakh, Alex's former Master. Apparently, the Council believes that Richard is returning after ten years absence, and they want to keep one step ahead of him.
Although the plot is not complex—it's a series of attacks and parries—Will's hatred forces Alex to relive his actions during Catherine's abduction. The story includes many flashbacks that provide insight into Alex's horrible years as a virtual slave in Richard's mansion. Alex also takes a few dream trips into Elsewhere, where he reunites with Shireen and inadvertently sets the psychotic Rachel/Deleo on his trail once again. During the dream sequences, Alex learns the truth about Shireen's death and Deleo's emergence as a stone-cold killer.
All the way through the book, Alex tries to reason with Will, but the young man is so blinded by rage that he is determined to take Alex's life at any cost. Finally, Alex is forced to stand against the Nightstalkers shielded by a nightmarish weapon that even he regrets using. In this book, Alex does a lot of angst-filled soul searching as he realizes that he has spent the past ten years trying not to be like Richard, but never trying to develop himself into anything else. When he is pushed—or lets himself be pushed—to the edge by Will's constant attacks, he wonders if he has failed, if he really is the dark mage that Will accuses him of being. This is a story of revenge and self-discovery, but it is also a story of friendship as Anne, Luna, Sonder, and Vari stand by Alex's side to defend him against the Nighthawks. By the end, though, his friends (especially Anne) aren't sure that they know Alex as well as they thought they did.
On the surface, this book has the simplest plot so far, but below the surface, it is the most complex. We learn a lot more about Alex's history with Richard and his apprentices, and we watch Alex come to terms with his past actions. I recommend the book highly, but not as a stand-alone. You'll enjoy it more if you read it in the context of the previous three books. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Chosen on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
NOVEL 5: Hidden
This story line continues the soul-searching story line that began in Chosen—in which Alex examines his past and present deeds and misdeeds and wonders if he might be just as dark and evil as Richard, his detestable former Master. Alex even goes so far as to seek out his long-estranged father, but that reunion only reinforces his feeling of isolation. As it turns out, Anne has been guilty of some of the same dark and violent actions as Alex, and she is so terribly worried about her mental state that she has buried her dark side and has made up her mind that she will never kill again. But life doesn’t always allow you to keep all your promises—even the ones you make to yourself. Both Anne and Alex are working hard to accept the fact that though they have done terrible things, they can’t allow their dark sides to overcome them. But they must also admit that they will continue to do whatever is necessary to survive in a world filled with dark mages who are out to get them both. By the end of the story, Anne has opened up to Alex about her years under Sagash’s control, and the two have re-established their friendship (which may develop into something more).
NOVEL 6: Veiled
I thought I’d escaped my past. But my old master is back and making a new play for power. And he’s not the only one targeting me…
Alex Verus is caught in a sticky web of danger, with several large and dangerous mages intent on either using him for their own intents and purposes or just killing him off. In this book, Alex's enemies can be loosely divided into three groups:
>> Levistus and his agents: Levistus is a corrupt Senior Council mage who despises Alex for thwarting him in an adventure that took place in Fated. Since then, Levistus has sporadically sent assassins after Alex, but when Alex spurns his request for assistance in this book, Levistus doubles down on his efforts to annihilate Alex.
>> Richard Drakh and his supporters: Alex's former master is a Dark mage who wants Alex back under his power. After an absence of ten years, Richard is back in Britain (in his mansion in Wales), working hard to build a coalition of as many Dark mages as possible—a power base of his very own. His partner is a Dark mage named Morden, who is pushing to get Dark mages admitted to the Light Council, something that has never happened in the history of the Council and would have major ramifications for the magical community if it is allowed to happen. Although Alex hasn't seen Richard recently, he constantly feels Richard's presence and fears that he will unable to escape Richard's clutches for much longer.
>> And then there is the unknown Air mage assassin who tries very hard to kill Alex when Alex stumbles on a dangerous plot that involves a sex-slavery operation run by a Dark mage who is under the protection of several Council mages. Who hired the assassin? Which Council members are involved? Can Alex trust his fellow Keepers as he investigates the case?In order to help the reader understand the machinations of Council politics, the author has Alex describe the seven primary Council factions: Crusaders, Guardians, Unity Bloc, Centrists, Isolationists, Directors, and Weissians. Following are brief descriptions of the four most powerful factions, each of which plays a role in the plot of this book:
>> Crusaders: Radical extremists, "the most militant of all the factions," who believe that the Council should actively fight against all Dark mages (including Alex, who is an ex-Dark mage).
>> Guardians: "Less extreme than the Crusaders," but only because they are defensive rather than aggressive, preferring to "do the minimum to prevent Dark mages from hurting other people, then leave them to fight among themselves."
>> Unity Bloc: This faction directly opposes the views of the Crusaders and the Guardians. "The Unitarians want the Light and Dark factions to unite, bringing Dark mages into the Council and involving them in the political process."
>> Centrists: This faction generally seeks middle ground. "Increasingly the Unity Bloc was coming into favor with the Centrists, and the Centrists had more members than the Guardians and the Crusaders put together."The action begins about six months after the events of Hidden. Alex and his team of allies have been running covert missions for the Council mage Talisid (a Guardian black-ops operative), who is trying to build a case against Richard. Talisid wants proof of Richard's law-breaking in order to cast aspersions on Richard's partner, Morden, and thereby keep the Dark mages from getting a seat on the Council. Unfortunately, Alex has not been able to turn up any solid evidence that Richard is violating the Concord, and Talisid's assignments have been getting more and more dangerous—too dangerous to continue to accept.
To protect himself against Richard and all of the other mages who are out to get him, Alex decides he will be safer if he joins the Keepers. The Keepers serve as the law enforcement arm of the Council and (more mythology here) are divided into three units:
>> Order of the Star: They deal with crime that breaks the peace of the Concord or the national laws of the Council. The Concord is "the international set of laws that all mages are required to follow." Beneath the Concord are "the national laws, passed as resolutions by the ruling Councils of each magical nation," and varying from nation to nation.
>> Order of the Cloak: A low-profile group that is "responsible for preserving the secrecy of the magical world." They work with mundane authorities and deal solely with normals and sensitives.
>> Order of the Shield: They were the battle-mages who used to protect the population from magical predators. Now that magical creatures are nearly extinct, they are the Council's military reserve. They are called into action when a situation is too dangerous for Star to handle. Landis, one of the key characters in this novel (and Master to Alex's friend Variam), is a Shield.Alex is assigned probationary status with the Star Keepers, with Caldera as his immediate supervisor. Caldera, whom we met in Hidden, had reluctantly provided some assistance when Anne was kidnapped, and she appears to like Alex better than most of the other Keepers. (Nearly all of them make no secret of their hatred for Alex and his Dark mage connections.)
When Caldera gives Alex a seemingly routine assignment to check out an anonymous tip about the possible use of magic at a remote railway station, the situation turns into a life-or-death battle between Alex and a French-speaking air mage who is intent on killing Alex and retrieving a magical focus (a small greenish ball the size of a marble) that Alex found near the station. In the meantime, another Star team is working on a case involving a missing apprentice. Soon, Alex begins to believe that the cases are connected and that there are traitors among the Star agents.
As Alex and Caldera investigate, Alex calls in some of his own team to assist (i.e., Luna, Variam, and Anne). Meanwhile, Luna's magical needs have outstripped Alex's range of powers and he must find a Chance mage to help with her training. This story line is mostly undeveloped in this novel, but will certainly be a big part of future books.
As Alex works with Caldera, they develop a nicely portrayed partnership that involves the building of trust between them. Caldera is an honest, idealistic law enforcement officer (in the vein of rookie policeman, James Gordon, on the TV show Gotham). She deeply resents Alex's suggestion that some of her Star colleagues are working behind the scenes for corrupt Council members, but when Alex provides proof, she reluctantly begins to trust his judgment. Caldera sees her job as Alex's supervisor as a chance to teach him to be a team player: "You're still thinking of this as a solo act. That's not how it works. When you're on call, you're part of something bigger than you, and that means you're not in charge anymore." This is a world-shifting concept for Alex, because he has ALWAYS been a solo act—a solo act working, for the most part, without a net to catch him if (when) he falls. If Alex is to keep this job—and it looks as if he will—he'll have to learn to trust the very people who have let him down over and over again throughout his life.
This novel feels like a transitional book that begins a new story arc dealing with Richard and Levistus, each of whom wants Alex on his side. Although Richard never appears in person, his dark presence can be felt all though this book. At this point, the suspense has built as high as it can go, so it's about time for Richard to show himself and get into the game for real.
A few reviewers have panned this book, citing Jacka's refusal to give Alex some weapons so that he can put up a fight instead of relying solely on his divining talents. These critics remind me of the fanatic NRA ranters: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." But really, most of Alex's enemies don't use guns, and most of them have magical ways of deflecting bullets so a gun would have absolutely no effect on them. But most importantly, if a diviner like Alex is to survive any kind of attack, he must concentrate completely on visualizing all possible futures. Alex cannot possibly participate in a gun fight at the same time he is trying to look at myriad futures so that he can make the right move at exactly the right time. I don't believe that these critics truly understand Alex's mythology.
Although this is a suspenseful, action-filled story, it is not one of my favorite books. I can see why Jacka needed to add it to the series—to set up the coming events—but it moves rather slowly because it is packed with reviews of previous events and bits and pieces of new mythology. We don't see much of Team Verus in this novel; they mostly show up in the nick of time to save Alex's life from time to time. The most entertaining character is Landis, who comes across as a mash-up of Back to the Future's Doc Brown's absent-minded love of gadgetry and Wile E. Coyote's maniacal love of fiery explosives. I hope that we'll be seeing more of Landis in future books. All in all, this is a terrific series, and Alex is a complicated hero whose adventures always provide great escapist reading.
Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Veiled on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.