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Only the most recent posts pop up on the HOME page. For searchable lists of titles/series reviewed on this Blog, click on one of the Page Tabs above. On each Page, click on the series name to go directly to my review.

AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

UPDATE! J. K. Beck's SHADOW KEEPERS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for J. K. Beck with a review of the fourth book in her SHADOW KEEPERS SERIES:  When Passion Lies. 

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Amanda Ashley: "His Dark Embrace"

Author:  Amanda Ashley
Title:  His Dark Embrace
Plot Type: SMR
Ratings: V3; S3; H2
Publisher: Zebra, 2012


     This is a typical, but mediocre, vampire romance that pairs a centuries-old vamp with a cute and sassy 21st century human woman. They even have the usualor is it unusualnames that Ashley invents for her characters: Kaiden Thorne and Skylynn McNamara O'Brien. Kaiden has lived across the street from Skylynn's grandfather for decades, but he has always kept his vampire nature a secret from everyone but Grandpa. Over the years, Grandpa created a special potion for Kaiden that allowed him to come into the sun without harm, eat and enjoy regular food, and maintain all of his vampire abilitieslike turning into mist, flying short distances, and having super strength.

     The early part of the book deals with Kaiden's situation after Grandpa dies without telling Kaiden the ingredients in the potion. Although Kaiden has had the potion chemically analyzed, one ingredient can't be identified, so Kaiden is slowly but steadily losing his human traits and reverting back to his old, blood-lusting vampire self. Meanwhile, Skylynn returns to her grandfather's house to settle the estate, but then the romance with Kaiden heats up so she decides to stay. The early chapters follow them through their search for the magic formula and their mundane conversations as they eat lots of lunches together while Kaiden can still enjoy that form of nourishment. Eventually, Skylynn discovers that Kaiden is a vampire, and then we have endless, anguished interior monologues as they both ponder their future. 

     The villain of the story is Girard Desmarais, a vampire hunter who hates Kaiden for killing his wife (also a vampire hunter). Desmarais knew about the potion and had been using it to keep himself young. At first, he is also searching for the magic formula, but then he decides that he might as well become a vampire. This is the first of many illogical points in the plotthat a man who has devoted his life to killing vampires would, on the spur of the moment, decide to become one. Desmarais asks the ancient vampire Cassandra, who is also Kaiden's sire, to change him over, and she does itagain, a spur-of-the-moment decision that makes absolutely no sense. 

     The plot gets even murkier in chapter 20 when, all of a sudden, we are in the desert of Iraq where a gang of fanged men with red-glowing eyes is holding Skylynn's soldier brother, Sam, captive. This is the first time Sam has materialized in the story and his appearance is kind of a shock. There can be only reason for including Sam at all, and that is because he is essential to the latter parts of the plot. So for a couple of chapters, Sam is being carted around the desert by some vampires. Suddenly, he wakes up in a U.S. military hospital with amnesia. Thenand here's another completely illogical plot pointthe doctors release him from the hospital with a severe head injury and with absolutely no memory of who he is, where he lives, etc. That would never happen. We never learn anything more about his vampire captorsthey are not mentioned again. Weirdly, Sam doesn't show up until half way through the book, but then he becomes a major character. Why isn't he introduced earlier? Why are Sam's captors depicted as being vampires when that fact is never made part of the plot line? Who knows

     So...Sam is back; Kaiden and Skylynn are engaged; and Desmarais is a vampire. Desmarais skulks around for awhile and eventually goes after Skylynn and Sam, after which Thorne suitably punishes him. Cue the HEA

     Ashley's earlier vampire stories had stronger plot lines, better-developed characters, and fewer illogical moments than this below-average novel. This time around, the story seems like a puzzle with missing pieces that has been put together wrong. Once againjust as in Ashley's BOUND BY... duology, she loses control of the writer's tic that causes her to make all of the characters "laugh softly" and "chuckle softly." In the BOUND BY.... books, all of the men "grunted softly." Here's my recommendation: Read the earlier Ashley books and skip the later ones.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

UPDATE! Jaime Rush's OFFSPRING SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous blog entry for Jaime Rush  with a review of the sixth book in her OFFSPRING SERIES: Darkness Becomes Her.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

UPDATE! Lisa Renee Jones: ZODIUS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Lisa Renee Jones with a review of the third book in her ZODIUS SERIES: The Danger That Is Damion.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

UPDATE! Laurell K. Hamilton's ANITA BLAKE SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Laurell K. Hamilton with a review of the 21st book in her ANITA BLAKE SERIES:  Kiss the Dead. 

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Monday, June 25, 2012

UPDATE! Nancy Gideon's MOONLIGHT/SHADOWS SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous blog entry for Nancy Gideon  with a review of the sixth book in her MOONLIGHT/SHADOWS SERIES: Seeker of Shadows.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

UPDATE! Glen Duncan's LAST WEREWOLF TRILOGY


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Glen Duncan with a review of the second book in his LAST WEREWOLF TRILOGY: Talulla Rising. 

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rhyannon Byrd: GRANGERS SERIES

Author:  Rhyannon Byrd
Series:  GRANGERS
Plot Type:  SMR
Ratings:  V4; S4; H2
Publisher and Titles: Harlequin
        Deadly Is the Kiss (4/2012

        WORLD-BUILDING        
     This series is a spin-off of Byrd's PRIMAL INSTINCT series. It focuses on the Granger brothers, Ashe and Gideon, who appeared in supporting roles in PRIMAL INSTINCT. To read an in-depth description of that world, just click on the pink-link series title above. 

     Here is a summary of the salient points of this mythology: Ashe and Gideon are Deschanel vampires. Each one is at his sexual prime and is due for his burninghis sexual union with his soul mate, who is selected by fate. The burning is similar to the sexual awakening suffered through by Lora Leigh's couples in her BREEDS series. Both members of the couple feel unrelenting waves of arousal when they are near the other, and both have erotic dreams about the other when they are apart. Their feelings of sexual arousal are exclusively limited to one another; sex with anyone else is unsatisfying. Here's how Ashe describes it: "Burning. Baking. Being in heat. They all meant the same, each referring to the primal change that a normally cold-skinned Deschanel male experienced once he found his intended mate; that one woman meant to bring balance to his life. A violent, visceral wave of heat that twists and turns through his veins, growing more intense the longer he waits to claim her." (Deadly is the Kiss, p. 10) In order to make the mate bond complete, the male bites the female, injecting a sexual venom. After that, the lives of the two are irrevocably joined, and when one dies, the other soon follows. 

        BOOK 1: Deadly Is the Kiss        
    The burning between Ashe and Juliana Sabin began building back in the PRIMAL INSTINCT series, but neither has acted on it. Ashe has tried to break the burning with mindless assignations with countless women, but it hasn't worked. Juliana and her family have been banished by the Deschanel Council to the Wastelands, but no onenot even Julianawill tell Ashe why they were banished. Ashe now views Juliana as a criminal, but he is determined to discover just what crime she committed, so he has been asking questions and poking into dark corners trying to find some clues. Unfortunately for Juliana and her family, Ashe's investigation triggers attacks on her family. Apparently someone doesn't want the truth to surface and has decided that the best thing to do is wipe out the Sabin family once and for all. As the story opens, an anonymous person has contacted Juliana in the Wastelands and has left notes guiding her through an escape. The notes tell her to contact Ashe for help in protecting her family. When Juliana and Ashe find one another, she convinces him to help her.

     Beyond the romance plot, the action involves repeated attempts by various Assassin League mercenaries to capture/kill Juliana. The couple travels from one safe house to another only to find that nowhere is safe. The assassins keep tracking them down, and Ashe keeps fighting them off. Juliana is not the smartest heroine in the world, and she keeps having TSTL moments in which she refuses to hide from the assassins and then is completely unable to defend herself. She also withholds critical information from Ashe that would probably have kept him from being seriously injured. The action sequences come mostly in the second half of the book, which races along to a conclusion with a major twist that, I must admit, I didn't see coming. 

     The problems in the romance between Ashe and Juliana come down to a lack of trust on both sides. Juliana won't tell Ashe the truth about her family's banishment because she believes that he will really hate her if he knows what she did. Ashe won't tell Juliana that they are fated to matethat the burning has begun. (The effects of the burning on women are much more subtle than on men, so sometimes they don't realize that it has begun.) Ashe is an über-alpha hero, and being under the effects of the burning makes his lust levels so high that his approach to sex is mostly an unrelenting search for physical fulfillment rather than romantic love-making, and that can be a bit off-putting at times.

     This is a solid start to a new series. Byrd is a great story teller and knows how to propel the plot forward with a nice mix of sex, angst, and action. The next book will probably feature Ashe's brother, Gideon, who shows up in this book in a few scenes to help the lovers on their quest for proof of the truth about Juliana and her family.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

UPDATE! Charlaine Harris: SOOKIE STACKHOUSE SERIES


UPDATE!

I have just updated a previous post for Charlaine Harris with a review of the twelfth (and second to the last) book in her SOOKIE STACKHOUSE SERIES:  Deadlocked.

Click on the author's name or the book title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Benedict Jacka: ALEX VERUS SERIES

Author:  Benedict Jacka 
Series:  ALEX VERUS
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles:  Ace
        Fated (2/2012)
        Cursed (5/2012)
        Taken (9/2012)
        Chosen (8/2013) 
        Hidden (9/2014)
        Veiled (8/2015)
        Burned (4/2016)

This ongoing post was revised and updated on 4/5/16 to include a review of Burned, the seventh novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and reviews of the first six novels.

                        NOVEL 7:  Burned                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     I’m used to people wanting me dead. But, this time, I’m not the only one on the hit list—and time is running out. 

     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.

MY REVIEW:
     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.

     Alex’s troubles begin on the very first page of chapter one when he gets devastating news from Talisid, a Junior Council mage (and a Guardian black-ops operative), who has been hiring Alex to collect enough evidence build a case against Richard Drakh, the evil, power-mad Dark mage to whom Alex was once apprenticed. Talisid bluntly tells Alex that “Levistus has sentenced you to death. You’re to be executed in one week.” Even more horrifying for Alex is the fact that Luna Mancuso, Anne Walker, and Variam Singh—Alex’s close friends and just about his only allies—are also named on the execution order. Levistus is a corrupt Senior Council mage who despises Alex for thwarting him in several incidents in previous books, including the White Rose affair in Veiled. For years, Levistus has periodically sent assassins after Alex, but this formal execution order seems to have come out of nowhere. Talisid explains that Levistus waited until several of the other Council members were away for the Christmas holidays, making sure that just enough of his Council allies were available to ensure that they could establish a quorum and pass the resolution.

     Immediately, Alex comes up with a plan to protect Luna, Vari, and Anne. First, Alex works with Luna’s teacher, Chalice, to set up an immediate test so that Luna will become a journeyman mage and, thus, be untouchable by the execution order. Then, he persuades his mage friend, Landis, to accept both Vari and Anne as apprentices, which should protect them as well. While he is still trying to figure out how to save himself, Alex becomes the target of several attacks by hired thugs with ties to the Crusaders. (For a discussion of the Crusaders and other world-building elements, read the World-Building section of this post as well as my review of novel seven, Veiled.) Most of his attackers believe that Alex is assisting Richard in some dark manner and refuse to believe his denials. The worst of the attacks involves a fire mage and a crew of gunmen who manage to totally destroy Alex’s home and shop and seriously injure Anne, who comes to his aid. (Note: In that long and fiery battle scene, Alex and Anne try to fight back with spells and magic, while all the time Alex has several gate stones in his pocket. My question: Why include this lengthy scene when Alex—usually a very smart guy—has the means to escape right from the beginning?)

     The rest of the novel finds Alex stumbling through confrontations and soul-searching sessions with various friends, enemies, and frenemies, including various Council mages; his Keeper boss, Caldera; and his long-time friend, Arachne, who tells him that he has only three options—all unacceptable to Alex: "Align yourself with one of the greater powers…Or become a greater power. Or die." Alex even has a conversation in Elsewhere with the ghost of the long-dead Shireen (another one of Richard’s apprentices), who tells him that a dragon has foretold that Alex’s future depends on a decision that will be made by Rachel (aka Deleo), the mage who killed Shireen and drained her powers, thus causing her own madness. Shireen wants Alex to talk sense into Rachel, but Rachel hates Alex with a passion and wants him dead. Another prophecy comes into the picture later: that Alex will help Richard Drakh get hold of a powerful relic that will allow him to control all of the British magesa prophecy that Alex refuses to accept because he despises Richard and would never help him. Obviously, both of these prophecies—which are unresolved in this book—will be important elements of future novels.

     All through this book, Alex is at the mercy of everyone who hates him. He is constantly under attack from known and unknown enemies. He is basically homeless (except for his hideout in Wales). His friends are being threatened. People are betraying him right and left. He really has very few people he can trust. The cliff-hanger ending is heartbreaking—almost worse than actual death for Alex. PLEASE don’t read the ending first; you’ll ruin the story for yourself if you do. Jacka leaves Alex in such a dangerously deplorable situation that it is almost impossible to see a way out for our hero (although I don’t doubt that Jacka has a great one planned).

     Once again, Jacka has created a tense, action-filled story filled with nuanced, relatable characters. And speaking of characters: the Luna-Variam relationship deepens in this book, and there is a tiny spark in the Alex-Anne relationship. Like all of the books in this series, this one was impossible to put down once I started reading, due in part to the constant forward motion of Alex’s divining mind as he plots probable futures and takes evasive actions while fighting off fire sprites, grenades, and an army of murderous Light Keepers.

     Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Burned on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon. 

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.

                          WORLD-BUILDING                          
     In this alternate London, people have various degrees of magical talent. Here, Alex Verus, the series hero, summarizes the world of magic: "You can think of magical talent as a pyramid. Making the lowest and biggest layer are the normals....they don't know anything about magic and they don't want to....Next up on the pyramid are the sensitives, the ones who...are blessed (or cursed...) with a wider spectrum of vision than normals. They can feel the presence of magic....Above the sensitives...are the adepts. These guys are only one percent or so, but unlike sensitives they can actually channel magic in a subtle way....And then there are the mages." (from Fated) (Note: "Alex" is the name given to him by his parents; "Verus" is his mage name.)

     The mages, who are the most powerful of all, can be either Light or Dark. The Light mages rule the world of magic through their Council, which (up until now) has forbade Dark mages from being members. "The Light Council is the decision-making body of the Light mages of Britain. It has thirteen members: six nonvoting, known as the Junior Council, and seven voting, known as the Senior Council. Beneath them is a sprawling organisation [sic] and bureaucracy…, but it's those seven members of the Senior Council who call the shots." (from Burned)

     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.

     Alex is a probability mage, a diviner who owns a magic shop in London. In the world of magic, diviners aren't the flashy, fire-throwing mages who can fly through the air with little effort. What a diviner can do is much more subtle. Here, he explains, "What a diviner sees is probability. In one future you go left; in another you go right; in a third you stop and ask for directions. A hundred branches, each branching again and again to create thousands....To me, futures appear as lines of light in the darkness. The stronger and more likely the future, the brighter the glow. The next thing you learn is how to sort futures, search for groupings of events in which things happen a certain way. And once you've done that, all you have to do is look back along the strands and find out which actions lead to them." (from Fated) In Veiled, Alex pares down that explanation to a more concise definition: "I can perceive the sensory data of my short- to medium-term potential futures in the form of if-then conditionals.

     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 powersenough 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.

     When Alex was a teenager, he was apprenticed to Richard Drakh, a Dark mage who treated his apprentices cruelly. Drakh believed in "what you'd call the pure Dark credo. Power over all, no matter where it came from." (from Burned) Eventually Alex rebelled against the mage's evil ways and was imprisoned in Richard's mansion. When Alex finally escaped and went to the Council for help, the Council members turned their backs on him, forcing him to survive on his own. Now, he tends his store and tries to keep a very low profile, wanting nothing to do with any magesneither the Light mages of the Council nor the Dark mages of the shadow realms.

     Alex has only a few friends. Starbreeze, an ancient, shape-shifting air elemental, serves as Alex's means of transportation when he needs to travel quickly and quietly over a distance. Since Starbreeze hears everything that is going on in London (being a spirit of the wind), she is also a great source of information, although her attention span is so short that her facts tend to be somewhat garbled. Another one of Alex's supernatural friends is Arachne, a ten-foot-tall, half-ton spider who lives in a hidden tunnel in Hampstead Heath where she makes clothing for her special clients and counsels Alex as he grapples with his ongoing problems with the other mages. 

     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.


     This is a terrific series, with quirky characters and an imaginative premise. Alex has just enough flaws and more than enough honor and intelligence to make a satisfying hero, especially when you add in his curiosity and his innate ability to irritate and enrage authority figures of all kinds. The action is compelling and fast paced, and the world-building is complex without being labyrinthine. Jim Butcher has praised the series highly, and I can see why. As Butcher says in his cover blurb, "Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendouslyand be a little nervous around him."

     Another strong element of the series is Jacka's descriptive skill as he presents a gorgeous rendering of London. From the serenity of the Thames to the woods and fields of Hampstead Heath to midnight views of the city lights, Jacka paints an eloquent portrait of a city he obviously loves

     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.


     Click HERE to go to a web page of links to articles the author has written for a set of "Encyclopedia" articles about the background and setting for the ALEX VERUS series. It's kind of an "everything you ever wanted to know about magic" collection, all related directly to Alex's world. Click HERE to read the “Ask Luna” Q&A page on Jacka’s web site. 

                          NOVEL 1:  Fated                          
     As the story opens, Lyle, a Council sycophant shows up at Alex's shop and asks him to assist the Council in retrieving an historical artifact. When Alex asks Lyle a few questions, he learns that no other diviner would take the job, so he knows that Lyle isn't telling him the whole story. Soon, others approach Alexeach wanting him to use his diviner talent to retrieve the artifact, which will give its possessor immense power over other mages. Eventually, Alex finds himself struggling to stay alive as a corrupt Council mage, an extremely powerful Dark mage, and a trio of murderous rogue mages all try to force him to help them gain possession of the artifact, which turns out to be a magical wand. Unfortunately, Luna is also dragged into this dangerous situation, and Alex is determined that no harm will come to her. The story ends in the obligatory battle scene in which all of the contenders make their big grab for the wand. In the process, Luna learns more about her magical powers, and Alex has an important epiphanous experience.

     About two thirds of the way into the story we get some flashbacks to Alex's life as an apprentice Dark mage, and this brings into focus all of the vague references made to that time in his life that have been sprinkled through the story from the beginning. It would have been nice to get this flashback a bit earlier, although I was able to work out most of Alex's story by paying attention to Alex's occasional comments in earlier parts of the book. I did find it somewhat distracting having to stop and pull together those biographical clues while I was in the middle of such an intricately contrived plot.

     This is a solid start to an intriguing series. Alex's divination process as he follows the possible futures is fascinating to watch. He's a complex character, and I'm looking forward to his next big adventure—and to the development of his relationship with Luna. Starbreeze and her attention deficit problems make for some nice comic relief. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Fated on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                          NOVEL 2:  Cursed                          
     The action picks up just a short time after the climax of book 1 as the author takes a leaf from William Wymark Jacobs' notebook and uses his classic horror story, "The Monkey's Paw," as the thematic focus for this book. As the book opens, Alex is trying to teach Luna how to control the negative powers of her curse, but unfortunately, the lessons aren't going well, partly because Luna wants results sooner rather than later and partly because Alex isn't acting like a true Master. The two have been friends for quite awhile, and that friendship is getting in the way of the discipline both of them need to solve Luna's problems. Meanwhile, Luna has found a new friend in Martin, a young sensitive who desperately wants to be a mage and who tries to use a monkey's paw from Alex's shop to make his wishes come truewith predictably horrible results for everyone involved.

     Early on in the story, Meredith, a young female mind mage stumbles into Alex's shop just ahead of an assassin who is determined to kill her. After Alex saves Meredith's life, she explains that she is working for Belthas, a Council mage who needs Alex's help. Belthas wants Alex to track down two dark mages who have discovered a way to use special implements to drain the energy from magical creatures and absorb it into themselves. He claims that he wants to destroy the implements so that they can never be used. Alex doesn't trust Belthas, but he, too, wants to stop the dark mages so he agrees to help.

     The plot follows Alex as he locates the dark mages and discovers that they are his past nemeses, Cinder and Rachel (aka Deleo), whom we met in book 1 when they tried to kill Alex because he wouldn't help them retrieve the magic wand. In the meantime, someone else makes several attempts to kill Alex, and Alex isn't sure just who wants him dead. It's not that there aren't a lot of people who want Alex dead. It's just that he isn't sure exactly which one is after him this time. The book ends in the requisite battle scene as Alex, Luna, and Arachne are all placed in mortal danger, along with a few more of Alex's friends and enemies.

     The action in this book, for me, is even more compelling than book 1. Luna plays a much larger role in this story as she endangers Alex by focusing solely on ridding herself of her curse. You can hardly blame the poor girl for wanting to live a normal life, but Luna does have a couple of TSTL moments in this book that had me shaking my head at her naiveté. By the end, Alex has won a big battle but he has also put himself in the crosshairs of the bigwigs of the mage world, all of whom are now going to view him as a distinct threat. Alex is a complex and interesting character, with his innate sense of fairness and honor, his pragmatic view of good and evil, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to keep his friends safe. He has always fought against becoming a dark mage, but he can't quite behave like a light mage either. He's an anomaly, and in this world, that just means trouble. 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 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                          

     As the book opens, Alex's life has been relatively peaceful for the past few months. The young mages, Anne and Variam (aka Vari), are having no luck in finding a mage to sponsor them, so they are bunking with Alex in the interim and along with Luna, they are attending training classes. Soon, though, the danger level rises when Will Traviss, a young adept, and his magical buddies try to kill Alex in revenge for his part in the kidnapping and death of Will's sister, Catherine, ten years ago when Alex was still an apprentice to the dark mage, Richard Drakh.

     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                          

     In Chosen, Alex revealed his dark side to his new friends, Anne, Sonder, and Variam, but only Vari stuck with Alex after learning about his murderous past. All three moved out of Alex and Luna’s apartment: Sonder and Vari took positions with the Light Keepers (the law enforcement branch of the Council), while Anne moved into her own apartment and is running a clinic. As Hidden opens, Luna is worried about Anne because she has been expelled from the apprentice academy and is now vulnerable to attack by the Dark mages, particularly Sagash, the death mage from whom Anne and Vari escaped not long ago. Alex tries to reason with Anne, but she sends him away because she can’t deal with his violent past. Little does Alex know that Anne has violent secrets in her own past. As she turns away from him she says, “I don’t want to become the kind of person who could do what you did.”—referring to Alex’s part in the deaths of five adepts in Chosen.

     When Anne is kidnapped by two unidentified men, Sonder brings the Keepers into the picture because he claims that the mind mage Crystal (whom we met in Taken) is behind the kidnapping. Everyone else believes that Sagash is the mastermind, but Alex, Luna, Vari, Sonder, and Caldera (Sonder’s boss)—spend the first half of the book searching for clues and narrowing down suspects. Sonder despises Alex and has a major crush on Luna, so the scenes in which the two men interact are fraught with tension, especially when Sonder tries to lure Luna away from her apprenticeship to Alex. In a follow-up to that scene, Sonder berates Alex, “Every time someone goes after you, they end up dead. You killed those adepts because that’s what you do….You said it was self-defence [sic], that there was no other way. You made it sound really convincing, but that’s always your line, isn’t it? It’s never your fault.” 

     In the second half of the book, Alex goes off on his own to rescue Anne—just as you knew he would. When he steps out of a portal into Sagash’s shadow realm, he finds himself in a dangerous situation that will probably result in severe injury or even death for himself and for Anne. His enemies in this realm include Sagash’s three apprentices, a horde of single-minded shadows (magical constructs) who want to kill him, two powerful mages who also want to harm/capture/kill him, and an enemy from his past who can terrify Alex with just a word or a look. In the end, Alex is forced to make a choice between two horrific options for himself and for Anne, one that would make them slaves, and the other that might kill them both. The requisite showdown scene is full of suspense and drama all the way to the end as Alex relies on his wits and a new friend to defeat his enemy and make a clean getaway. The identity and motivations of the person behind the kidnapping and the circumstances of the escape are cleverly conceived and constructed, making it entirely unpredictable and immensely satisfying. As the final scenes play out, each twist and turn is a bigger surprise than the last.

     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).

     This is another strong story that takes us a step closer to the inevitable showdown between Alex and Richard. The dark shadow of Richard’s presence has been hovering in the background since the very beginning of the series, and it can’t be long before he makes a major move to get Alex back. Meanwhile, Alex plans to be ready for that day by working on his own skills and by enlisting the aid of his friends—friends he didn’t have the last time he and Richard tangled. Talisid, the Council mage for whom Alex has been working various jobs finally reveals his end game, and that complicates Alex’s situation even more. This series just gets better and better. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt from Hidden on the book's Amazon.com page by clicking on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.

                          NOVEL 6:  Veiled                          
PUBLISHER'S BLURB: 
     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…

     Diviner Alex Verus and the Council that governs the magical community have never gotten along. But with his former teacher back in Britain, Alex is in desperate need of allies, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get them—even if it means accepting a job with the Keepers, enforcing magical law. 

     Alex forms an uneasy alliance with his new partner, Caldera, but his attempt at legitimacy quickly turns lethal when a mission puts him in possession of an item that factions both inside and outside of the Council would kill to get their hands on. Once again caught in the middle of a deadly conflict, Alex will need all his abilities to figure out who his friends are—especially when enemies are hiding on all sides…

MY REVIEW: 
     This novel deals with multiple intrigues within the Light Council, which means that we need to understand just how the Council operates, both publicly and behind the scenes. As a result, Veiled contains a bit more world-building than any book since Fated.

     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 possiblea 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 seriesto 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.