Hidden by Benedict Jacka

Rating 7.5/10
This series is the current high point for urban fantasy.

A Recommended Book of the Month

Released late 2014, it’s taken me a little bit longer than I would have liked to get to ‘Hidden’ by Benedict Jacka. But prowling around my library the other night, looking for something fun to read, I spied Hidden, living up to its name amidst a pile of ‘to-read’ books. I quickly sped through the last few chapters of its predecessor, ‘Chosen’ (which I loved) and jumped into Hidden.

And could not for the life of me remember why I had waited so long.

Hidden is the fifth book in the author’s ‘Alex Verus’ series of novels set in a modern-day London with magic all around. There’s no use jumping in at this point of the series, as you’ll not only be somewhat lost, but you’ll miss out on some of the most creative character building and growth currently being published.

Such focus on the character is what makes Benedict Jacka books so impressive, and so beloved. As Jim Butcher is quoted on the front cover as saying, “books this good remind me why I got into the storytelling business in the first place.” And he’s right – in fact, within moments of finishing Hidden, I was sitting at my computer vomiting the basics of a story onto my Mac (my PC had, momentarily, been sidelined).

Benedict Jacka not only brings you into his own world, but he inspires you to mimic his abilities – to go and write good story.

This book could very easily be considered the second-half of Chosen, the fourth book in the series, as its primary storyline is the continuing relationship between our lead character, Alex Verus, and Anne Walker. While we, the reader, are pretty certain they both have feelings for one another, neither Alex nor Anne have any clue, allowing us the opportunity to follow along as they build this intensely powerful relationship.

In fact, the majority of the book takes place in just such a manner as to allow their relationship – its strengths and weaknesses, their friendship, trust, and feelings for one another – to take centre stage.

Sure, it’s surrounded by fantastic fight sequences, with a magic system that relies on Brandon Sanderson’s Second Law of Magic, ie, that limitations and weaknesses to a magic system can create better story than a plethora of magical powers can. Sure, the stakes are high, and you’re honestly a little worried how things are going to turn out in the end. But through it all, Alex and Anne’s relationship is the driving focus of this particular story, allowing the final chapter (and, in particular, the final scene) to be all the more emotionally satisfying.

More than simply recommending Hidden, by Benedict Jacka, to you, I want to use Hidden as a reason that you should be reading the entire Alex Verus series! Beautifully written, with characters wrought wholly in three dimensions that tug at your heartstrings and make you angry, this series is the current high point for urban fantasy – no questions asked.
Joshua S Hill, 9/10

It’s a great view from up here on my pedestal, as they say.  My glibness comes from the view that I really cannot appreciate the reasoning for this particular addition to the Alex Verus universe.

The issues I had with the story was a continual sense of repetition of plot, characters and themes, mixed with only a small amount of original content.

--Spoiler begin--
In Hidden, we have the re-emergence of Crystal, the Mage who originally kidnapped Anne in order to drain her life force doing the same thing again but in a slightly different setting. 
--Spoiler end--

The original content - when it does appear - I enjoyed the best, mostly concerned the possibility of Alex's old Dark Master Richard returning as well as the final chapters regarding the rescue of Anne, all of which are written well and I couldn't fault. However, even the new characters felt like copies of other villains we have seen, apprentices working for Dark Mage Masters, stupid and drunk with power.

While I think a certain reuse of core themes is important and wanted, Hidden feels more like Taken (book #3) but now with some of Alex's friends pissed off at him and a few not having much to do. As a big fan I was hoping for a little more.

I may have begun this review with some issues but don’t get me wrong, Jacka's writing is still familiar, flowing and smooth, providing a rich, fully cemented character and story structure, which does make up for the story's pace and lack of variety. It could best be described in terms of a slope graph with a 10% incline with an occasion short blip (you will have to get through the first five chapters - nearly half the book - before you get some magical/physical action), before spiking to 100 in the last few chapters.

The new concepts, as well as the expansion of some old elements are done well. The idea behind the blink fox was a particular aspect that I enjoyed greatly and can see much fun coming from the fox/Alex interaction. There is some solid emotional expression, which reads wonderfully in the why of Sonder's and Anne's anger with Alex.

The same can also be said for the action scenes when they do occur, one which particularly stands out.

--Spoiler begin--  

When Alex is squaring off against Sagash's apprentice trying and finding a way into the Shadow Realm, the combat is direct, fierce and well written. Just the way it should be. 

--Spoiler end--

In this the fifth book we begin to get a deeper look into the world and politics of the dark mages, best described as this: Power is not given but taken.  If you can't keep it, then you don’t deserve it. There is a simplicity in how the dark mages interact which comes across well in the story line and character interactions.  Sometime authors can write their villains a little too Machiavellian when it's not really needed or wanted.

At its heart, I feel this story would shine all the brighter as a novella, highlighting the return of Richard, Alex's old Master, and the fear and anxiety it causes him, adding the stress factor of Anne's kidnapping and rescue.

Friend, enemy, villain or hero. When your friends cannot tell you which they think you are, do you leave them to their faith or risk everything to show them who you truly are.
Fergus McCartan, 6/10

 

This Hidden book review was written by and Fergus McCartan

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