There is not a lot that I can say ‘generally’ about Benedict Jacka’s series of Alex Verus novels, so I will copy and paste a section from my previous review for ‘Fated’, before moving to some specifics to do with ‘Cursed’ (if for no other reason than I really liked my review of Fated).
It’s pretty clear, I’m a whore for well-written urban-fantasy, specifically if it’s set in London. I love it. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down with a book to read about a fantastical version of a city I’ve never visited, but love nonetheless.
So when I heard about Benedict Jacka’s series of Alex Verus novels, I jumped at the chance to read them.
‘Fated’ is not on the same level as Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift novels, but rather more in line with Ben Aaronovitch’s books about Constable Peter Grant. They’ve got a really great taste to them, but without Griffin’s beautiful tour of London, something I’m beginning to suspect she is the master of. Jacka writes a great story; quick, gripping, and really fun!
While Fated had the double job of telling a quick and great story as well as introducing us to a new world and cast of characters, Cursed allowed the author a little more freedom, which was well used. In fact, Jacka seems to have known just what worked so well from the first novel and brought it smoothly into his second. We get to spend more time with Luna, which is turning out to be maybe the hidden secret to these stories, as well as investigate further the murky Light versus Dark side protagonist Alex Verus holds to. Subsequently there are some fantastic scenes with Cinder, as well as the villain for this story, that really bring the character of Alex Verus to life in a way that we didn’t get a chance to see in Fated.
The reality is that not many people write as well as Kate Griffin when she’s writing her Matthew Swift novels, and that is a hard thing to fight with. It is a tricky job, reviewing book after book, and struggling against the desire to make the authors compete against one another for your love (if you’re wondering, Steven Erikson wins, hands down, every time) and judge them on their own merits. Which is why – with a bit of space between the last time I read a Kate Griffin book and this read – I was able to fully enjoy the racing pace and bombastic nature of Benedict Jacka’s writing.
The Alex Verus novels are the epitome of over-too-quickly, but that is probably also part of their charm. They are quick, simple, but astonishingly well-constructed and entertaining, packed full of characters that jump off the page (which would suggest that the book isn’t packed full of anything … conflicting analogies). If you’re in the mood for a great read that doesn’t require you to give up parenting for a month, then Benedict Jacka is for you.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
Things are going well for Alex Verus. He's on moderately good terms with the Council, his apprentice is settling in and his shop in Camden is gaining quite a reputation.
But when a mysterious woman bursts into the Arcana Emporium one night with an assassin on her tail, Alex is thrown into a plot to revive a long-forbidden ritual. His old enemies are after the secret, as well as a Council mage named Belthas and a mercenary named Garrick, and at least one of them is trying to get Alex killed - if he only knew which.
He can see the future, but knowing who to trust is something else.
The second instalment in the Alex Verus' books 'Cursed' is beginning to feel like a more mature and well-rounded story, Jacka is giving us a greater view of his envisioned magical world, its people and history. We are starting to see well-cultivated elements of individuality and narrative that we had glimpsed of in 'Fated'.
Now that Jacka has book one under his belt he is starting to establish the complexity and variety Magic in this world. The introduction of the Enchantress builds on the observation that Jacka's magic is rooted in elemental and emotional magic. These new magical categories are descripted well and applied with good affect: something Alex can testify to from first hand experience.
One of my favourite elements of the books so far has been the use of 'Elsewhere'; the world of nowhere and everywhere. I found this is a nice twist on a common theme - what you bring with you can kill you. There is a potential for something really gruesome to come from this place; something dark, twisted and truly Evil.
With the addition of a relatively simple magical concept, 'Imbued' magical items, these wares have the ability to be the salt and vinegar on our chips; it’s only a little extra something but it can add so much. I feel this embellishment can and will be developed into a key piece of the Alex Verus world, as evident in 'Fated' and Fateweaver.
This is a little silly but when I came across this in the story I thought cool so here is a little riddle as a teaser: Name me, "Breathe of fire, hide of iron, ageless, timeless, feared!" I can’t wait to see where this one goes, and no I not saying the word, you just have to read to find out for yourself.
Usually when you read this style of book the writer and genre has a tendency to relay on magic and magic alone for the hero to deal with the world and bad guys. Thankfully Jacka has blended nicely the use of modern day weapons; rocket launchers, sniper rifles and land mines to tell his story. The days are gone of besieging the castle with spells and big rocks. The character Verus mixes magic, guns and martial arts together into a formula that proves he is resourceful and has a foot in both magic and non-magic London. We also get to see the continuation of Verus' growth, facing the horrors of his past and the scars left behind, channelling this new found confidence to defend those who cant defend themselves.
In this review and my previous on 'Fated' I did have a tendency to flip flop between the like and dislike of the magic style. Don't get me wrong I enjoy the style of magic portrayed. However, I found it’s a little hard accepting the evolution of Mage power for some if the characters. Sonder as a 'Space Mage' is too convenient, you just can't have every flavour of Mage magic for every situation in the plot to suit the scene, its to hard a pill to swallow.
While I love the 'Imbued' items I found the use of the 'Cat’s Paw' plot to be fairly laboured; it took a very long time for the final nail to go into that particular coffin, rather than a slow burner it was more of a limp biscuit. Along this line is the use of 'Gateways', they are very Wheel of Time series and don't really fit well into the world of Alex Verus in my opinion.
I know it’s a fairly common technique to prolong juicy shorelines and back-stories for some of the main characters, but we do need some tit-bits. Talisid? What’s his angle? Why is he helping Alex? What does he know about Alex's old Master? Come on something, anything, would be good!
I know a good story needs an undercurrent, a constant and so far this has been sitting round the edginess of the Politics of Magical World and it isn't an element and I am not in love. In its current format its more of a filler, there is no depth or level of intrigue.
In 'Cursed' we are starting to build into the back story and get some legs behind the world of Alex Verus, it’s still verging on a Dresden story but we are staring to see some breakout individuality. The more I read, the more I enjoy and the more I want to read.
Fergus McCartan, 7.5/10
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, The [...]
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