A convenient twist of review-deliveries, recently finished books, and a desire to hold off finishing an advanced copy of a book I won’t name yet, left me picking up the recently arrived ‘Taken’ by Benedict Jacka, the third book in the author’s Alex Verus novels. The fourth comes out later this year, and I will soon have a review for that up as well, as I enjoy this little jaunt around an increasingly enjoyable urban fantasy London.
Taken represents the next chapter not only in the life of Alex Verus but in the life of author Benedict Jacka as well, as they both grow in their abilities. It is with great joy that I can sit and read a book by an author and appreciate their willingness to grow in their craft, which is what I believe is happening to Jacka with each Alex Verus novel he publishes.
Alongside that, however, is the growth and development of Alex Verus as a character, as well as his own entourage.
The stakes for this story escalate again, however they do so in a way that sheds a little light on what is most important to Verus. The threat is more personal, this time around, and the time spent with Alex and Luna, as well as new friends and old enemies (as well as some new enemies), builds a bond not only between the characters, but between the reader and the characters as well.
Jacka is beginning to really get a firm grasp on his characters, and is allowing them to stretch and grow. While there are the occasional slips in writing-style that drew me out of the story, they were few and far between, and acted primarily as proof of Jacka’s intentional growth as a writer. The hectic narration is starting to cool, somewhat, without losing any of its flavour, and the retelling of events is both breathtaking and emotional.
Not much more can be sad that I have not already said in the previous two reviews for the Alex Verus series – ‘Fated’ and ‘Cursed’ – except to say that the quality of each story continues to grow, making Benedict Jacka a name to follow, adhere to, and write home about.
Joshua S Hill, 8/10
Welcome to Fountain Reach. Ancient seat of the Aubuchon dynasty. Majestic setting of the White Stone tournament. Alex Verus's (not necessarily reliable) reputation attracts all sorts. Most are plain bonkers. Yet there's one invitation he just can't refuse. At Fountain Reach, Alex is perfectly placed among the noted and notorious to figure out why apprentices have been vanishing. But the tournament is a minefield of ancient grudges and new threats, and Alex can't afford to miss a trick as his elusive adversary stays one step ahead in this most dangerous of games.
In most good fantasy novels we have the Light and Dark side but the heroes we love best are those who walk the grey areas between. We don’t want perfect, up-standing citizens, we want a hero who knows right from wrong but who can also see that sometimes doing a bad thing for a good reason is called for. In Taken we really begin to see Alex come into his own, he is more confident and sure in his actions and it reflects well on the page. Alex continues to grow as character, his motivations feel more real and you can begin to empathise with the person portrayed and the challenges he is are facing. He doesn’t mind crossing that line when needed.
In Taken Alex is propositioned by a beautiful women to come to her aid. And in the best noir custom you know she is either soon to die or is the villain. I do love a little bit of the old school femme fatal…
This installment doesn’t have the same degree of action as the previous novels but what it lacks in this area it makes up in suspense and drama. The fight scenes we do get are written well and imaginative; Luna with a bullwhip of her luck is a very nice construct, and I can see some real fun coming with this.
Luna as a character is beginning to develop in her own right, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens with her. However, I did find some of the fight scenes very ‘Harry Potter’; duelling at 50 paces, wands at the ready in one scene, maybe Jacka can skip that in the next book.
Be aware this book isn't big; there is a tendency that when an author begins a series the story begins a little small and in each new novel they increase in size. Jacka has kept this series a nice manageable weekend read in length. The story is engaging and sets a good pace, you don’t feel like there is much fluff in the pages to fill it out and each chapter holds well to the story. I would rather be reading these smaller releases each year than one larger piece released once a year.
In each book Jacka introduces us to new magical abilities and I haven’t always been a fan of some of these magic’s styles given to us, but the introduction of ‘Life’ magic is a welcome addition. There is a real potential here for an awesome or fearsome power; the ability to heal or drain life from people would be both fantastic and frightening. I hope we get to see more of this in later books.
As well as the introduction of new magic Jacka has introduced us to a new creature, a ‘Tigerman’; a relic from the old world of India, dressed in expensive suits and with a hatred of the magic councils for past wrongs. I hope he keeps this up and maintains the different flavour of creatures coming. The interactions between Alex and the Tigerman are well written and adds depth to the world of Alex Verus. This creature is old, powerful, and a little bit peeved and not the less bit worried about Alex; it’s always good to add a little uncertainty for your hero.
A negative - and it's not really a true negative - is the bad guy. When it's finally revealed I got goose bumps, this is the bad guy that should scare bad guys. Think a mix of Freddy, Jason and the monster under the bed when you were five; I just wish there was more of it as it’s not until the last section of the book that they make their entrance. There is some wiggle room with the ending and I think that we may or may not see them come back. My hope is they will make an appearance later. One of the dark side guys, Onyx, makes an appearance alongside the bad guy and a fight ensues but unfortunately we don’t get any narrative when they do but I wish there was as that would have been awesome!
I was hoping something like this wasn't going to show up as its just very predictable in modern fantasy: Vampires. Simply said I hope they don’t show up much more!
I good little weekend read that is starting to gather some steam. Fast paced suspenseful fantasy thriller. Recommended.
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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