This is going to be a review/summary of the first four Alex Verus novels, written by Benedict Jacka. This is one of my all-time favourite series and it’s the second time I’m reading it. I’ll probably read the whole thing again when book #5 Hidden is available in the public library. Book #6 Veiled is coming out this year in August and book #7 is already in the pipeline. I’m so excited!
WARNING: If you don’t want to read spoilers, stop reading this post now.
Still here? Cool. I wouldn’t know that you’d stay though, because I can’t see the future. But you know who can? The mage Alex Verus.
All the books are told from Alex’s point of view and revolves around his ability to see into the future. To him, knowledge is power, because it’s the only advantage he has over his enemies and, believe me, he has many. Enemies, I mean, not advantages. Most other mages have abilities that affect the physical world, such as elemental mages, so since precognition doesn’t, he’s considered by other mages to be weaker. To be honest, in a fair magical fight, he’d lose, but he doesn’t fight fairly. Seeing the future means he can predict and avoid attacks. Alex usually relies on surprise and trickery to win or escape battles, but he’s a pretty good martial artist himself.
I also find his little unusual skills quite amusing, like picking locks, throwing small objects accurately and navigation without sight. He finds the future in which he succeeds in his endeavours, then traces that future back to see exactly what he has to do in order to make it a reality. He’s also really good at sniffing out traps, but since he actually experiences the future as opposed to seeing it in third person, the way he finds the traps is by triggering them using his future sight. Many times, he experiences dying and it’s quite unnerving to say the least.
At least inanimate objects like locks and traps are easy to predict. As Alex often points out, divination breaks down when free will is involved. If a person genuinely hasn’t made a choice, the future is uncertain. He sees all the possible choices that they might make and the consequences of each choice. Conversation has too many permutations to efficiently predict anything and battle is even worse.
Alex describes the world’s population as a pyramid shape. The non-magical population (called normals) make up about 90% of the world. Sensitives make up the next 9%. These are people who have a bit of magic in them and can feel the presence of magic, but they can’t control it at all. The magic they have is so subtle that it passes off as the person just having good luck. Adepts make up about 0.9%. Adepts are like mages who can only cast one spell, and they’re treated as second-class citizens by most mages. Mages fill the remaining 0.1% and they can actually do proper magic, depending on their type of magic.
Alex’s friend Luna is not a mage, but she’s somewhere between a mage and an adept. She’s has a curse that, to Alex’s mage sight, looks like a silver aura around her. The curse deflects bad luck away from her and on to whoever or whatever is nearby. If a person gets too close to Luna, it’s fatal. It’s a terrible situation for her because it means she can’t get intimate with anyone and has to keep what few friends she has at arms reach. Ironically, the spell was used as protection from accidents a long time ago, before the mage world split into Light and Dark mages. The unusual thing about the curse is that it’s bound to Luna’s family line. The original recipient of the curse was a very distant ancestor of Luna’s (I forget who) who pissed off a witch. If that hadn’t happened, Luna would have been a normal.
There are constant hints at his dark past and, by piecing together the hints, a short story is told of his background. He escaped from a Dark mage called Richard Drakh a long time ago, but the people who are supposedly the “policemen” of the mage world (the council of Light mages) refused to help him for fear of incurring the wrath of said Dark mage. Shunned by the Light and hunted by the Dark mage, Alex is always watchful of the future to the point of paranoia, which is pretty much justified. He also mentions that Alex Verus isn’t his real name.
In the first book, Fated, Alex encounters this Dark mage named Morden. Morden is extremely powerful and has an apprentice named Onyx, who’s a Force mage. There’s one quote from Morden that I like very much: “Those who lack purpose are pawns to those who do not.”
Dark mages aren’t technically evil. Not all of them anyway. They follow the “True Way” which, as I understand it, means that you take what you want. If you can’t defend something, it wasn’t rightfully yours to begin with. Kinda like what Voldemort in the Harry Potter series said: “There is no good or evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”
I like the way Benedict Jacka builds the world and the characters. Fated was very much focused on Alex with Luna as sort of a sidekick. Alex’s allies include a wind elemental named Starbreeze and a giant spider named Arachne who weaves amazing outfits which are glamorous and often magically enhanced. He picked up a new ally, Sonder, who’s a time mage fresh out of training, but proves to be invaluable.
Book #2 Cursed shows Luna as a more important character, going from occasional item-bringer to Alex’s apprentice and learning to control her curse. Since the general world Alex lives in has been more or less established, there is a lot more effort put into showing specific details of the mage world. For example, imbued items, magical creatures and mage classes were mentioned in Fated but they’re described a lot more in Cursed. Also, a little bit of romance and jealousy is thrown in as Alex meets an alluring enchantress and Luna has a new male friend.
Taken goes a whole new direction with the plot as it becomes more frustratingly mysterious and dark. Apprentices go missing and Alex has to find out why and how. In Cursed, you kinda know who the bad guys are, but Taken was more similar to Fated in that the final bad guy was hidden and there was an ultimate boss fight.
Finally, in Chosen we get to see Alex’s past and how it’s caught up with him. I’m quite happy to find Anne (a Life mage) and Variam (a Fire mage) are both added as Alex’s allies from the last book. Alex ultimately reveals his true nature and past to his friends and, while Luna, Variam and Arachne have accepted him, Sonder is quite distraught with what Alex has done and Anne can’t stand the ever increasing body count.
The only thing I can say I’m annoyed with is that Benedict Jacka has kept the romance theme tantalizingly close, but never quite allowed anything to develop. My personal wish is that Anne and Alex will become an item, and so will Luna and Sonder.
Wow it’s really hard to do a series review when there’s so much I want to say about each book. This is one of my all time favourites and I kinda hope it will be made into a good movie series. If the seventh book is the final book, I’m going to just buy the whole series and read it over and over.