Category Archives: Books

Reviews on books I’ve read

Alex Verus Novels

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.

01 Alex Verus Novels

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.

-Jace

50 Words of Grey

Last week, I finally finished reading 50 Shades of Grey for the first time.

Honestly I didn’t find it as exciting as it was hyped up to be. The erotic scenes were pretty unspectacular; I’ve read better scenes in non-romance novels. Okay yeah, each scene was still a turn on, but they weren’t what I expected, especially from an erotic romance novel. Perhaps my expectations were higher. Ah well.

But the thing that intrigued me the most was the sheer power of E L James’ vocabulary. She used so many words that I didn’t recognize. I felt like I had to have a dictionary or thesaurus with me as I read the book. Since I didn’t have one of those handy in camp and I didn’t want to waste data on my phone, I just took note of the foreign words and their contexts so I could look them up later.

I found a total of 24 new words. And that’s just in the first book. As of this writing, I’m halfway through book two and I’ve already found 12 new words, not including the original 24. I might actually use some of these new words in my own writing projects.

Me, with my larger-than-the-average-Singaporean’s vocabulary, struggling to understand these words! Imagine just how many words others would have to look up? Words like ‘profligate’ and ‘acquiesce’ were alien to me, although I could guess at their meanings from the context.

(Just FYI, ‘profligate’ means wasteful and ‘acquiesce’ means to accept reluctantly)

Incidentally, I came across a new phrase from one of blogs I follow: Purple Prose. Urban Dictionary defines Purple Prose as ‘a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery’. And while 50 Shades isn’t overly purple, the writing is quite flowery. I feel that some of these advanced words needn’t have been used. When there are too many unfamiliar words, it really turns the reader off, especially if the plot is as boring as this one. Yeah I said it. 50 Shades of Grey is boring. The only thing that carries it are the erotic scenes.

(I’m fully aware this started off as fanfic from Twilight, so I didn’t expect much plot-wise)

I don’t think this is worth reading again, but I had to read the trilogy at least once so I could form my own opinions instead of just listening to other’s talk about it.

-Jace

Allie Beckstrom Novels

I’ve recently started reading this series of books called the Allie Beckstrom novels, by Devon Monk. Currently there are nine books and I’m not sure if a tenth is coming out or not. I’ve finished the first three books and since I’ll be going overseas for three weeks, I can’t take the remaining books with me. I don’t want to lose them.

WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD

01 Magic to the Bone

02 Magic in the Blood

03 Magic in the Shadows

The whole series is based on magic being an energy resource for anyone to use, as opposed to an ability only some people possess. Magic is shaped by glyphs drawn in the air by the castor and that determines how the magic will manifest itself. However, there is a price to pay: pain. The more magic you use, the more pain you have to take. Setting a Disbursement spell allows the castor to control when and how the pain will manifest; a headache, muscle ache, etc. The more magic you use, the longer the pain will last.

Allison “Allie” Beckstrom is the protagonist here. She’s a Hound, a sort of detective that uses magic. She’s able to trace spells back to their castors by reading the spell’s signature. How these signatures look like isn’t explained much, but I imagine that it looks like handwriting. Two people can draw the same glyph but it would appear differently, just like different people have different styles of handwriting. The term “Hound” literally references dog or wolf-like abilities. Even without magic enhancing her senses, Allie has acute hearing and a very good sense of smell. Smells are part of the castors signature as well and each person has a different smell.

In book four, I learnt that different types of magic have different smells as well. Also, perhaps not defining what glyphs look like keeps the design space open for Monk to explore. Good move.

For Allie, sometimes the price of the magic she uses takes away parts of her memory, when she forgets to set Disbursements. This is kinda annoying because she has to recount what happened and I feel it’s pretty repetitive.

After reading three books, I get the impression that the series is completely continuous, making each book seem like chapters in a big story, rather than individual stories themselves. Usually when a novel series is named after a character, I tend to take it as many different stories that don’t reference each other but just happen to have the same character. Like Hercule Poirot in the Agatha Chistie mystery novels. But this series makes a lot of references to the past novels. I feel the story is a little too detailed and slow paced. But then since it’s all part of one big story, it’s understandable. The books are also just the right physical size to carry around.

Monk does a really good job of setting up many unanswered questions to be answered in future books. I would think it would be a little confusing if someone started reading from one of the middle books though. There’s also no official list or indication of the book order within any of the books, so it’s a little confusing to sort out.

I like the story and the concept of magic being a resource you have to pay to use, but I don’t really like Allie. I have a thing for women who save the world and she does it several times, but she’s really too stubborn for a own good. That stubbornness sometimes aggravates a situation even further.

These are young adult novels and there are erotic scenes and some vulgarities. I’d have appreciated little to no vulgarities because I think it’s crass, but that’s just me. At least Monk doesn’t overuse it. Her style of writing is slightly informal and I think that’s great for a YA series.

At the time of writing this post, I was almost done with book four, but I had to return books four to seven to the library before I could finish reading them. Ah well, I’ll borrow them again when I return to Singapore and maybe do another review once I read the last book.

-Jace

Dualed

This post was first published on my Tumblr on May 9, 2013, and is now updated with my experiences since then.

I just finished reading this book, Dualed, and I thought it was a really good story. It’s written in present tense, so it actually feels like you’re there with the protagonist, West Grayer.

*WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD*

The story is set in the future, where the world has dissolved into chaos and only a small section of America has been set up for safety. The people there are bred to be killers and soldiers, in case the walls around the city are breached and they need to defend it.

How this works is through a very twisted rite of passage. Everybody has a genetic twin, called an Alt or Alternate. Each twin is born to a different set of parents and lives in a separate part of the city. They are totally identical except for their upbringing and are known as “incompletes”. Anytime between the ages of 10 and 20, they can be “activated”. When they are, their eyes will be imprinted with their assignment number and the Alts have just 31 days for one of them to eliminate the other. If they don’t, the assignment number in their eyes will self detonate, causing both Alts to die. If one Alt kills the other Alt, the survivor becomes “complete”.

The reason for this is The Board (the governing body of the city) says only the stronger Alternate can survive. They need people capable of killing and doing whatever it takes to survive.

The story follows West as she goes through the tragedies of losing her whole family one by one, each dying to their Alternates or as innocent bystanders during someone else’s assignment (known as Peripheral Kills or PKs). She’s been training for her assignment her whole life, but when it finally comes, she feels she’s not ready and goes on the run. During that time, she becomes a Striker, an assassin for incompletes to hire to kill their Alternate. This is frowned upon, as it is somewhat cheating, but The Board is too busy to do anything about it. (Remind you of anything?)

She reasons that she needs the training only being a Striker can provide. The practice of killing and the ability to be numb to any and all feeling. She keeps running away, pushing away Chord, the last remaining person alive who loves her, believing that it will keep him out of danger of becoming a Peripheral Kill. When West’s Alt threatens Chord’s life, West finally confronts her and kills her Alt, at last freeing herself from the burden that kept her running.

Throughout the story, signs from the Board are shown all over the place, signifying the inevitability of it all. The phrase “Be the one. Be worthy.” is rampant as well, not unlike the Hunger Games’ “May the odds be ever in your favour”.

My takeaway from this story is that your greatest enemy is yourself. When you finally face who you are, are you strong enough to do the right thing? Your whole life boils down to just one moment. One moment that will either crush you, or free you forever.

Are you the one? Are you worthy?

-Jace