Saturday 4 January 2014

Cursed, Taken & Chosen, by Benedict Jacka

These are the second, third and fourth of Jacka's Alex Verus novels, the first being Fated. I reviewed this in July 2013 and had the following to say in the way of introduction:

"Alex Verus is a young man who runs a present-day magic shop near Camden Market (which will surprise no-one who knows Camden!). The difference is that while most of the shop's contents are mundane and sold to passing tourists, some are not – because unknown to those tourists and to the overwhelming majority of the population, a world of magic coexists with our own. Verus is a diviner, whose skill is the ability to see the consequences of future choices so he can pick the best course of action to obtain the outcome he wants. This is highly useful in a world in which he has to contend with formidable Light and Dark mages, some with lethal powers. Fortunately he has some magical non-human friends, plus his assistant, a young woman called Luna who suffers from a strange hereditary curse." 

Cursed is set a few months after the events described in Fated. There are various references to the earlier adventure, which it is desirable to read first, but Cursed nevertheless stands on its own. This time, Verus finds himself the target of several assassination attempts and becomes involved with a literally enchanting young woman while he tries to work out who is after him, and why. There are the usual twists and turns in the plot and the resourceful Verus finds his closest friends in deadly danger as he is apparently faced with nothing but bad choices.

Taken is the next episode in the saga, in which apprentice magicians keep disappearing and Verus becomes involved in trying to discover what is going on. It all seems to focus on a combat tournament between apprentices being held in a curious old mansion. On the way, he has to deal with a powerful non-human being, an inimical Dark Mage, and an attractive young apprentice with an unusual power, before bringing the house down in a rousing finale.

In Chosen, Verus' past as an apprentice to a Dark Mage comes back to haunt him as is relentlessly pursued by a vengeful group for something he'd much rather forget. We learn a lot more about his early history and what formed his personality and attitudes. This is his toughest trial yet, and sees him finally running out of choices as he is stretched to the limit of endurance.

These are just as good as Fated and proved an equally quick read, being just as difficult to put down. I actually read Taken in one evening, and Chosen is the author's best yet. Fortunately, there is a clear hook in the final paragraph that indicates not only that we will hear more of Verus, but also that he will be faced with problems far worse than anything he's dealt with so far.

I am still undecided about whether I prefer these tales to Ben Aaronovitch's somewhat similar series, the first of which, Rivers of London, I reviewed last December. I am beginning to conclude that Jacka's addictive novels are more fun, more of a quick, feel-good read (albeit getting more serious as we learn more about Alex Verus), with the Aaronovitch ones being a little more complex, slower and a shade darker. I'll be doing some more reading of Aaronovitch's work before reaching a conclusion.


Bill Garthright said...

I'm enjoying both series, Tony. I liked Rivers of London (the title was Midnight Riot here in the States) the best, I think, but I wasn't quite as fond of the sequel. However, the third was really impressive again. I guess I just find the series unusually imaginative (which isn't as common as you might think in fantasy novels).

The Jacka books I enjoyed, too, but Cursed and Taken, while entertaining, seemed to be mostly just more of the same. However, I agree with you that Chosen was the best yet. I was really impressed with that one. For fantasy, it's even thought-provoking.

So now, like you, I'm back to being undecided about which series I really prefer. Given that I enjoy them both, it's a good puzzle to have. :)

Anthony G Williams said...

Indeed it is, Bill! I have the next two Aaronovitch books in my reading pile.