Fallen by Benedict Jacka: Alex finds power and incredible loss as Jacka ramps up the seriousness of the series.

Fallen

Fallen

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #10

Mass Market Paperback, 296 pg.
Ace, 2019

Read: November 7-8, 2019

Wars between mages are very different from wars between countries. When countries fight, if they want to attack into enemy territory, they have to go through the other army to do it. Mages don’t. Gate magic let’s strike teams appear anywhere at anytime, attacking and then disappearing back to the other side of the world. You never see mages fighting to take control of a bridge or a mountain pass, because holding those kinds of places doesn’t accomplish anything. When mages engage in combat, it’s for one of two reasons: either they’re fighting over something valuable, or one side is attacking the others base of operations. Otherwise, if one side doesn’t want to fight, they can just leave.

That really sets the tone for this novel—we’re talking all-out war here—the Council vs. Richard Drakh et al. Naturally, because no one really trusts Alex, there are many who still aren’t sure what side of this conflict Alex comes down on.

For the last few books, I’ve been (mistakenly) thinking, “Ah, he’s hit rock bottom now, it’s time for things to get better.” Fallen is, at the very least, Exhibit A for how little I understood things. I was joking the other day with a friend about a theory that Jacka really doesn’t like Alex Verus and is enjoying destroying him bit by bit.

You could make the case that he’s chipping away at Alex’s shell so that he can access who he is at his core. Below how Alex thinks he should act, below how he wants to act—to get to the actual Alex Verus.

That’s probably closer to the truth, but I like my theory a little better.

Early on, Alex tells his readers:

You know things are bad when waking up feels worse than the nightmares.

And that works pretty well as a thesis statement for Fallen. Jacka finds new ways to ruin Verus’ life—up to and including one of the freakiest, strangest and most disturbing magic-induced injuries I can think of.

We’re at the point in this saga where I can’t really say anything about the plot without ruining most of it. So let me summarize it with this: we’re watching that prophecy the Dragon gave Alex work out in his life, he’s figuring out how it’s going to be fulfilled and is working to that end.

Which involves some of the riskiest moves he’s made. Some of which pay off in ways even he couldn’t foresee (some of them don’t work out so well). It’s hard to point to a book when things go as well for our favorite diviner. But as I said before, things go really, really, bad for him, too.

There are two scenes specifically (but, they’re not the only two) that will devastate readers as much as they did Alex. One of which gave us a result I’ve figured was coming (but I figured it would be in book 12, no earlier than 11—again, Jacka shows me how little I know).

While Jacka’s systematically destroying Alex, he weaves in plotlines and characters that you won’t expect, including at least one major magic artifact that you probably assumed we’d never see again. Seeing how Jacka’s using Alex’s past in the way he is was a real plus for me.

You know this was going to be a bad novel for our friends—you don’t call a novel Fallen to fill it with ponies, rainbows and slapstick moments. But man, this was just rough. Hard to read—but totally worth it.

I cannot state this strongly enough—this should not be the first book in the series you read. Horribly entry point, but such a wonderful ride for those who know Alex and his world and struggles. But if you’re a long-time reader, and haven’t had the chance to read this yet—fix that. Pronto.


4 1/2 Stars

Marked by Benedict Jacka: Alex Verus takes some of the biggest risks of his life

MarkedMarked

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #9

Mass Market Paperback, 310 pg.
Ace Books, 2018
Read: July 5 – 9, 2018

“So who was it this time?” Anne asked as I walked over to inspect the device.

“I can see the future not the past.” The bomb was a stack of plastique packed into the gym bag, the wires ending in contacts stuck into the blocks. It was crude but powerful, enough to blow apart the house, the victim, and anyone else unlucky enough to be within thirty feet or so of the front door. “I suppose I could get Sonder or someone to track down whoever it was, but honestly, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

“It feels a little bit strange that you don’t even bother identifying the people trying to kill you anymore.”

“Who has that kind of time?”

This is one of those books that I wait so long for (not that it was delayed, I simply couldn’t wait to read it) and then after reading it, the draft has spent too many days open with out words filling the space. I don’t know why — I had and have many opinions about what transpired here, but can’t seem to get them out. So, let’s start with the publisher’s blurb and see if that helps:

           Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he’ll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal–and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

This is not a book for someone to jump into this series with; I guess, technically it could work — but man . . . there’s just so much you wouldn’t get. But for those who’ve dipped their toes in the water — or have fully submerged themselves in the deep end — this is going to scratch that itch.

Typically, there are more balls in the air than you can easily track — there’s all the new political moves and movers that Alex has to contend with, his continuing efforts to prove to former friends and allies that he’s trustworthy (well, that he shouldn’t be intensely distrusted anyway), there’s a rising sense among the adepts that they need to organize — and Alex is dumbfounded that none of the Light mages seem to see this as something worth paying attention to — and then there’s Richard’s continuing efforts to disrupt Alex’s life. And then there’s all the stuff that Alex hasn’t figured out that’s going on around him yet.

Due to the political office (however temporary) that he finds himself in, and the nature of the threats he’s facing down — this is one of the least personal stories in the series. At the same time, Alex is driven to risk more of himself to save his friends and maybe even save a foe.

I don’t know how to talk about this without spoiling much. I can tell you that as nice as it is for Arachne not to have all the answers — I wanted more of her and that the rest of Alex’s friends get to shine in ways they normally don’t. Also, given where things end, I’m already impatient to get my hands on the next one.

So, I don’t have much to say, but it’s good. Alex Verus fans should grab it, and people who aren’t yet, should check into the series and catch up.

—–

4 Stars

My Favorite Fiction of 2017

Is he ever going to stop with these 2017 Wrap Up posts? I know, I know…I’m sick of them. But I’ve already done most of the work on this one, I might as well finish…Also, it was supposed to go up Friday, but formatting problems . . .

Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1. Also, none of these are re-reads, I can’t have everyone losing to my re-reading books that I’ve loved for 2 decades.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½-Star books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

In The StillIn The Still

by Jacqueline Chadwick
My original post

Chadwick’s first novel is probably the most entertaining serial killer novel I’ve ever read. Without sacrificing creepiness, suspense, horror, blood, guts, general nastiness, and so on — she gives us a story with heart, humor and humanity. The second novel, Briefly Maiden is arguably better, but I liked this one a teensy bit more — and I’m genuinely nervous about what’s going to happen in book 3 (not that I won’t read it as soon as I possibly can).

4 1/2 Stars

The Hangman's Sonnet Robert B. Parker’s The Hangman’s Sonnet

My original post

How do you possibly follow-up 2016’s Debt to Pay, especially with that ending, without dramatically altering the Jesse Stone flavor? I’m still not sure how Coleman did it, but he did — Jesse’s dealing with Debt to Pay in a typically self-destructive way, but is keeping his head mostly above water so he can get his job done, mostly by inertia rather than by force of will. Reflexes kick in however, and while haunted, Jesse can carry out his duties in a reasonable fashion until some friends and a case can push him into something more.

Coleman’s balancing of long-term story arcs and character development with the classic Jesse Stone-type story is what makes this novel a winner and puts this one on my list.

4 1/2 Stars

A Plague of GiantsA Plague of Giants

by Kevin Hearne

This sweeping — yet intimately told — epic fantasy about a continent/several civilizations being invaded by a race nobody knew existed is almost impossible to put into a few words. It’s about people stepping up to do more than they thought possible,more than they thought necessary, just so they and those they love can survive. It’s about heroes being heroic, leaders leading, non-heroes being more heroic, leaders conniving and failing, and regular people finding enough reason to keep going. It’s everything you want in an epic fantasy, and a bunch you didn’t realize you wanted, too (but probably should have).

5 Stars

Cold ReignCold Reign

by Faith Hunter

My original post
Hunter continues to raise the stakes (yeah, sorry, couldn’t resist) for Jane and her crew as the European Vamps’ visit/invasion gets closer. Am not sure what’s more intriguing, the evolution in Jane’s powers or the evolution of the character — eh, why bother choosing? Both are great. The growth in the Younger brothers might be more entertaining — I appreciate the way they’ve become nearly as central to the overall story as Jane. I’m not sure this is the book for new readers to the series, but there are plenty before it to hook someone.

5 Stars

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
My original post

Poor planning on my part (in 2016) resulted in me reading two Toby Daye books this year, both just excellent, but this one worked a little bit better for me. Oodles and oodles of Fae royalty and nobility in one spot to decide what they’re going to do with this elf-shot cure leading to a sort-of closed room mystery (it’s just a really big, magical room) with peril on all side for Toby and her found family.

5 Stars

A Monster CallsA Monster Calls

by Patrick Ness
My original post

There were so many ways this could’ve been hacky, overly-sentimentalized, brow-beating, or after-school special-y and Ness avoids them all to deliver a heart-wrenching story about grief, death, love, and the power of stories — at once horrifying, creepy and hopeful.

4 1/2 Stars

Black and BlueBlack and Blue

by Ian Rankin
My original post

Rankin kicked everything into a higher gear here — there are so many intricately intertwining stories here it’s hard to describe the book in brief. But you have Rebus running from himself into mystery after mystery, drink after drink, career-endangering move after career-endangering move. Unrelenting is the best word I can come up with for this book/character/plot — which makes for a terrific read.

5 Stars

SourdoughSourdough

by Robin Sloan
My original post

This delightful story of a programmer turned baker turned . . . who knows what, in a Bay Area Underground of creative, artisanal types who will reshape the world one day. Or not. It’s magical realism, but more like magical science. However you want to describe it, there’s something about Sloan’s prose that makes you want to live in his books.

Do not read if you’re on a low carb/carb-free diet. Stick with Sloan’s other novel in that case.

4 1/2 Stars

The Hate U Give (Audiobook)The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas, Bahni Turpin (Narrator)

My original post

This was a great audiobook –and I can’t imagine that the text version was as great, I just didn’t have time for it. It’s the story about the aftermath — socially, personally, locally, nationally — of a police shooting of an unarmed black male as seen through the eyes of a close friend who was inches away from him at the time.

I think I’d have read a book about Starr Carter at any point in her life, honestly, she’s a great character. Her family feels real — it’s not perfect, but it’s not the kind of dysfunctional that we normally see instead of perfect, it’s healthy and loving and as supportive as it can be. The book will make you smile, weep, chuckle and get angry. It’s political, and it’s not. It’s fun and horrifying. It’s . . . just read the thing. Whatever you might think of it based on what you’ve read (including what I’ve posted) isn’t the whole package, just read the thing (or, listen to it, Turpin’s a good narrator).

5 Stars

The ForceThe Force

by Don Winslow
My original post

There may be better Crime Fiction writers at the moment than Don Winslow, but that number is small, and I can’t think of anyone in it. In this fantastic book, Winslow tells the story of the last days of a corrupt, but effective (in their own corrupt and horrible way), NYPD Task Force. Denny Malone is a cop’s cop, on The Wire he’s be “real police” — but at some point he started cutting corners, lining his pockets (and justifying it to himself), eventually crossing the line so that he’s more “robber” than “cop.” Mostly. And though you know from page 1 that he’s dirty and going down, you can’t help get wrapped up in his story, hoping he finds redemption, and maybe even gets away with it.

But the book is more than that. In my original post I said: “This book feels like the love child of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities and Nicholas Pileggi’s Wiseguy. You really feel like you understand how the city of New York is run — at least parts of it: the police, elements of the criminal world, and parts of the criminal justice system. Not how they’re supposed to run, but the way it really is. [Winslow] achieves this through a series of set pieces and didactic pericopes.”

A police story, a crime thriller, a book about New York — oh, yeah, possibly the best thing I read last year.

5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. But I stuck with the arbitrary 10 — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway, those tied for 11th place are: <

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey (my original post), Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb (my original post), Briefly Maiden by Jacqueline Chadwick (yes, again) (my original post), The Twisted Path by Harry Connolly (my original post), Bound by Benedict Jacka (my original post), The Western Star by Craig Johnson (my original post), The Brightest Fell by Seanan McGuire (see? Another Toby Daye) (my original post), The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh (my original post), Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells(my original post).

Bound by Benedict Jacka

BoundBound

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #8

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pg.
Ace, 2017

Read: April 10 – 11, 2017


I expected this book to start with the equivalent of Voldemort bending Wormtail to his will while Nagini snacks on a Muggle. I couldn’t have been more wrong — Richard (lamest name ever for an arch-enemy, which is why it’s so good) simply lays out his plan and tells Alex and Anne what they are supposed to do. No threats, no maniacal laughter, no giant snakes eating anyone.

“I was expecting . . .” Anne said.
“Expecting what?”
“I don’t know. Something worse.”

Me, too, Anne. Me, too.

Basically, Alex has to act as the personal aide to Morden (the first Dark Mage on the Council) when he’s not being the most ignored Keeper in history. He’s been working on earning the position of full Keeper — now he’s given it, and is resented by the rest. Even when things go well for him, it’s a disaster. Similarly, Anne is the least utilized person in the Healer corps.

Right now I’m fighting Levistus and Richard, and I’m losing. Part of it’s because they’ve got better cards than me, but that’s not all of it. It’s that they’ve got a plan. They‘re always playing the long game, looking to next month, next year. Meanwhile I just wait around until some sort of crisis happens, then I scramble to fix it. It’s like they‘re shooting holes in a boat, and I’m running up and down trying to plug the leaks. Sooner or later there’ll be too many holes, or one of the bullets will hit me, and that’ll be it.

Which is a pretty good summary of how things are going for Alex. He goes to great lengths — some might even say extraordinary — to be proactive. I won’t say how well it works, but if you’ve read any of these books before, you’ll have a pretty good idea.

This book probably has the best use of Luna we’ve seen — I really liked everything Jacka did with her here.

We’ve had Richard looming as a threat since the beginning. Richard in the shadows, a danger that few believed was real. But Alex knew all along he would be back. And now that he is, he’s great. There’s no destroy the world plans, just evil planning and machinations and a calm exterior. You will do what I say, or I will end you — and I couldn’t really care either way. He’s worse than we ever could’ve expected. Love it.

Ultimately, this is pretty much what every Alex Verus book is — Alex struggling to earn and/or gain the trust of the Establishment — particularly those he likes and respects, and any gains he may make towards those ends are jeopardized by his efforts to help others.

Now that I look back on the whole thing, I can see the clues I missed, but that’s how it works with hindsight. When you know what’s relevant and what you can ignore, then everything is obvious, but it’s not so obvious when you’re caught up in surviving from day to day. At least until life reaches out and smacks you over the head.

(not just a commentary on Alex’s methods and life, but on everyone’s).

It was nowhere near as dramatic as the ending to Burned, but poor Alex is actually in a far worse state now than he was at the beginning of the book, which was no mean feat — but I should’ve known that Jacka wasn’t finished beating up his creation. I really don’t know what else to say without indulging in spoilers — so I’ll leave it at this. Bound is another great installment in this series, one of the best and most reliable around.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

The Best Novels I Read in 2016

Yeah, I should’ve done this earlier, but I just needed a break from 2016 for a couple of days. Most people do this in mid-December or so, but a few years ago (before this blog), the best novel I read that year was also the last. Ever since then, I just can’t pull the trigger until January 1.

I truly enjoyed all but a couple of books this year (at least a little bit), but narrowing the list down to those in this post was a little easier than I expected (‘tho there’s a couple of books I do feel bad about ignoring). I stand by my initial ratings, there are some in the 5-Star group that aren’t as good as some of the 4 and 4½ books, although for whatever reason, I ranked them higher (entertainment value, sentimental value…liked the ending better…etc.). Anyway, I came up with a list I think I can live with.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Morning StarMorning Star

by Pierce Brown
My original post
I was a little surprised (but not really) today to see that every book in the trilogy made my year-end Best-Of list — so it makes sense that this one occupies a space. But it’s more than that, this book was an exciting emotional wringer that ended the trilogy in a perfect way. I can’t recommend this one enough (but only for those who’ve read the first two). When I was informed a month ago that there was going to be a follow-up series? I let out a whoop, thankfully none of my family noticed, so I don’t have to feel too silly.
5 Stars

A Star-Reckoner's LotA Star-Reckoner’s Lot

by Darrell Drake
My original post
I’m afraid if I start talking about this one that I’ll spill a few hundred words. Let me just slightly modify something I already wrote and spare us all the effort (that could be better spent actually reading these books). I’m afraid I’ll overuse the word imaginative if I tried to describe what Drake has done here in the depth I want to in this book about pre-Islamic Iran. You haven’t read a fantasy novel like this one before — almost certainly, anyway — but you should.
4 1/2 Stars

Blood of the EarthBlood of the Earth

by Faith Hunter
My original post
This probably should be a dual entry with Blood of the Earth and Curse on the Land, but that felt like cheating. Between the two, I thought that this was a slightly better work, so it got the spot. While remaining true to the Jane Yellowrock world that this springs from, Hunter has created a fantastic character, new type of magic, and basis of a series. I love these characters already (well, except for those I wasn’t crazy about previously) and can’t wait for a return trip.
4 1/2 Stars

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
My original post
I’m just going to quote myself here: I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.
5 Stars

Fate BallFate Ball

by Adam W. Jones
My original post
Since the Spring when I read this, I periodically reminded myself to keep this in mind for my Top 10, I was that afraid I’d forget this quiet book. It’s not a perfect novel, there are real problems with it — but it was really effective. I fell for Ava, just the way Able did — not as hard (and only in a way that my wife wouldn’t mind) — but just as truly. This one worked about as well as any author could hope one would.
4 1/2 Stars

All Our Wrong TodaysAll Our Wrong Todays

by Elan Mastai
My original post
My all-time favorite time-travel novel, just a fun read, too. I will over-hype this one if I’m not careful. So, so good.
5 Stars

The Summer that Melted EverythingThe Summer that Melted Everything

by Tiffany McDaniel
My original post
I’m not sure what I can say about this book that others haven’t — this trip into a magical realism version of the 1980’s Mid-West will get you on every level — it’s entertaining, it’s thought-provoking, the language is gorgeous, the characters are flawed in all the right ways. I wish this was getting the attention (and sales!) that it deserves — I really hope its audience finds it.
5 Stars

Every Heart a DoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway

by Seanan McGuire
My original post
Here’s a book that doesn’t have to worry about attention or audience, it has one — and it’s probably growing. It deserves it. Short, sweet (and not-sweet) and to the point. I may have to buy a two copies of the sequel so I don’t have to fight my daughter for it when it’s released.
5 Stars

Lady Cop Makes TroubleLady Cop Makes Trouble

by Amy Stewart
My original post
Stewart took the really good historical crime novel she wrote last year and built on that foundation one that’s far more entertaining without sacrificing anything that had come before. We’ll be reading about the Kopp sisters for a while, I think.
4 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
My original post
Yeah, here I am again, flogging Underwood’s Genrenaut stories — whether in individual novellas, audiobooks, or in this collection — you need to get your hands on this series about story specialists who travel to alternate dimensions where stories are real and what happens in them impacts our world — Underwood has a special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next going on here, and I love it.
5 Stars

There were a few that almost made the list — almost all of them did make the Top 10 for at least a minute, actually. I toyed with a Top 17 in 2016 but that seemed stupid — and I’ve always done 10, I’m going to stick with it. But man — these were all close, and arguably better than some of those on my list. Anyway here they are: What You Break by Reed Farrel Coleman (my original post), Children of the Different by SC Flynn (my original post), Thursday 1:17 p.m. by Michael Landweber (my original post), We’re All Damaged by Matthew Norman (my original post), A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl (my original post), and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja (my original post).

I hope your 2016 reads were as good as these.

Burned by Benedict Jacka

BurnedBurned

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #7

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pg.
Ace, 2016

Read: April 25 – 26, 2016

Right now I was not wandering around and seeing the sights, for three reasons. First, it was dark. Second, the city was in the middle of a civil war. And third, I was supposed to be conducting surveillance on the inhabitants of the building across the street. Which was why, instead of enjoying the experiences of travel and new cultures, I was crouched on a dusty rooftop, hiding behind a parapet, shivering in the cold, and trying to make sure that no one on the other side could see me, since from looking into the futures I already knew that they had assault rifles and were following a policy of shooting first and asking questions later.

In case you’re wondering, this isn’t an especially unusual night for me. Sometimes I really question my life choices.

Reading Burned, you almost get the idea that Benedict Jacka’s been holding back on us — at least, he’s just been getting warmed up over the last 6 novels. Either one is saying something, considering how good the series has been since it’s debut.

Jacka waits all of 6 paragraphs before getting things moving, and things don’t stop moving. The first 100 pages are great and contain more action than most Verus novels — and the rest? Just better. Marking this one as a 5-Star was a no-brainer.

So here’s the hook — someone, for reasons beyond his ken (though he has many, many theories initially), has made some political moves and Alex is going to be declared a criminal and given the death sentence in a week. Not just him, either — but those who are his dependents (Luna, Anne, Varium). The four of them are going to have to tackle this situation in very creative ways to get the sentence changed.

In the meantime, there’s a very eager group of people trying to take care of things before the deadline. To say that they’re determined would be an understatement.

To survive, to have a hope of surviving, Alex has to call upon every friend, every ally, every one-time-friend-now-something-else, every trick up his sleeve. He does it, he actually grows as a character, too.

But will it be enough to save any of them?

I want to say more, I really do — but I don’t know how to. It’s just one of those books that to talk about you really have to talk about everything. So we’ll leave it at that.

I’ve seen people call this the Changes of the Alex Verus series — and it absolutely is. I’d also call it the Staked in terms with the protagonists coming to grips with the effects that his being in the lives of his nearest and dearest has on their life, and what that means for his future involvement with them. Which is not to say that Jacka’s latest feels anything like Butcher’s or Hearne’s books — it feels like Verus just turned up half a notch. It’s just such a great read — it grabs you on page 2 and drags you along wherever it wants to take you right up until the “He is not actually doing this” moment — which are followed by a couple more of them.

There are now two things I have to look forward to: the next Alex Verus novel — and whatever novel we’ll soon be calling the Burned of ____ series.

—–

5 Stars

Veiled by Benedict Jacka

VeiledVeiled

by Benedict Jacka
Series: Alex Verus, #6

Mass Market Paperback, 295 pg.

Ace, 2015

Read: August 11 – 13, 2015


This was not at all what I expected going in to this (granted, I only read the first couple of lines of the Publisher’s Description) — sure, I knew Alex’s mouth would get him in trouble, he’d have to outwit someone more powerful than him, Luna would be underused — despite Alex depending on his friends to pull him out of trouble.

What I didn’t expect was Alex Verus vs. Bureaucracy, not the catchiest of titles, but pretty accurate. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the Star Wars prequels with all the bureaucracy, trade negotiations, etc. Jacka keeps things tense, keeps things interesting, even as what Alex is battling is really just Office Politics (along with other kinds of politics).

Alex tries to take one more step towards credibility, of shedding his Dark mage past (not that almost anyone will let him), to a position where he can do some good, and hopefully have allies when Richard steps out into the limelight. Long-term, strategic thinking — I like it when UF heroes act like that. It’s brains, not brawn, that carry the day here.

This isn’t to suggest, that this is a dry — or combat-free — book. Alex gets down and dirty, as usual — against some pretty tough characters. But, I’m not convinced that the worst people that Alex and his friends went up against were the ones wearing the Black Hats. Not that they were angels, but, man, there were some nasty people in these pages.

There are some really interesting developments with Luna’s training and development. Alex makes a couple of useful allies — including a combat mage who is quite possibly the most entertaining character in the series thus far. And because that’s never enough for him — Alex picks up one new enemy and deepens tensions with another.

And Richard? Well, something tells me that specter’s going to be looming for a bit longer. But then again, I thought we were going to get a few more Kitty Norville books and that we’d see Richard in action here — so what do I know?

I seem to be mostly rambling here, so I’m just going to say: Alex Verus is a character you should get to know, in a series that should be on your TBR list. I wouldn’t start with this one, I really think Fated is where you want to climb aboard.

—–

4 Stars