Benedict Jacka raises his game in the third installment of the Alex Verus series. After a shaky start to the series, he has produced a book I can gladly display next to my favorite Urban Fantasy novels by Jim Butcher, Ben Aaronovitch and Larry Corriea. I have a soft spot for the wizard/mage who attempts to solve a mystery. As in the early Dresden novels, it is the mystery and the investigation that takes centre stage in Taken. This installment is first and foremost a great story. Beyond this, it asks the question of “what does a real family look like” and explores the lengths that people (magical or not) will go to feed their obsessions.
Series in a Nutshell
If you are not familiar with the series, let me give you a snapshot. Alex Verus the owner of a magic shop in London. It also happen that he is a diviner, a mage with the ability to see into the future. Within the world of Alex Verus you fall into one of 4 categories. You are either
Normal – Meaning you no magical aptitude or ability
Sensitive – Meaning you can sense the presence of magic without the ability to use it
Adept – Meaning you can use the some singular magical ability. You may not know you have an inherent ability but if you do, you can become very skillful with you specific ability.
Mages – Full blown ability to use whatever form of magic comes naturally.
Unlike as in other series, these mages have specific field of magic which they cannot generally stray, i.e. mind magic, life magic, elemental magic, time magic, space magic etc. As a diviner, Alex Verus is able to peer into the futures as he wishes and uses this ability to assist with investigations and finding lost things.
Alex Verus, our friend with an eye on the future, is on the job once again. He is hired to look into the unexplained disappearances of mage apprentices. Apprentices are disappearing, no witnesses have come forward and no clues are left behind. Apprentices are walking into their home and never come back out. In the midst of the disappearances, the apprentices are gathering for dueling tournament. The gathering is occurring a Fountain Reach, an old and mysterious house with secrets that Verus must expose. Alex is seeking the missing apprentices while avoiding danger from outside sources seeking destruction and revenge.
3, 4, 5
The represent my star rating for the first three novels respectively. In the all important third novel, the author shows that Alex Verus is here to stay. My major problems with the first two novels were the treatment of the female characters and the disjointed story telling. In Taken, all of these concerns have been mitigated. Alex Verus shows that he can not only treat women with respect but can respect their abilities and strengths. A sensitive but strong female character is introduced and his apprentice is treated as a student not a child.
As far as the story is concerned, there is a linear flow. The reader is not left disoriented by disorganized storytelling. Multiple storylines parallel cleanly and converge with clarity. Overall the story is no longer a weakness as the author has shown significant growth as this series has progressed.
Speaking of Growth
It is not only the author that has shown growth as the series has progressed. If you have read the first two novels you will know that compared to most similar stories, the Mages in Alex Verus’ world have a limited scope to their magical abilities. While at the outset of the series, I had the impression that a mage who main ability was to see into future, would quickly become boring. While the powers of Alex Verus have not seemingly grown, the sheer variety of mages have. Mind magic, life magic, time magic, space magic and elemental magic are all skill sets that are discussed and developed. This has kept the characters and story world from feeling stale.
This time around, it appears I have very little criticism. There are multiple incidents where the author is prone to “info dump”. At times, Alex Verus is prone to the monologue but it does not, in my opinion, reflect poorly on the book. In the day of fantasy works in excess of 700 pages, this volume and its 300 plus pages is slim in comparison. As the story is crisp and quick moving, there is not an excessive amount of space wasted on pontification.
I have always believed the third book of a series is the most important for an ongoing series. At this point, patterns are established and reader learns if the author has chosen to write with a strict formula or if they are seeking write dynamic stories with evolving storylines. Taken is a prime example of how to do it right. Highly recommended.
This is the first of the series in which I listened to the audio. Any minor deficiencies were covered by the narrator’s wonderful narration and tempo. An easy 5 star performance.
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 – Lowest 5 – Highest
Sex – 1.5
There is very little that could be considered objectionable to most readers. There are a few instance where characters wore revealing clothing and several instances where characters insinuate that there may be a romantic or sexual relationship between parties.
Language – 2.5
Low use of mild obscenities and a handful of religious exclamations. A few instances of the f-word.
Violence – 3.5
Characters are being abducted and much of the violence is inferred. Much of the story occurs during an apprentice dueling tournament. This involves fighting but little direct violence. There are several gruesome injuries. One from a magical attack, one from a gun and one instance of a character having their throat cut. While moderately graphic, the scenes are short.