Cursed (Alex Verus)
Ever since I got into Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, I’ve been looking for the next really original thing in the paranormal detective genre. Recently I found it in Benedict Jacka’sAlex Verus novels. The second book, Cursed, expands on Alex’s world and introduces some interesting power struggles among the London mages.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Since his second sight made him infamous for defeating powerful dark mages, Alex has been keeping his head down. But now he’s discovered the resurgence of a forbidden ritual. Someone is harvesting the life-force of magical creatures—destroying them in the process. And draining humans is next on the agenda. Hired to investigate, Alex realizes that not everyone on the Council wants him delving any deeper. Struggling to distinguish ally from enemy, he finds himself the target of those who would risk their own sanity for power…”
It’s enjoyable to read a novel in which people’s motivations trump any narrow classifications of “good” or “bad”. Alex’s world contains Light mages and Dark mages, and the difference isn’t necessarily in their actions, but in the reasons for them. A Dark mage will take what he wants because he figures that if he’s strong enough to do so, it should be okay. In other words, Dark mages aren’t always motivated by malice, although certainly many of those mentioned have a mad-on for Alex. There are even a few on the side of Light who are following misguided instructions out of a sense of loyalty, and they’re certainly not evil.
There are a lot of political maneuverings that are going on, and the author sets things up so that you’re never really sure who to trust. The one limitation of Alex’s second sight is that it can’t read human choices—free will means that Alex can’t see what will happen if the person in question hasn’t made a clear choice. This means that the often murky and convoluted things that those in power are planning remain a mystery to Alex, especially if they don’t involve him directly. This keeps Alex’s power from being too powerful.
Alex’s apprentice, Luna, is beginning to come into her own a bit more. Cursed with such good luck that it causes bad luck in anybody she gets too close to, she’s so inexperienced at the social aspects of life that it often interferes with Alex training her. His instinct is to protect her, and in this book readers get to see her pushing back against his protectiveness.
Jacka writes with a humor very reminiscent of Butcher, but he never allows his wit to overcome the plot or characterization. He doesn’t take it to the extreme and make it into nothing more than a gimmick; instead, I got the impression of Alex as being someone with a wry sense of humor and for his situation, it’s perfectly believable.
Alex is one of those characters that you’d really love to take out for a drink, just because the conversation would likely be incredibly entertaining. I just picked up the next book in this series, and I’m eager to see what Alex gets up to next. Cursed is a great follow-up to Jacka’s debut novel, and already he shows the skill of someone with many novels under his belt.
Also by this author: Fated
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on September 18, 2012.