Taken, by Benedict Jacka [Alex Verus #3]

  • TITLE: Taken (Alex Verus #3)
  • AUTHOR: Benedict Jacka
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 6th September 2012 (UK)

Taken is the third Alex Verus book—and so far it’s been my favourite. I began Taken with a pinch of salt: I’d not enjoyed Cursed very much at all and I was afraid that, for me, the series was slowly heading the way of the dodo. Thankfully, that didn’t happen and I’m going to stick around for more news of subsequent Alex Verus books. Handy, really, since Benedict Jacka commented on his blog earlier today about just this.

Cursed was a boring, predictable flop for me, especially having had a few months to ruminate more over the whole thing. In that sense, Taken couldn’t be further removed from it. Well-plotted and intriguing, the third Verus book just raised the bar for the series.

Alex Verus is a fate mage—a diviner, a seer—and given his activities of late, his services have been in increasingly higher demand. What most people forget, however, is that Verus isn’t a battle mage, neither is he hired security, and he certainly isn’t taking sides in the constant sometimes-cold-sometimes-not-so-cold war of intrigue between the Light and Dark mages. Still, with the White Stone tournament behind held at Fountain Reach, the ancient seat of one of the oldest dynasties in the mage world, and with apprentices disappearing without a trace and without witness, Alex finds that something is up and whether he likes it or not, as usual, he’s going to end up knee-deep.

But that’s not all—with Luna now an apprentice, he’s got another reason to help find out where the missing apprentices are going. Without knowing the hows or whys, Luna is just as at risk as anyone else, as are the few classmates she’s managed to acquaint herself with despite the limitations of her curse. Among the apprentices Alex meets are two young mages who are gossiped and whispered about by the other apprentices, and the stories aren’t all peaches and cream. Allegedly apprenticed originally to Dark mages and now in the service of a demon, Anne and Variam are a mysterious pair and Alex is convinced there’s something darker at play.

Naturally, with his own history with Richard and his dealings as a runaway apprentice, Alex knows nothing is ever quite as it seems. But with Variam’s aggression and dismissive attitude, and Anne’s shy, awkwardness, it’s difficult to get close enough to figure out what’s going on. Never mind the fact that every which way he turns, someone is pointing him towards Fountain Reach as the key clue as to the disappearances of the apprentices: it’s all too easy.

Furthermore, the host of the White Stone, the current owner of Fountain Reach comes to Alex, trying to hire him as part of the security detail. But to Alex, that doesn’t make sense and instead of going to Fountain Reach, he tries to steer as clear as he can. But then when an attack on an apprentice flags on his precognition after a chance meeting and a hastily delivered invitation, an attack that looks a lot more like attempted murder than kidnapping, Alex isn’t sure there’s only one game at play.

When all things point to Fountain Reach, Verus finds himself with little choice other than to go. With Luna as his excuse and with his apprentice eager to learn to use her talents and to start fitting into the mage world on another level, Alex heads for the mansion in the country in hopes of unravelling the mystery once and for all.

Of course, things are never that simple, and when Alex begins to question the mansion’s history and the weird sensations and dreams he experiences when inside its walls, he begins to suspect that something much more complex and dark might be at play—but little does he realise that every strand that’s floating before him is part of one intricate weaving, coming together to form a big picture of power, desperation and revenge.

To top it all off, Onyx is kicking about and Morden’s still not got the message about Alex working for him. Now he must investigate the disappearances, investigate the mansion and get to the bottom of the recurring threats centred around Anne and Variam, all whilst avoiding Onyx and his superior magic. It’s all in a day’s work for Alex Verus.

Gripping and pacy, Taken is everything urban fantasy should be: it reminds me why I started reading Alex Verus so eagerly in the first place, and went a long way, single-handedly, in undoing the negative impression left by Cursed.

Perfectly and tightly-plotted, with just the right balance of mystery and intrigue that compliments the “whodunit” setup, Taken achieves everything it set out to do—and more. It’s by far the best instalment of the series, and definitely shows that the episodic nature of the series serves it well. Exciting and thrilling, the third Alex Verus book sealed me as a firm reader and a fan of the series. I’m eager to see more and curious as to where the plot will be taken in subsequent books.

But for now, the initial “trilogy” has been left on a high note, with Taken showcasing Jacka as one of the more imaginative and subtle urban fantasy authors of the moment.

An urban fantasy mystery, with character and depth.

5/5

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One thought on “Taken, by Benedict Jacka [Alex Verus #3]

  1. Pingback: October Events: Forbidden Planet and Portsmouth BookFest | Benedict Jacka

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