Books : reviews

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2012

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 24 May 2014

Camden, North London.

A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and waterways. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals and where tourists and moody teenagers mingle.

In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you’ll find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his would-be apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light and investigating a mysterious relic that’s just turned up at the British Museum.

Alex Verus is a diviner, a mage who can see the future, or rather, all possible branching futures. He has a dark past, and is currently running a magic shop in north London, avoiding the Council of Mages. But a powerful artefact has been discovered, and suddenly Dark mages and Light mages alike are after his powers, with neither side giving him the option to say no. He will have to use all his diving abilities merely to survive; fortunately the other mages don’t really appreciate what he can do with those abilities.

This is the first in a new series of “urban magic”, UK variety. We have a society of mages going about their magical business unsuspected by the general population, even when burning down and exploding large sections of the British Museum. Alex is the typical "lone wolf" character, damaged by Dark powers, then unhelped by the Council in his hour of need, now isolated from his fellow mages.

There’s an almost science fictional (as opposed to fantasy) quality to Alex’s power. Being able to see all possible futures allows him to avoid traps (just choose the future where he doesn’t fall into the trap), open locks (choose the future where he chose the right combination), and so on. This doesn’t make him invincible: he needs to pay attention, and he needs time to sort through the possibilities to find the appropriate one. That part works, but the part where he can’t see beyond a genuine “choice” seems a bit of a fudge: there are lots of choices made all the time, all as genuine as the ones deemed unforeseeable by authorial fiat.

Alex is a solid, believable character. The supporting cast is good, too. Luna’s curse is heartbreaking, but it is interesting to see her learn how to use it to her advantage in the fight against the bad guys. And Arachne is delightful comic relief.

An interesting first entry in a new series. I have already ordered the second.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2012

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 6 August 2014

A day in the life of Alex Verus: run shop in Camden; train apprentice; avoid Council; dodge assassins.

A spate of mysterious attacks calls for Alex’s expertise – someone is dabbling with the forbidden. Fine, until Alex’s friends are threatened. That makes it personal.

It’s still damn inconvenient though – especially when seductive distractions are thrown into the mix. But is walking away really an option? And just how dangerous is the curse of the monkey’s paw?

Sure, it pays to be able to see the future. Literally. But some days are just better spent in bed.

Alex Verus has gained some notoriety since the incident in the British Museum, but that doesn’t explain the assassins. He has to teach his apprentice Luna to control her curse, protect her from a deadly monkey’s paw, rescue Meredith from a constructed monster, and keep the Dark Mages from Arachne, all the while dodging bullets and fire mages, and trying to work out who the bad guys are.

There is one point where Alex is musing that people underestimate the dark mage Cinder, believing him to be stupid, when he’s actually quite bright. This is ironic, because Alex himself is rather dim, really, failing to think through fairly obvious points. Fortunately his divining power makes up for that, most of the time.

There's more slam-bam action here, with imaginative use of Alex’s power, a bit more backstory, and some plot arc developments. An interesting series, so far.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2012

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 20 December 2014

Alex Verus’s (not necessarily reliable) reputation attracts all sorts. Most are plain bonkers. Yet there’s one invitation he just can’t refuse.

At Fountain Reach, Alex is perfectly placed among the noted and notorious to figure out why apprentices have been vanishing. But the tournament is a minefield of ancient grudges and new threats, and Alex can’t afford to miss a trick as his elusive adversary stays one step ahead in this most dangerous of games.

Several rival factions want Alex Verus to go to Fountain Reach, a country house where a magical tournament is taking place. So he goes. And finds trouble.

Further exciting charging around, fighting bad guys, bad demons, and more. Now Alex has lost his easy transport mechanism, he has to use public transport and cars. This leads to a thrilling chase along the M40, trying to outrace teleporting adversaries, which might explain why that road is always snarled up. Good fun, and interesting plot developments.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2013

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 25 August 2016

Alex Verus is having an unusually peaceful summer.

Things used to be different. Back when Alex was a Dark Mage’s apprentice, he did what he had to do to survive, though he isn’t proud of the memories. Still, he’s made a new life and new friends since then, and he’s put the old days behind him.

Or has he?

When someone from his past comes looking for revenge, Alex must face his demons – and decide how far he will go to protect his future.

Alex’s life seems to be coming together, but then a whole deadly team of mages start trying to kill him, and he doesn’t know why. Then he discovers it concerns something terrible from his old life, when he was one of dark mage Richard’s apprentices. Defeating the team could cost him his principles, his home, his friends, his life.

Alex has an impressive mage power, but it is not perfect: I like the way it has its limitations, and how Alex has to use it intelligently, and differently in each book. I also like the way the various characters develop throughout the series, even if I’m not always pleased at the directions in which they develop. And the dismissive attitude of the mage council to some of the events is a graphic demonstration of why a justice system is needed for a civilised society.

The revelation at the end of this book should make Alex’s life a lot more interesting (in the Chinese curse sense) for him.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2014

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 21 July 2018

Never look back

Alex Verus can see the future – a talent that’s got him and his friends out of many a tough scrape. But what happens when someone doesn’t want Alex’s help?

Anne Walker distanced herself from Alex when she discovered his past as a Dark mage’s apprentice. Now her own past is catching up with her, but she wants nothing to do with the one person who can see what’s coming.

On top of that, rumours are swirling around London that Alex’s former master, Richard, is back in town. No one knows what he wants or where he’s been, but Alex is sure Richard hasn’t forgotten the apprentice who betrayed him so many years ago…

Alex Verus, independent mage, had thought his life was coming together. He had gathered a small circle of friends and apprentices. But then they saw what he would do to survive, and some of them could no longer stay with him.

Anne Walker was one of those. Now she has been taken by a Dark Mage, and Alex must get her back, even though she wants nothing to do with him. But that might be more because of her past than his.

Alex is getting deeper into working with the Light Mages, even if they don’t all trust him. And his reunion with the terrifying Richard is nothing like he expects. He learns a lot about himself, his friends, and his enemies, and we learn more about some of the Dark Mages.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2015

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 16 March 2020

Rebel no more

Alex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master.

Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there are some Keepers who will do anything to see an ex-Dark mage fail. He finally has the law on his side – but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

Alex Verus was apprenticed to a Dark Mage, but escaped. That isn’t enough for some Light Mages: once Dark, always Dark. Alex has been fighting the Dark mages as an independent, but is now persuaded that he will be more effective going legitimate, so joins the Keepers, the Light Council’s police force. Not everyone is happy with this. And it creates a host of new problems for him.

Here we see clearly what Alex has always known: the Light Council protects Light mages against the Dark, and each other, but isn’t that bothered about anyone else. There is actually very little separating Light and Dark in practice, and Alex is faced with a major moral dilemma: bring down a Light-tolerated paedophile organisation and give the Dark a huge advantage, or support the Light side and let the paedophiles continue their operation. He has to work out what is going on, decide what is the right thing to do, and foil several assassination attempts and political machinations. He’s not going to make any friends, no matter what he does. Situation normal, then.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2016

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 September 2021

Alex Verus has a magic shop in Camden, London, and an uncanny ability to see the future.

But suddenly it’s his future that seems inescapable. Because the Mage’s Council of Great Britain has named him a traitor and ordered his death in seven days’ time, and there’s no way anyone can get out of that.

Alex’s friends – Luna and other apprentices he’s taken in – are tainted by association. They’ll also be marked for death when the ruling comes into play, and very quickly Alex becomes locked in a race against time to save them.

Perhaps he might even remember to save himself.

Poor Alex Verus, with powerful enemies among both Dark and Light mages. The only way to be independent is to be invisible, but Alex always seems to be at the centre of things. Which is why the enemies.

Now his enemies have attacked not just him but also his few but loyal friends. He has just a week to save them all. But it seems there are multiple plots against him, and foiling one will not only make new enemies, but may just make the other plots more likely to succeed…

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2017

Alex Verus can see the future. But he never thought he’d see this day.

Manoeuvred by forces beyond his control, the probability mage has made a terrible choice: he’s agreed to work for his old master once more.

Richard Drakh, the sadistic dark mage Alex escaped as an apprentice, has him in his clutches again. And this time, he won’t let go so easily.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2018

Alex Verus is tracking down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages – however, when the Light Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex must use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2019

Everything is on the line for probability mage Alex Verus…

Once Alex was a diviner trying to live under the radar. Now he’s a member of the Light Council who’s found success, friends … and love. But it’s come with a price – the Council is investigating him, and if they find out the truth, he’ll lose it all.

Meanwhile, Alex’s old master, Richard Drakh, is waging a war against the Light mages. To protect those he cares for, Alex will have to become something different. Something darker…

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2020

Alex Verus faces his dark side…

To protect his friends, the probability mage Alex Verus has had to change and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against—and it’s a long list.

The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with the Council by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

Benedict Jacka.
Orbit. 2021

The probability mage Alex Verus has gone from a Camden shopkeeper to one of the most powerful magic users in Britain. Now his last and most dangerous battle lies before him.

Alex’s girlfriend, the life mage Anne, has fallen fully under the control of the deadly djinn she made a bargain with, and it is preparing to create an army of mages subject to its every whim. Can Alex figure out a way to free her from possession and stop her before time runs out for the people he loves?