The third book in the Alex Verus series is a fantastic read. The book is more of a slow-burner than the previous two, but the intensity of the story line has been ramped up; apprentices are going missing and everything is pointing Alex to the White Stone Tournament, where the gathering of dozens of apprentices is a prime opportunity to kidnap a few more.
Jacka’s approach to the plot of his third book shows his developing skills as a writer off beautifully. In ‘Fated‘ and ‘Cursed‘, Jacka employed the use of sub-plots connected to minor characters, usually his apprentice Luna, that ran as a undercurrent in the moments when the main plot has slowed waiting for a new development. The sub-plots then become critical to the main plot in the latter stages of the books.
With ‘Taken’ though, Jacka has employed a different approach, where all of the various plot lines are more closely wound together building to the the fast-paced adventure I’ve come to love about the Alex Verus series. Jacka also used very subtle hints throughout the book to indicate why the events are happening, and by subtle, I mean so subtle that it wasn’t until a hundred pages later that I realised information I had been told wasn’t just Alex explaining something to Luna as a master would an apprentice, it was actually critical to the plot.
Normally in most books and films I can spot hints a mile off because they stick out a little bit and as an experienced writer I see when a writer is trying to tell the audience to pay attention to this; I drive my partner nuts when we’re watching films, because I’ll say ‘oh that will be important’. He’ll look at me as if I’m crazy and then frown at me an hour later when I’m proved right. I love that Jacka is able to surprise me, because he embeds the information into the narrative and the dialogue, but doesn’t wave a flag in front of it with ‘look at me’ printed on the side.
Another difference that Jacka has introduced in ‘Taken’ is that there isn’t a specific object that is being sort or used in some way by the antagonist. Instead the main problem that Alex faces is the location of the tournament; Fountain’s Reach. The mansion being used to host the event is a bit of a rabbit warren with strong magical wards that limit Alex’s ability to use his magic to see the future. All the advantages that Alex has had in previous books are gone. With a limited view of the future you get to see that Alex is truly resourceful and determined to protect the apprentices, even to the disbelief of a few of them who are so used to Mages only protecting their own interests, Alex also has to deal with their suspicion as to why he is helping.
This is especially true of Variam Singh, who is deeply suspicious of Alex actually helping his friend Anne Walker, to the point he is openly aggressive with him. But Vari and Anne have got a dark past, and there is more after them than even Alex can figure out at first. Rescuing Anne from several assassination attempts though doesn’t make Vari see Alex kindly; in his eyes Alex must want something more than to just help another human being.
The character can be a little bit irritating, and Luna in particular gets very wound up by him, but what the character shows is a darker side to the magical world; that people will only do something for you if they get something out of it as well. It is so deeply ingrained in Vari’s mind that it portrays quite a harsh picture of the magical world; that people in general are not as nice as Alex. And Alex keeps telling us he’s not a nice person.
Jacka’s world just keeps getting that little bit darker and complex, with a large dose of intrigue. Like Alex Verus I’m a deeply curious person, and I can’t wait to finally getting around to reading ‘Chosen’, ‘Hidden’ and ‘Veiled’, which until now I’ve not had the time to discover. The newly released ‘Veiled’ has prompted me to boot the Alex Verus series up to the top of to-read list. ‘Taken’ is my favourite of the three I know already, and Jacka has just been getting better; I honestly can barely contain my excitement. If you haven’t discovered these books yet, then now is a good as time as any to get addicted.
You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.