Category Archives: benedict jacka

Essay: My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan

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I’ve been thinking a great deal in recent months about what it means to be a fan; bear with me, I think a lot, I write it all down, and I’m not averse to an unhappy ending. This essay is the story of who I have been all my life; I am a geek. I’m not just a geek, but that aspect of who I am has evolved over the years and is a large part of my life.

For the first time ever though I’ve evolved because of other fans and I’ve been hurt by that change. For you to understand my heartbreak you need to know the context that came before.

The Early Years

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I can remember being an obsessive person from a very young age. As a geek, it started with the Ewok cartoons, before I even knew about the Star Wars films. I was also into ‘Back to the Future’, something I have since identified as being one of my first real obsessions a one, unlike the Ewok cartoons, I am still captivated by.

I’ve always been relatively secure in my interests; if I had periods of trying to conform to ‘normal’ because of peer pressure then they were short lived. I know they did happen, and generally speaking they stopped because I was bored.

I was the kid that got called a geek, a nerd and a swot. When I was younger that hurt. Then, when I was about twelve and I turned around to someone shouting it at me with a simple reply; ‘And?”. They were confused; ‘So what if I’m a swot?”. It didn’t stop them from shouting it at me for a while, until they realised it didn’t bother me. They started shouting other things instead, but that’s different. I was sure of myself and my interests, and it stopped hurting.

This was before the internet and social media were all the rage; I spent my teen years having hushed conversations with friends about whether Next Generation, Deep Space Nine or Voyager was the best Star Trek Series (for which the answer is Deep Space Nine), or whether the Klingons, The Dominion or the Borg were the best villains (despite previous answer, The Borg, hands down). That was about as much interaction as I had with other people about geeky things; I talked with like-minded folks, who also had things like ‘swot’ shouted at them down the corridors.

And I never considered myself lonely; I had friends for other reasons. Being a geeky fan was an entirely different part of my life. It had more to do with my parents than with my peers.

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The first time I saw the Star Wars films was when they re-released the films in the cinema in 1997, branded as the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy. Like the generation when Star Wars was first released, I got to see it for the very first time in the cinema.

My parents introduced me to Star Trek. I can even remember being excited about the last few series of Deep Space Nine and Voyager broadcasting for the first time. It’s the same with Stargate SG-1, which I think we watched because of me and my love for the fact they combined science fiction with Ancient Egyptian mythology.

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And then there is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was never taken with ‘The Hobbit’, which I read as a child, so Tolkien was a bit of a mystery to me overall. All I knew was that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was one of the few books my dad would read again and again. I can remember seeing the trailer for The Fellowship of the Ring, and being intrigued by the fact my dad was excited by it. And then I saw the film for the first time. Wham! In the space of 178 minutes, I became a fully-fledged fantasy fan as well as a sci-fi geek.

It was my first evolution; it changed everything. I still didn’t like ‘The Hobbit’, but I devoured ‘The Lord of the Rings’, its appendices, and swiftly moved onto ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘The Unfinished Tales’. It made me take interest in Harry Potter. I discovered Trudi Canavan. The Chronicles of Narnia, which I had already loved as a kid, became even more important. As a writer now I write about magic, and it is all because of Tolkien and Peter Jackson.

It was also the beginning of my passion for special features; how it was made, how they did it, how the actors felt being part of the production. I read the movie guides and re-read the books again and again. It wasn’t just with ‘The Lord of the Rings’ I did this. It spread to other passions. I practically memorised the Star Trek Encyclopaedia by Michael and Denise Okuda as well.

Being a geek was something I did with trusted friends, my parents and in the privacy of my room where I could devour my interest, safe in the knowledge that no-one could stop me from enjoying myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be an introvert at the time, but knowing that now, explains a great deal about why I was a private geek. This continued on for many years.

Discovering Fan Fiction

Up until I was about sixteen the internet had nothing to do with my life as a geek. The geekiest thing I did on the computer was read the Encarta Encyclopaedia. Despite the internet becoming more popular, it was something the cool kids did.

Given they called me names in person and my books didn’t, I didn’t really gravitate towards using emails, MSN messenger or MySpace, because books were better. The first email I sent was when I started university in September 2006. I didn’t join Facebook until 2007 because my boyfriend (now my husband) persuaded me, and also set me up a personal email account at the same time.

Before then I hadn’t shown much interest; I can even remember the first time I accessed a website. It was at school, and one of the German teachers looked at me as if I was completely thick when she told us we needed to access a website and I said didn’t know how; conversation went like this.

“Miss it doesn’t seem to be working.”

“Type in the correct web address.”

“Yeah Miss, I’ve done that, but it isn’t coming up.” So I closed it down and started it up again because she thought it must have been the connection. She watched me type in the address again. I waited. “See Miss it isn’t working.” Then the look came.

“You need to press enter,” she said in an incredibly condescending tone.

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” I said. I pressed enter; it worked.

“How did you not know that?”

“Never used the internet before Miss,” I answered. The look again; I got it from quite a few classmates as well.

Admittedly, I must have been about fifteen, this was 2003 and the internet wasn’t exactly in the flush of youth anymore. I think using the internet was expected to be a basic skill. Needless to say I try and watch my tone when people admit they can’t do basic things; if you’ve never been shown then, HOW are you supposed to know?

And now I had been shown, I still wasn’t interested.

It’s rather miraculous really that I ever discovered online Fan Fiction. I’m not even entirely sure why I found it. I think it was because I’d been writing Harry Potter fan fiction (from the Marauder Era, but my protagonist was a character I created, and J.K. Rowling’s characters were just there for me to practice with). When I discovered other people did this too, it never occurred to me to join them and publish my writing online.

I was taught that sharing online was a dangerous thing to do because there were nasty people on the internet. There still are and I’m still careful, and I think the re-definition of ‘troll’ is one of the best examples of how language can be re-purposed.

It was also because I had no desire to share my stories online. If I was going to be a writer, then I wanted my work to be in a book and printed on actual paper with ink. I still want that now. I dread to think what people would have thought of my writing, because reading it back it is terrible. But it was practice. I did however have a very short phase of reading other people’s fan fiction with great interest, but I was only ever interested in Harry Potter. I knew Lord of the Rings stuff existed, but I had no interest in it.

It was I guess my first introduction to what we now call shipping. As a fan of the Harry Potter books I always thought Harry and Hermione would end up together. I still think that, but I’ve always been of the opinion that J.K. Rowling as the writer had the right to do what she wanted with her story, and I accepted that. In Fan Fiction though I was drawn to Hermione and Severus Snape ending up together.

It is weird thinking about it now, but all I can assume attracted me to it was the fact that I related a great deal to Hermione as a teenager, in the same way I did to Matilda when I was even younger. They were both girls that loved books and were rather clever, and they were accepted as such; I say the shouting of ‘swot’ down the corridor stopped hurting. It would however have been nicer to not have to hear it at all.

And Snape was for me the perfect complex character. I didn’t quite know what he was really thinking or who he was really working for; he was a mystery and I loved him as an anti-hero. At this point Alan Rickman had also been cast, and I have a soft spot for him, because I loved him as the Sheriff of Nottingham.

I cried, several times, when I learnt he had died; I do that very rarely for celebrities, Natasha Richardson having been the previous instance. All I can assume is that I liked the combination of Hermione and Snape, because as a hormonal teen, it was a weird way of having a crush on an actor.  This phase lasted probably about three weeks as a deep obsession, before I got bored and it petered away, and I went back to how I had been before; private.

There is however a reason why I have mentioned it; it was my first foray into the idea that people explore stories outside of canon. I’ll come back to that.

The University Years

I consider being a student at University as my formative years. Because in university, I met more geeks, and being into geeky stuff at university isn’t uncool. I didn’t have to talk in a hushed voice about my opinions. People in university are a lot more grown up than school kids.

I also theorise that alcohol, partying, and the freedom to do whatever you wanted outside of parental constraints but within the law, changed most people that thought being a geek was a bad thing by teaching them a lesson. The lesson being that people are allowed to be whoever they want to be. All the geeks, nerds and swots actually had a head-start on the cool kids with that freedom, because we had been free being ourselves for a lot longer.

I went out in Newcastle on my first night as a student; I was out until 3am with a girl I didn’t know but who I had to now share a bathroom with. I was also utterly naïve to partying, and I hated every minute of it. I stayed sober, and somehow managed to get myself to my 9am introductory lecture in the morning. I was bleary eyed, but I paid attention enough to discover I could be a student representative, and thus started my interest in politics, but that’s another story.

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That night, rather than go out again I stayed in reading a new book I’d treated myself to with my student loan ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger. It is the only time I have read the book, because the context I read it in is too important for me to consider going back to it just yet (this is how I still feel ten years later). I lost myself in its pages, rather than go out to ‘have fun’ just because I could. I already knew who I was as a person, and it was the sort of person who curls up with a good book rather than light up the ‘Toon’.

I did meet people at university though, including the man that is now my husband. I did it my way though, via social interaction that didn’t involve being hungover the next day. I was bruised, but that happens in Karate. I made friends on my history course, and through my hobby, and discovered commons interests with them. With my partner, we shared our interests by binge watching box sets, and talking about geeky stuff we loved as we got to know each other.

I was no longer a private geek; I had my partner and I had friends at university that were a lot more open to accepting me as being a geek. I was also becoming a great deal more certain about the fact that I want to be a writer. This lead me to the internet.

Social Media

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I have this blog, and it is the foundation stone for my platform as a writer. It links to Facebook and to Twitter. It linked to Google+ and being a good little social networker, I set myself up on Pinterest and Tumblr too; I was connected.

Google+ was the first to fall away due to it being mysterious. Pinterest never really worked for me and my blog. Tumblr just became somewhere else where I copied my WordPress posts to without much readership. It is only really on Facebook and Twitter that I’ve maintained my author platform.

Pinterest and Tumblr though become something else to me; they became the places I went to follow my geeky interests. I find crossovers amusing; there are some really great examples of fan art out there, and while I don’t participate myself I have been stunned by the creativity and dedication some people put into their passion.

I evolved again; I was no longer a private geek, I was a social media geek. I laughed alongside everyone else at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms.

I began to identify as being part of fandoms. I connected with other like-minded people. It became something that I would share with my partner; I’d even share content on Facebook with my non-geek friends as a demonstration of who I am as a person. I would laugh at, like, re-blog, pin, and tweet about things geeky that I loved. While my platform was still there for writing, it also became the online extension of the geeky part of my personality.

I was no longer a private geek, and when on this very blog I started to write reviews, I deliberately developed sections dedicated to certain fandoms. I doubt that I am alone in having done this, and I would very much correlate this rise in geeks creating content for the internet with the rise in franchises. Because why not? Fan content is free marketing. Why create something new, when what you can do instead is simply add to an existing franchise with a fandom that will go on to passionately share their fan-art and memes. Many will even go on to write fan-fiction.

This is who I became. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t admired everything that I’ve seen over the years with wide-eyed naivety. There are things that don’t amuse me, there are fandoms that I’m not a part of, and I don’t always agree with everything shared on the internet.

I am also just not that into shipping; the foray into Harry Potter fan fiction was brief. I also very briefly developed in interest in Reylo because of one sketch by a fan. I read one fan fiction dedicated to Kylux. Then people started shipping Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, and alarm bells went off in my head. I stopped paying attention to shipping and went back a step to crossovers, memes and great art work.

To be honest, I ashamed that I didn’t see what happened next coming from a mile off.

‘The Final Problem’

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Needless to say I no longer laugh at the joke about the ‘basic’ girl being a bit frightened by fandoms. Whether she was ever real or not, the joke was real and that girl saw something I didn’t. She saw the obsession of some fans and was frightened by how intensely protective they are their interest.

I’m not frightened; I am really disappointed.

As you can see from my essay, I have evolved as a fan over the years. I was the little girl pouring over books, and watching the television with my parents. I dipped my toe here or there into the internet, before becoming a confident half of a partnership not scared to be geeky together. And then I became the social media geek.

Over the years, what I have liked has changed. I mentioned ‘Matilda’ before; I was a massive Roald Dahl fan. That faded for years until I recently read ‘Love from Boy’.

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I am still a massive fan of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Silmarillion’, and I also like ‘The Hobbit’ films, despite the fact I dislike the book.

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I have had a love/hate relationship with the MCU for years; I hate Tony Stark, but ‘The Winter Soldier’ made me fall into love with the rest of the MCU. Now though I’m a bit ‘meh’ about it because I’ve got bored.

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I’ve also figured out why I’ve struggled to connect to Doctor Who in recent years because of the cancellation of Doctor Who Confidential which satisfied my love of knowing how it was made.

And there are many more; I am a Browncoat; I find joy in Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus books. There are standalone books like ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’ that have wormed their way into my heart. I’ve never blogged about Harry Potter, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them re-sparked inspiration for my own writing.

I blog reviews and I talk about my passions a lot. However, except from having the odd discussion on WordPress with other bloggers, all of which have been pleasant even if we haven’t always agreed, I was only ever really an observer of internet fandoms.

I’m really struggling to be that anymore. Every time I go on Tumblr now I leave it feeling low. I’ve pretty much stopped because instead of cheering me up and being a place of refuge it has become a place where I only find hatred. If it was not for the fact I go on Tumblr to also read about Feminism, LBGTQIA and INTJ, I might have already followed through with my deleting my account entirely.  I’ve retreated on Pinterest; I haven’t deleted my ‘Geek!’ board but it is now a private place just for me and my husband.

I want to be a private geek again; someone who talks with like-minded people in person. The appeal of being part of a fandom died a sudden death and it utterly broke my heart. There have been actual tears because I loved going on the internet and seeing that I was not alone as a geek. I even tweeted this not long ago before I’d come to fully realise and process all of my recent feelings.

Like I said I wasn’t lonely as a geeky child, but there were fewer of us. Before the internet I hadn’t really been able to discover the true richness of being able to share your passions with other people. I was able to become that person over time and through the development of technology that put other people in the palm of my hand wherever I was, provided I had enough battery and a decent 4G signal. Pulling back from what I had become hurts.

It hurts all the more, because it isn’t what I love that’s changed and changed me like it had been before. Other fans crossing the line has forced this transformation.

I have been disappointed over the years by things I love. I don’t like ‘The Half-Blood Prince’ all that much, either the book or the film. I don’t hate J.K. Rowling because of it though. I was deeply disappointed by ‘Civil War’; I don’t hate the creators of the MCU though. I don’t dislike Tolkien just because I’ve never liked ‘The Hobbit’. I might never forgive the BBC for cancelling Doctor Who Confidential, or Fox for cancelling Firefly; I don’t hate the people who made that decision though.

And I might not have been thrilled with ‘The Final Problem’ the last episode in the fourth series of Sherlock, but I mostly certainly don’t hate Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss because of it. I certainly don’t send threating tweets or blog on Tumblr about how the creators are now not allowed to identify themselves as being who they are because people disliked what they didn’t do in Sherlock. I don’t lash out angrily at other fans because they are fans of Sherlock in a different way, and didn’t have the same hate-fuelled reaction to the episode. I don’t believe my opinion is the only one that matters and anyone else is wrong, which therefore justifies bullying.

I have never hated a writer because they did something I disliked. I’ve been disappointed, and fine yes the first time I watched ‘The Final Problem’ I was a bit bored. I wasn’t the second time though and while it will never be one of my favourite episodes it is still better than most television I’ve ever watched. In fact I would credit Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss with sparking off a bit of a television revolution. I doubt clever shows that don’t dumb it down for their audience such as ‘The Man in the High Castle’ or ‘Westworld’ would exist if the foundation of modern clever television that started with Sherlock hadn’t been laid.

I will never agree with the reasons people are justifying those actions ; the creators are human beings and that in itself is enough for me to be respectful. I reserve hatred for rare examples of human beings who are actively making the very real lives of human beings miserable. I’d never hate someone because of something fictional.

The fact people are acting like this has actually made me ashamed of being a geek, something I have never felt in my life.

I shed tears when I first saw Gandalf fall in Moria; I still cry when Dumbledore dies; I struggle to watch John Watson talking to Sherlock’s grave; and the ending to The Moon is a Harsh Mistress chokes me up just thinking about it. I’ve been moved to tears many times over the years because of the books, films and televisions shows that I have let into my heart.

I never thought I’d ever cry because another fan had hurt me, but I have, and those tears have been the most painful, because they came from the very last sort of people I ever thought; the sort of people who like me probably got called a ‘swot’ or a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ when it was meant as an insult rather than as a way of identifying ourselves.

Moving forward…

I detest the word fandom now; I’m seriously contemplating editing my entire blog to remove the word. If it does disappear then you know I did.

I’m in two minds about keeping my Tumblr account, and I doubt my ‘Geek!’ board will ever re-emerge as a public board on Pinterest. I’ve stopped reading the comment threads on twitter, especially on anything Mark Gatiss tweets. I’ve followed him for years, for various reasons and loved reading the commentary because many of his fans are witty and respectful. Now, I always find one that isn’t.

I don’t want to be associated with that backlash. I don’t want to be thought of as a member of any fandom, because for me the word has come to be associated with being part of the ownership of what has been created. Rather than the writer being the owner, the audience is instead, which is a very postmodernism viewpoint and I dislike postmodernism for many reasons.

Fan Fiction in the days when I developed an interest in Snape/Hermione was a bit of fun. I should have known when people started shipping Daisy and Adam, rather than Rey and Kylo that the lines between reality and fiction, canon and fan fiction have become blurred. For some people I don’t even think they exist at all.

And I think it is going to take me a long time to come to terms with the disappointment I felt when fans of Sherlock lashed out in hatred.

For now I’m just pottering along; I’m still going to blog, because I’m not going to silence my voice because I’ve been disappointed by what others have said with theirs. I’m using twitter to tweet some geeky stuff, because I’m not going to deny part of myself because other fans have made me feel ashamed.

But the most recent evolution of myself as a geek has shaken me to the very core and I’m not going to get over that easily. I also don’t see this evolution of myself as a geek being able to move forward with the sort of positive progress I have made over the years; I can’t ever go backwards, but I don’t see forwards as being an option either.

I’m stuck as a geek who can no longer entirely trust other geeks to have my back even if we have a different opinion. We didn’t all hush our voices because we were ashamed of being who we are, some of us just weren’t as confident about being a geek as others. We whispered to save those that were a bit embarrassed from being overheard by our bullies.

I never thought the geeks would become like the bullies. Maybe I am just a bit more wide-eyed and naïve than I had thought.

Book Review – Veiled by Benedict Jacka

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Book Review – Veiled by Benedict Jacka

Benedict Jacka’s ‘Veiled’, the sixth novel in the Alex Verus series more than makes up for my disappointment with the previous installment ‘Hidden‘. The thing that I absolutely love about the Alex Verus books is that with each installment Benedict Jacka comes up with a new angle to look at the magical world he has created; it is that innovation and development that I really love, because there is nothing I hate more in a fantasy series than being bored. Even with ‘Hidden’ I wasn’t bored, even if I wasn’t as enthused with it has I had been with the first four books.

‘Veiled’ though opens up a whole new can of worms for Benedict Jacka to explore. Like ‘Chosen‘ this is one of those books I was hoping that Jacka was going to write at some point. ‘Chosen’ was about Alex’s past and about how that has made him into the character that I have come to love. ‘Veiled’ is about the present and about the future developments of his world, because this one is about the politics of the magical world.

From the very beginning of the series, it has been hinted at throughout the books that the politics of the Council and the various factions that exist can be very complicated. However, because Alex was an outsider it has never really been vital to know more about the complexity of the Council’s politics. ‘Veiled’ is all about that politics and the beginnings to develop it as part of the series. It has given ‘Veiled’ the much needed boost in innovation that I found a bit lacking in ‘Hidden’.

And it is utterly brilliant.

The Alex Verus books can be characterised as being a quick-paced urban fantasy thriller and ‘Veiled’ is no different. It is a page turner in every sense of the word, and very nearly kept me up far later than it should have done one night because I didn’t want to put it down to do something as trivial as sleep.

From the very first book ‘Fated‘, Alex has had to struggle as an independent while the events around him were manipulated by the various Light and Dark factions. He has pretty much had to survive on his own, usually only just and only because his divination and his loyal friends have been able to help him survive. In ‘Veiled’ though Alex Verus is no longer as independent as he once was; he’s now part of the Keepers, a police-like force that upholds the Concord and answers to the Council.

In previous books it has been hinted at that the Keeper’s aren’t quite like the police force we would know; the complexity of the magical law means that they don’t just go after criminals who say commit murder or kidnap people. It very much depends on who was killed, why and whether there was a faction of the Council that want to pursue the criminal or whether even under magical law they are even deemed to have done something wrong at all.

In ‘Hidden’ Anne Walker disappearance wasn’t really the concern of the Keepers, who didn’t fully commit to finding her even when attempts at linking her disappearance to a known and wanted criminal would have made it their priority. Alex has no choice but save Anne himself, which leads him to seeing his old master again.

In ‘Veiled’ though in order to try and help protect himself and his friends from his old master, Alex joins the Keepers and is thrown head-first into the complicated politics of the magical world, where he no longer can go ahead and do what is right if those aren’t his orders. He also has to contend with the fact that as an ex-Dark Mage not everyone trusts him, because to them ‘once a Dark always a Dark.

So when he’s given a small seemingly unimportant job to go and investigate, and then finds himself right in the middle of the trouble and a massive political battleground, Alex has to watch his back, because not only does he have to follow orders (which he struggles with when he disagrees with them) he also has to contend with the possibility that his own colleagues might get ordered to kill him in order to keep him quiet.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series

Book Review – Hidden by Benedict Jacka

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I would happily recommend ‘Hidden’ to anyone as it is a good read, but I have to admit I was a little bit disappointed when it came to reading the book because I had been so enraptured by the previous book in the series. I felt as if I was reading a combination of plots from ‘Taken‘ and ‘Chosen‘ again. The situations were sort of new, but I also sort of felt like the book was treading back over old ground. Fine some of the characters were still reeling from events of Chosen and didn’t want to be associated with Alex anymore, but I sort of felt that the entire book was just one long story about some of the characters getting over the last book.

Don’t get me wrong though it is a great book. Jacka has still delivered a page turner and I didn’t want to put it down, but that wasn’t until the last third of the book. Normally I can’t put down an Alex Verus novel from the very beginning, but I unfortunately found it very easy to put down to the extent it took me days to read when it normally only takes me hours for a Verus book. The first two thirds of the book certainly have its moments; the return to Tiger’s Palace was certainly a highlight, but some of the encounters with old favourites like Sonder, were just downright annoying.

I think the problem I have with the book is that I really, really like the character of Alex Verus, which isn’t a bad thing for Benedict Jacka. On two dimensional paper he has created a three dimensional person, which I know from experience of creating characters myself is no mean feat. Alex is a good guy in a tough situation; some of that is his own fault but he is at the point in his life when he is more than aware of that he has made some very bad mistakes in the past. He holds up his hands and admits that he’s not perfect and that quality is for me what makes him so believable. I just unfortunately feel that for this book the plot and the other characters have let the protagonist down a little bit.

It really irritates me when the other characters can’t see that he does have very good intentions but that sometimes he doesn’t have a choice about following them. Here in lies one problem with using the first person voice; you only see the story from that character’s perspective. Add in my own realism and I really do struggle to understand the motivations of some of the characters that do not like violence. As idealistic as they are, it also makes them incredibly naive, even though none of the characters of the magical world are ignorant of the fact that some people in their world are going to be violent over reasonable.

One of the very best interactions though is Alex with his father; a strained relationship to say the least, but his pacifism is based on the reality of the real (our) world, not on the dangers of the magical one. He is the only one of the characters who have problems with Alex having to use the violent option in order to survive that I can find believable. He lives in a different world; academia, which for all of its wisdom and intelligence can be a very isolated place. I know this from experience after completing two degrees and I now work at a university as well. The harsh realities of our world rarely touch academic places, so his father’s problems with his son’s past which are based in a world he doesn’t even know about is very well conceived, if a little bit undeveloped in ‘Hidden’, I hope it is the beginning of a new perspective on Jacka’s world; that of an outsider who doesn’t know magic exists. Trying to explain it exists could be a great conversation.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.

Book Review – Chosen by Benedict Jacka

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Chosen is the Alex Verus book that I have been waiting for without even realising it. The Alex Verus books by Benedict Jacka that I have reviewed so far, ‘Fated‘, ‘Cursed‘ and ‘Taken‘ have always had a bit of a personal motivation for Alex to be involved, mostly that people are going to kill him because of the current event that is taking place. Chosen though is very much about a personal vendetta against Alex because of the events of his past.

In the first three books the hints about Alex’s past have been partially discussed. The reader has never been in the dark about the truth that Alex was once an apprentice to a Dark Mage, but the details were never something that Alex wanted to discuss. The first three books have very much been the recovery that Alex has started to go through after spending ten years practically isolated and hiding from his past. In the first three books though he is more openly exposed to the magical world, and he begins to build a network of friends and contacts that add to his happiness.

‘Chosen’ is an emotional roller coaster to read, and there a several very touching conversations that Alex has in the book that nearly brought me to tears, but good tears. I thoroughly enjoy books at are capable of touching me my heart and inducing an emotional reaction. It a sign of great character development and brilliant writing. The reason why the book is so powerful to read, especially having also recently read the first three books in the last week or so, is because all of the happiness that Alex has built up for himself is destroyed by a regret of his past coming back to haunt him.

The main plot of the book is Alex having to avoid being assassinated by a vigilante group called the Nightstalkers, made up of deadly magical adepts, who in the magical world are seen as second class citizens because they only specialise in one very specific type of magic, rather than a range like Mages. They have a lot of grudges against the magical world, but it is their leader Will who wants Alex dead because he believes that Alex is responsible for his sister Catherine’s death ten years before.

The group are absolutely relentless throughout the entire book in trying to find and kill Alex. They aren’t willing to listen to reason or listen to the offer that Alex tries to find out the truth about what happened, because even he does not know all the details himself. While they are like Alex in a way and that they don’t want to hurt innocent people, like Luna, Anne and Varium, in the heat of battle and in their pursue of their target, they forget themselves, and other people do end up being hurt.

Alex doesn’t want others to suffer because of mistakes of his past, and shows himself to be a truly complex character, as his struggle throughout the entire book is that he wants to be the nice person with friends and happiness. The dilemma that Alex faces is that he does not want to die either, but he does in part feel responsible for what happened. He is struggling with the possibility that in truth might be a horrible person. The complexity of the emotional strain and philosophical obstacles Alex has to overcome in ‘Chosen’ is one of the very best struggles I have read in fiction. Off the top of my head it is on par with Samwise in Lord of the Rings having to watch the ring destroy Frodo, and not be able to do much to help him.

The book is very much about having to face the consequences of your past actions. Alex knows that when he was young he did some pretty stupid things, top of the list being that he signed up with a Dark Mage in the first place. He is throughout the entire book trying to say to the young men and women who are coming after him that violence against him will not make them feel any better and that they will one day have to face the consequences of their choices in youth, like he is now having to face them.

In addition to this, there is an under current throughout the entire book that Jacka is beginning to set up a spectacular plot development involving the Dark Mage Richard that Alex had been an apprentice to all those years ago. The series has been so far a series of stand-alone novels that have had some loose connections to each other. One of Jacka’s great skills as a writer is to produce cliffhangers that keep you turning the page. From what I know from the synopsis of the next two books, I still think he’s going to write stand-alone novels, but I’m getting the impression they are going to be connected strongly connected together, which I see can only be a very goof development for the series.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.

Book Review – Taken by Benedict Jacka

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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.

Book Review – Cursed by Benedict Jacka

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If you liked ‘Fated‘, then you are going to love the second Alex Verus novel, ‘Cursed’. The second book by Jacka is so much better than the first. My problems with the first I made clear in my review, that I wasn’t keen on the first person perspective being used to information dump to the audience by breaking the fourth wall quite a lot.

In ‘Cursed’ though the first person perspective and the inner voice of Alex Verus is showing us the story, rather than just telling it. It’s a mark that Jacka is just getting better at writing his stories, and it makes me very excited for reading the rest of the Verus series.

One of the others things that helps Jacka other than just his developing skill, is that he isn’t now introducing an entire new magical world hidden from normal sight. He might have done a lot of set up in ‘Fated’ and it might have been annoying, (and I will admit  might have been very harsh about how he went about doing it), but in truth a lot of it has paid off very well indeed.

The second venture into Alex’s life is even better than the first, mainly because this time, it is a lot more personal than the first book. In ‘Fated’ Alex and his friend Luna were being targeted, but most of that was just because of chance and bad luck. This time though people are going after Arachne, one of Alex’s oldest and closet friends. She also happens to be a giant spider, but unlike Shelob in The Two Towers, she’s much more content weaving clothes and dishing out advice, while also catching up on the gossip. She is also an incredibly powerful magical creature in her own right, power which via a process called Harvesting, can be taken from her leaving her dead.

The entire book is centred around stopping that horrid fate from taking place, but it does so with an interesting set of characters and new magical power being introduced. Sonder from ‘Fated’ is back, with more of his powers as a Time Mage explored; Meredith is introduced as the Enchantress whose powers are subtle and dangerous. Alex also has to deal with Cinder and Deleo, who make a return as well, and deal with trying to decide if they are his enemy or not as he tries to protect everyone and save Arachne.

The other great thing about the book, is Verus’ shift in his relationship with Luna. The book is also a journey about how he needs to decide about how to view her. He has many conflicts, as to whether to see her as a friend, an apprentice or a potential girlfriend. His confusion as he tries to do all three conflicts with his attempts to help her control her curse.

Add in idiot Martin, who is involved with Luna and the lure of the powerful ‘Monkey’s Paw’ which has the ability to gain wishes, with potentially powerful consequences and you have all the ingredients you need for a fabulous fast-paced adventure, which is even better than the first.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.

Book Review – Fated by Benedict Jacka

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‘Fated’ is the first in the series of books about Alex Verus, a mage whose power is the ability to see the future consequences of any action that he might take.

The book is a brilliant introduction to the character and the magical world that Jacka has created. The genre of the book is urban fantasy, and much of the fast-paced plot takes place in London taking in famous landmarks such as the British Museum and Canary Wharf, as well as Camden Town where Alex’s shop is based. ‘Fated’ is fabulously easy to read and the plot is paced perfectly to make you want to turn the next page and carry on escaping the real world.

Just because the book is easy to read though it doesn’t detract on the complexity of the story being told. At the very centre of the story is an ancient magical relic, with the potential to give whoever can unlock the trap in which it is stored in a great deal of power. Alex Verus, being a rogue, but a useful rogue, gets trapped between all the factions that want to get their hands on it, from both the light and the dark side.

The only person he can completely trust to be reliable is his friend, Luna, who is equally as intriguing as Verus himself as she isn’t a mage, but is cursed by magic. Her curse protects her from harm but diverts the harm to others, which has resulting her her having become very isolated and cautious of getting close to people. She is however fascinated with the hidden magical world, and her character development as she becomes a great deal less naive about it is written very well.

As much as I do love the book though there are a few issues that I do have with the use of the first person. The style of the writing uses the inner voice of Alex Verus and is very casual and conversational, and is used quite a lot to ‘information dump’; the fourth wall is very much not involved at all in the book, as it is very much Alex telling the reader what’s going on, is something that I do find incredibly irritating both as a reader and as a writer.

Somehow though, Jacka does make it work. As much as it does irritate me a great deal, I have read books written in a similar style that annoy me a great deal more. The reason it works is because Alex Verus is a very good character to want to get to know; he’s damaged and flawed; he has doubts about who is stemming from his dark past, but is absolutely loyal to his friends. The likeable protagonist helps to distract me from the flaws in the writing style, and I would highly recommend the book as an introduction to the series.

You might also like my other reviews of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus Series.