Taken – Benedict Jacka

After that pathetic excuse for a Neil Gaiman post, have something a bit more within my normal remit:

I read the first two of the Alex Verus novels about a year ago (I originally typed “a couple of months ago”, then checked… Jesus the last year has gone by quickly), and enjoyed them both. The first was the better of the two, but not by a huge amount. They weren’t, I have to say, amazing. But they were some very pleasing light fantasy with some interesting twists and an innovative main character, and I had fun reading them.

Taken is the third Alex Verus novel and, though it’s been a while, I think it bears up very well in comparison to the first two. It’s better than Cursed, and might be better than Fated too, not sure. Well done, Mr. Jacka, you have defeated the rule of sequels. I still have some quibbles, though.

Firstly, characters. Alex Verus himself, as I said when I ‘blogged about the first two novels, is not heavily developed in terms of emotions and whatnot. We get a lot of his motivation, and we know he’s a good person, but beyond that… it’s kind of murky and unexplored. I think it’s a genre thing, to be honest, as it fits in with the style of a lot of other novels of this type, but I’d still like a bit of investigation. Luna too, could do with a bit of work. She’s there, and she says things and she does things… but you don’t get any real sense of anything going on behind that. Which is a bit frustrating, as she’s the sidekick character and around an awful lot. That said, you almost… don’t notice that there’s not much going on, character-wise. It’s a very plot and event-focussed book, so it doesn’t leave you feeling unsatisfied about the lack of stuff going on elsewhere. It more feels like… Jacka was trying to do other stuff, rather than he ignored this. I’m struggling to explain it in a way that makes sense, I’m afraid, but I know what I mean.

There is one secondary character that I feel a little more sympathy with, and tends to come across more… human. He’s called Sonder, and he also gets the prize for “magic I most want to have (other than fire)”. He’s a time mage, and it’s really really cool, in an incredibly nerdy and academicy way. As in, he’s a historian but magically so. That’s what I like most about these books. All the little details, all the odd magics that background and throwaway characters have. Sonder’s is definitely the coolest for me, but there are several others too, especially if you count the adepts as well. The plots are good and so on, but it’s the details that Jacka seems to excel at bringing out. The odd magics, the devices, the magical creatures, even the buildings. He describes well and he throws in a lot of odd and good little things… and then some of them come up later.

I said in my post about the Dresden Files that there were similarities between them and the Verus books. That, I think, I should partially withdraw. It had been a while since I had last read Fated and Cursed, and I’d forgotten the style of them, to some extent, and the feel of the writing. There’s a couple of things similar (more in Fated than in the other two), but it is a passing resemblance and nothing more. The writing is less detectivey in genre (woo!) and obviously more British, and in some ways much more personable. The Dresden character talks to the reader a lot more, but it feels more stilted and artificial and forced than the connection with Verus in his novels. Though they’re not the same thing exactly, in a comparison, I definitely think the Verus novels come out better than the Dresden ones (though less funny).

I won’t discuss the actual plot of Taken, but I will say that it is if anything more captivating than the previous two and succeeds more in masking what’s coming up. It’s not amazingly unpredictable, but it’s not completely “yeah yeah, I see what’s coming, get on with it” either. A happy middle ground, and an improvement on before (not that they were bad, but it’s got better).

All in all, some good, light fantasy. There are problems, don’t get me wrong, but they’re the sort of thing that you get in all light fantasy, and they don’t detract from the book as a whole. It’s not stunning literature, but I didn’t expect it to be, and it succeeded at being what it actually was. All in all, a good read. I’ll probably read it again (if not soon), when next I want to be distracted from something for a couple of hours, and I will definitely buy the sequel when it comes out. Or has it already? It’s soon, I think.

In the meantime, I’m going to be reading the next Dresden book. I think I’m just in that sort of mood at the moment. Applying for jobs is way too thankless to read something heavy like the Reality Dysfunction, so that’s on long-term hiatus. Not that this is really news. But I’m admitting it now. I’ll probably restart in a couple of months. But god damnit I will finish it. Eventually.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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