This is the first of Benedict Jacka’s books I’ve bought in physical format, and I’m pleased I did. I intend to buy the rest similarly at some point, but right now, two of my book piles are topping 6 feet tall, so I probably shouldn’t risk it. I’m not joking. I don’t have a wardrobe so I could fit more books in. Anyway, that’s beside the point. The silly reason I like having this book in physical format is because it’s a really, really nice paperback. It’s one of the ones with the really really flexible covers, which make it so much easier to read paperbacks safely. Very nice. What? It’s important…
Aside from that, I also think the cover art is pleasing (and it has a recommendation from Jim Butcher on it, because obviously), and doing the good combination of uncluttered but artsy which makes it attractive without irritating or old fashioned looking. I mean, it was urban fantasy, so not much risk of that anyway, but still, carry on. Well done. Ok and yes, it does remind me slightly of the Jim Butcher novels but I was always going to say that because my brain just wants to draw connections between the two series.
That said, this is no Jim Butcher novel. This is so, so much better. I have enjoyed this series enormously so far, as I’m sure my reviews have made quite plain, but all the while being aware that this is not exactly high art literature. I took it as a silly, rompy set of novels and judged it accordingly, so low standards all round, happy escapism. Which is fine. I like happy escapism romps. But this time, it’s progressed beyond that. One of the things I moaned about last time (or the time before, or maybe both) I read an Alex Verus book was the lack of personal development of Verus himself. There’s some conscious addressing of issues, but after it happens, the book and the character go on as if it’s not happened, which makes it feel like it wasn’t worth the effort of putting it in in the first place. This time, Jacka addresses it properly and it sticks. We get to delve more deeply into Verus’ past and he actually takes on the problems that he’s been mentioning now and again in the books and changes with them. It’s very gratifying to see the change. It helps the book take the step up from silly adventure to well-written silly adventure (with accompanying moral dilemmas). Definitely a real category, that one. As far as I can tell, and yes it has been a while since the last time I read one of these books, there is a very notable change in the way the book has been written. The tone is the same, the characters as ever, but there’s a feeling of greater effort being put in to making the characters and the events that bit more real. And it makes a vast difference to the reading experience. While I make it sound like I think the previous books were terrible, I’m not intending to imply as much. I really did like them an awful lot, it’s just that this one is so much better.
You can see the improvement elsewhere as well. There’s so much more thought gone in to every bit of the book. Recurring baddies get some development, and more importantly there’s a real feeling of the passage of time since the last book. There’s meant to be a good few months in between the events of the previous book and this one (as has occurred earlier in the series), but this time you really feel it. Luna, one of the supporting characters who didn’t always get the time she deserved, has changed. She still doesn’t get so much time up front, but when we do see her, she’s definitely not the character we first met, and in a really good way. All the growth that has just been stated in previous books, and then possibly undermined by everything subtly actually not having changed at all, has properly manifested this time and it’s wonderful.
The conflict too is much more thoughtful. It’s less of a goodie/baddie action style thing and more ethical, and, not to spoil too badly, it’s not exactly a happy ending either. I cannot wait for the next book to come out in September (the day before my birthday in fact, ideal!), because I want to see how this has changed things. I am torn between wanting things to work out for Verus, and wanting the conflict between some of the main characters (well, not so much conflict as *drama* but still) to play out because it’s really exciting to watch. I want to know what happens. Will Anne come back? More importantly, will Sonder? Sonder is still, in my opinion, the best character ever and he should get his own series of novels (only that would suck, because he’s really nice and wouldn’t get any moral grey areas where all the fun character building goes on), or at least his own short story.
The only downer I have is I still didn’t get to see more of Sonder’s powers. Well, we did a tiny bit, but time magic sounds exciting and I want to know more. None of the magic really got any exposition this time, and that’s sad, but I am willing to let it go for excellent character development. And super-drama ending. The only elemental mages we’ve still really seen up close and with details are fire-mages (not complaining much), and I’d like to know more about water/earth/air mages (I don’t think we’ve even met an air mage yet), beyond that one spell Deleo seems to cast all the time.
Basically, if I had my way, the novels would be about three times as long and full of details about Sonder’s exciting life of magical forensics, but that would probably sacrifice the excellent pacing that Jacka has going on, so I’ll settle for there being more books. September is not soon enough.
Next time… well, it’s one of two things. I have a copy of Words of Radiance which I really really ought to read, but it’s been so long since Way of Kings that I may have to reread that first so I can remember the plot. If so, what’s next will probably be the short story collection by Ted Chiang I was recommended to read today. Because it would be terrible to deprive the internet of my rambling for the time it takes to read two mammoth Sanderson books.