Taken by Benedict Jacka is the third novel in the Alex Verus series, featuring everyone’s favourite mage shopkeeper and diviner, Alex Verus.
Following on from the events of both Fated and Cursed, Alex and his apprentice, Luna, are going about their daily business, with Alex running his shop in Camden whilst Luna attends her apprentice classes. Of course, this can’t last for long and soon Council mage Talisid approaches Alex with another mission. Being neither a Light nor a Dark mage, Alex is in a position of having an allegiance to no-one, and so is trusted by the Council to carry out impartial investigations.
This time Alex is given the task of finding out what has happened to a number of missing apprentices, who have vanished seemingly without a trace. He enlists the help of Luna, as well as time mage and expert researcher, Sonder, whom we have met previously. We also get a couple of scenes in Arachne’s lair, which helps lightens the mood (somewhat ironic for a giant spider).
For the first time we are introduced to the apprentice training scheme for mages, in which Luna is enrolled. She is learning to control her curse magic, but at the same time is dealing with the high school-esque bullying of her fellow apprentices. The bullying is mostly directed at two pupils on the outskirts of the class, Anne and Variam, who are said to have once been apprenticed to a Dark mage. Now under the command of a rakshasa (half man, half tiger) who has an old grudge with humans, named Lord Jagadev, Alex begins to suspect that there is more to this pair than meets the eye.
Then there is the mysterious Crystal, a femme fatale who is also a mind mage capable of manipulating thought processes and reading minds. She invites Alex to her home, Fountain Reach, in the first scene of the book, and when Alex is told to investigate the disappearances all clues seem to point to this ancestral home. A prestigious apprentice contest is set to be held there, so with Luna entered as a distraction Alex is free to investigate this mysterious house.
It wasn’t until I tried to summarize the plot of this book that I realised how complex a storyline Jacka has created, with so many characters intersecting with each other. However, every element is significant as the author makes sure to tie up all the loose ends at the end of the mystery. There are some aspects that you don’t even think about until the end and suddenly realise how important they are to the mystery.
In my reviews of Fated and Cursed I complained that not enough of Alex’s past has been revealed, and despite not receiving any further indication in this book I wasn’t as frustrated as I was previously. I think this was because Alex’s past wasn’t alluded to as much, making me less desperate to know about it. It made me like his present character a lot more than in previous books, and I like how subtly the changes have been made.
We are also gifted with development of Luna’s character, particularly as we see her expand her magical skills. Her curse is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen in fantasy novels, and I was intrigued to see how she would be able to brandish it as a weapon in the contest. However, even though Luna grew more as a character I would have liked to have seen the same for Sonder, as I feel he is a massively underused character with great potential.
Overall I loved the plot of this book, as it felt different to the other mysteries Alex has had to solve. I think this was down to more description of the investigation processes undertaken by Alex, but I also loved the fact that there are still some surprises held back from the reader. Most notably at the end of the book there is a moment that leaves you asking ‘What? What does Alex know that I don’t?’ which is then answered in the following scene change.
I’ve previously said that this series was lacking that spark to keep me hooked, but I think this book has found that special something as I am now looking forward to the fourth instalment in Alex Verus’ story.
My ratings for this series are slowly increasing, with this book being better than both Fated and Cursed. With the characters now well-established the plot is given room to really take off, and I enjoyed the twists and turns Alex’s investigation follows as he tries to discover the truth. A great fantasy novel interlaced with mystery, which introduces some interesting new faces.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
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