The ‘Alex Verus’ novels by Benedict Jacka have really grown on me as the series has progressed. Somehow we’re already on book 5, ‘Hidden’, and our character family has grown nicely.
In ‘Hidden’, Alex is once again just trying to get on with running his shop and training his apprentice, Luna. Of course, things are never that simple. Talisid, one of the light mages on the Council, makes him a job offer that’s almost tempting. Rumours of the return of his former master, the very dark wizard Richard, are circulating. If Richard is back, then things could get very bad indeed. On top of these worries, Luna’s friend and Alex’s former houseguest, Anne, seems to be in a spot of bother and Alex might be the only one crazy enough to help her. Oh and did I mention there’s a crazy mage called Crystal out there who hates Alex and everyone around him for foiling her evil plans? Alex is certainly living in interesting times…
The thing that I really like about the ‘Alex Verus’ books is also the thing that most frustrates me and that is their length. These are short books, particularly for the world of fantasy novels, with the latest coming in at just 324 pages. That makes them fairly pacy in order to fit in a good amount of plot and character development. It results in a quick read and I really enjoy having shorter books like these to dip into after a hard slog through an 800+page doorstop. But I’m also always left unsatisfied when they end so soon!
I’ve had a great time going along with Alex and his pals on their adventures. They are filled with some great characters that have really grown into individuals over the course of a few books. ‘Hidden’ doesn’t really present us with anyone new or at least nobody who at this stage looks like they’ll be a recurring feature, so we can explore the characters we already know and see how their relationships are developing. It’s particularly interesting in this book because there was quite a falling out in the previous book, ‘Chosen’, so the character dynamics have changed quite a lot. I was a little sad not to see more of Arachne, the magical giant spider creature, but I’m sure she’ll be back again soon. On the other hand, it was really good to learn more of Anne’s background and it explains a great deal about the way she reacts to some of Alex’s actions.
The plot of ‘Hidden’ is pretty straightforward and I don’t think there’ll be too many surprises for you there. It was perhaps a little too simple in places, but this goes back to the length of the book. I’d have liked to see a bit more build-up of suspense and fewer convenient moments of good luck so that it felt like harder work for the characters to get out of their sticky situations. But then it wouldn’t be the lovely little book that it is.
The joy of the books in this series is that they’re easy to get into, easy to read, filled with relatable characters and never really tax your brain. The downside of this is that sometimes things feel a bit contrived and the depth of exploration and engagement with characters and plot will never be at the same level as good writers who are producing similar types of story in 500 pages rather than 300-350. There just isn’t room for it.
I enjoyed ‘Hidden’ and I’m looking forward to the next book, but if Benedict Jacka wanted to make it just a little longer so we could have some more details, I wouldn’t be complaining.
(pub: Orbit. 324 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50231-1)
check out website: www.orbitbooks.net