Marked (Alex Verus book 9) by Benedict Jacka (book review).

‘Marked’ is the ninth instalment in one of my favourite series of books, Benedict Jacka’s ‘Alex Verus’ novels. When you’ve already read eight books in a series, reading a new book is almost like visiting old friends and the challenge for the author is to keep adding in new elements and greater depth to keep the reader coming back for more. Fortunately, Jacka has no problems in getting the balance between the new and the cosily familiar, resulting in another brilliant book that I devoured in just a couple of sittings.

In ‘Marked’, Alex Verus finds himself sitting on the Light Council in place of his former boss, Morden, who is currently awaiting trial for treason. Enjoying his freedom after having been coerced into working for Morden in the first place, Alex is not wild about the idea of being the go-between for the council to persuade Morden to betray one of the most powerful and feared Dark mages in the country, especially when that mage is Alex’s former master, Richard Drakh. As Alex is once again pulled into the battle between Light and Dark mages, he fears that those closest to him will be placed in danger yet again. But, as he is drawn further into the web of political machinations and personal power-grabs, Alex may discover that his friends may not always be his allies.

I always look forward to new books in the ‘Alex Verus’ series and so far I’ve not been disappointed. In an unusual move for the fantasy genre, Jacka keeps the novels short and punchy, delivering plenty of action and great stories in small volumes. ‘Marked’ starts off with a bang, showing Alex in a position of authority we haven’t really seen before and bringing us right into the middle of the action. There’s no messing around with a slow build-up and that works well to get the reader engaged straight away, giving them plenty to observe and plenty of questions to ask to keep them reading through the next page, next chapter and right on to the end of the book. It’s refreshing to see Alex take on more responsibility in this book and also to see how he’s working towards a position where he’s no longer a liability. Having realised it’s probably time he picked a side and stood up for not only what but also who he believes in, Alex’s journey continues to be interesting and throws up plenty of hurdles, new allies, new enemies and a few big surprises.

One of the things I like about the ‘Alex Verus’ books is that the supporting characters are all really well-written and that, while Alex is clearly the central figure, his friends, enemies and casual acquaintances all feel fully fleshed out. In ‘Marked’, there are two characters that really stand out for me and they are Anne and Spire.

Anne is a recurring character with a troubled past who seems to be heading towards a romantic relationship with Alex. It’s a relationship that feels right for the story and that is never overplayed. This isn’t a romance novel, it’s just that mages have relationships, too. Anne really gets a chance to shine in this book and we learn more about her past and the ways in which she deals with her traumatic experiences, ways which aren’t always healthy for Anne or those around her.

Spire is a new character, a member of the Senior Council who seems to base his decisions on merit and without prejudice, something not that common in the Light Council. He plays a very small role in this book but, from the few interactions he has with Alex, I feel that he might show up again and provide some interesting opportunities. Spire intrigued me and I do hope that we see more of him in the next book.

Plot-wise, there are a few small surprises but, in general, it’s a continuation of the plot of previous books, with Alex trying to avoid Richard Drakh but inevitably being drawn into situations where he must confront his former master. Light versus Dark, small battles as part of a larger war and the usual deceptions and assassination attempts. Nothing particularly groundbreaking but it all works as part of an established sequence like this one. There are plenty of action sequences but enough time between them to give the reader chance to pause and reflect. Jacka’s pacing always feels just right and I enjoy the balance between plot and character development that he manages to achieve. #

All in all, this was another satisfying instalment in Jacka’s ‘Alex Verus’ series. I’m not sure how many novels he has planned in the series but I’m certainly not tiring of them yet and think that there’s enough going on in this world for a good few more yet.

Vinca Russell

September 2018

(pub: Ace Books, 320 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99(CAN), £ 6.22 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-10198-854-1)

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