Top Shelf Urban Fantasy - 5 Stars
Benedict Jacka raises his game in the third installment of the Alex Verus series. After a shaky start to the series, he has produced a book I can gladly display next to my favorite Urban Fantasy novels by Jim Butcher, Ben Aaronovitch and Larry Corriea. I have a soft spot for the wizard/mage who honestly attempts to solve a mystery. As in the early Dresden novels, the mystery and the investigation that takes centre stage. Taken first and foremost tells a great story. Beyond this it asks the question of "what does a real family look like" and explores the lengths that people (magical or not) will go to feed their obsessions.
Alex Verus, our friend with an eye on the future, is on the job once again. He is hired to look into the unexplained disappearances of mage apprentices. Apprentices are disappearing and no witness come forward and no clues are left behind. Mages walk into a building and never come out. In the midst of the disappearances, the apprentices are gathering for dueling tournament. The gathering is occurring a Fountain Reach, an old and mysterious house with secrets that Verus must expose.
The Good 3, 4, 5
My star rating has steadily increases as the series has progressed. In the all important third novel, the author shows that Alex Verus is here to stay. My major problems with the first two novels was the treatment of the female characters and the disjointed story telling. In Taken, all of these concerns have been mitigated. Alex Verus shows that he can not only treat women with respect but can respect their abilities and strength. A sensitive but strong female character is introduced and his apprentice is treated as a student not a child.
As far as the story is concerned, there is a linear flow. The reader is not left disoriented by disorganized storytelling. Multiple storyline parallel cleanly and converge with clarity. Overall the story is no longer a weakness as the author has shown significant growth as this series has progressed. Speaking of Growth
It is not only the author that has shown growth as the series has progressed. If you have read the first two novels you will know that compared to most similar stories, the Mages in Alex Verus' world have a limited scope to their magical abilities. While at the outset of the series, I had the impression that a mage who main ability was to see into future, would quickly become boring. While the powers of Alex Verus have not seemingly grown, the sheer variety of mages have. Mind magic, life magic, time magic, space magic and elemental magic are all skill sets that are discussed and developed. This has kept the characters and story world from feeling stale.
This time around, it appears I have very little criticism. There are multiple incidents where the author is prone to info dump. At times, Alex Verus is prone to the monologue but it does not, in my opinion, reflect poorly on the book. Final Thoughts
I believe the third book of a series is the most important for an ongoing series. At this point, patterns are established and reader learns if the author has chosen to write with a strict formula or if they are seeking write dynamic stories. Taken is a prime example of how to do it right. Highly recommended.
This is the first of the series in which I listened to the audio. Any minor deficiencies were covered by the narrators wonderful narration and tempo. An easy 5 star performance. Content Advisories
It is difficult to find commentary on the sex/violence/language content of book if you are interested. I make an effort to give you the information so you can make an informed decision before reading. *Disclaimer* I do not take note or count the occurrences of adult language as I read. I am simply giving approximations.
Scale 1 - Lowest 5 - Highest
Sex - 1.5
There is very little that could be considered objectionable to most readers. There are a few instance where characters were revealing clothing and several instances where characters insinuate that there may be a romantic or sexual relationship between parties.
Language - 2.5
Low use of mild obscenities and a handful of religious exclamation. A few instances of the f-word.
Violence - 3.5
Characters are being abducted and much of the violence is inferred. Much of the story occurs during an apprentice dueling tournament. This involves fighting but little direct violence. There are several gruesome injuries. One from a magical attack, one a gun and one instance of a character having their throat cut. While moderately graphic, the scenes are short.
Also reviewed at The Literary Lawyer