Cursed (Alex Verus #2) – Benedict Jacka

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Summary:

Since his second sight made him infamous for defeating powerful dark mages, Alex has been keeping his head down. But now he’s discovered the resurgence of a forbidden ritual. Someone is harvesting the life-force of magical creatures—destroying them in the process. And draining humans is next on the agenda. Hired to investigate, Alex realizes that not everyone on the Council wants him delving any deeper. Struggling to distinguish ally from enemy, he finds himself the target of those who would risk their own sanity for power…

Review:

The more I think about this series, the more I enjoy it. Fantasy as a whole tends to be a genre with a fairly black and white morality: you’re a good guy or you’re a bad guy. The good guys can have body counts, but their motives tend to be solid and their morality isn’t questioned: if someone dies, it’s because they had it coming. And what I like here is that while on the face of it, Alex feels like a good guy who perhaps once made a mistake when he apprenticed himself to a Dark Mage before he realized that he made a mistake. Alex thinks of himself neutral, wanting to avoid the politics of either side. And yet in this book, one of the Dark Mages, a man by the name of Cinder has an exchange with Alex:

“I’m not exactly the fighting type.”

“Bullshit,” Cinder said. “You act it. Fool some people. Fooled me once. You’re a predator. You just hide it.”

I raised an eyebrow at Cinder. “Pretty weak for a predator.”

“Yeah?” Cinder said. “Last ten years. How many people tried to kill you? Don’t mean a skirmish. A proper try.”

I shrugged. “Haven’t kept count.”

Cinder nodded. “How many still alive?”

The question brought me up short. A few people had tried to kill me over the years. Actually, more than a few….as for how many were still alive, the answer was not that many.

Most of them were dead.

In fact most of them were dead quite specifically because of me.

And indeed they are. And unlike someone like say, Anita Blake who does the killing directly, he often doesn’t. He just knows how to manipulate the futures he can see to ensure that those pursuing him end up dead. It’s a special form of ruthlessness. Another character at one calls him “the coldest man she’s ever met.” He admits to trust issues, but they’re really more Trust Issues and while you want to fault him for them, they’ve clearly served him well too. All told, it gives him a slightly different vibe than most UF protagonists. This isn’t someone like Anita who has limited time to socialize with humans but has a growing friend circle amongst the supes or Alix who can just be kind of a shitty friend. Alex is a guy who has all but sealed himself off from the world. But as the saying goes: it’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. Furthermore, I love how pragmatic Alex is. He makes good use of the notion of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” He’ll work with the Dark mage who has a similar end goal because while he can’t speak for the future, for the here and now, it just makes sense.

Other good things about this book: the continued use of Arachne and Luna. The main plot is interesting and the sub plot about a monkey’s paw is really quite well done both in how the author used it to service the plot in thoughtful ways, but also because it shows Alex and more of who he is and that underlying pragmatism that comes off as a bit gray at best.

All told, Alex may not be the most sympathetic protagonist, but I like him for it. I like him, I like the world that he’s created where separating good guys from bad is much more difficult than it seems and the situations that he gets put in are a blast to read. I can’t ask for me.

Verdict: Buy It

Available: Now

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