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edge staff writer


Taken' urban fantasy at its finest

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Quick-turning series offers third book in a year

One of the worst parts of reading a fiction series is the knowledge that when you turn the last page of one of those books, it could be years until you see the next installment.

Unless you're reading something like Benedict Jacka's excellent Alex Verus series; you'll likely have the next book in a matter of mere months. 'Taken' (ACE, $7.99), the third book in the series, has just been released. This is after the first book, 'Fated,' debuted in February and the second book, 'Cursed,' came out in May.

It would be one thing if these books being churned out were meritless pap, just hastily-assembled bundles of genre clichs. Instead, Jacka gives us Alex Verus, a fully-realized character inhabiting a rich and elaborate urban fantasy landscape.

Alex Verus's magical talent precognition has made him and his apprentice Luna into a much sought-after investigator and security specialist. 'Taken' finds him dealing with his newfound notoriety; the events of the previous two books saw him defeat and destroy a number of powerful adversaries.

Unfortunately for Verus, that sort of thing gets you a reputation in mage circles not good for a guy who'd much prefer to just run his magic shop and stay out of the way.

Alex picks and chooses the jobs that he takes; morality and ethics are a bit ambiguous in the magical realm. But when he discovers that apprentices young people who aren't yet able to defend themselves - are disappearing without a trace, he realizes he must try and help. Especially when he learns that someone on the Mage's Council might be involved.

He has no leads, no suspects and a wealth of dead ends; he just knows that he himself is being watched and that if he doesn't tread carefully, his own beloved apprentice Luna could be next.

The Alex Verus of 'Taken' has come a long way from the isolated misanthrope we met at the beginning of the series. However, his reluctance to leap into action remains. Despite his growing involvement in the upper echelons of his society, Verus never loses that wonderful everyman quality with which the author has imbued him.

Jacka's elegantly straightforward prose style lends itself beautifully to his fast-paced storytelling. Too many fantasy novelists feel the need to be overly florid in their stylistic choices; Jacka instead focuses on relating his stories and developing his characters. The result is a series that lends itself to being rapidly consumed while still maintaining a very real engagement and investment.

Urban fantasy is a sub-genre that has grown immensely in popularity over the past five years or so. With such rapid growth comes the danger of a lower quality of offering. Too many new authors writing in a new style can lead to a lot of mediocrity. But then you have someone like Benedict Jacka, who not only creates excellent work, but constructed his series in such a way as to give his fans consistently quick fixes; the best of both worlds.

In short, the story of Alex Verus just keeps getting better. Let's see what the future holds.


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