Book Reviews

Book Review: Taken

Taken by Benedict Jacks

Title: Taken
Author: Benedict Jacka
Genre: Fantasy Fiction

What’s it About: Alex Verus, an independent divination mage, has become well-known in mage society after his last two jobs. He meets with Crystal, a mind mage who is well connected with the Council, because she requires his assistance at a tournament taking place in her family mansion. Alex turns down the offer and goes to meet with Talisid, another mage who is a higher-up in the Council, regarding a secret, difficult and dangerous Council task, which can include Alex’s apprentice, Luna, an adept as a result of a family curse that protects her and hurts others.

In the next few days, Alex saves Anne, Luna’s friend, from being murdered, and gets mysterious messages that points him to Fountain Reach. It turns out that Anne is a Life Mage, with the ability to save and harm individuals. He visits Lord Jagadev, a Rakshasa, which is a human-tiger looking creature from India with a very long life, a craving of power and the ability to shape-shift. In exchange for Alex’s protection of Anne, Lord Jagadev tells him that the answer is in Fountain Reach. It turns out that Anne and Variam, a fire mage, were apprenticed to a Dark Mage, who in reality had kidnapped Anne, and Variam went to save her as a promise to his brother. Considering the way Mage society works, the Light Mages don’t care much about the apprentices of Dark Mages, even when the Dark Mages are cruel to them, as they believe that the issue is between the Mage and the apprentice, so they did nothing to help Variam and Anne. In the end, Jagadev offered them a safe haven.

Luna learns to duel, using her curse to protect her and attack her opponent, and joins in on the tournament, the White Stone, at Fountain Reach. In the meantime, Alex investigates Fountain Reach, along with Anne and Variam, slowly garnering their trust by saving Anne and Variam from constructs which were sent out to kill Anne. During the tournament, one of the girls disappeared and no one could find her. They use whatever tools they have at their disposal, but are unable to find her. They find an entrance to the basement, which really used to be a lab. In it, they find that papers about research that was done into a long life. At one point, Alex asks Crystal how she came to possess the house, but Crystal doesn’t provide him any information. Instead, Alex reaches out to Talisid, who gives him the story of the house, and tells him that since all of the disappearances happened in London, there’s no connection to Fountain Reach. Ultimately, with the help of Sonder, Luna, Variam, and Anne, Alex investigates the house, and finds out that Crystal has been helping Vitus, the original owner of the mansion, suck the life out of apprentices to prolong his own life. It turns out that there is a shadow realm of the house, where Vitus resides, which is where all of the missing apprentices had disappeared.

Alex, Luna and Variam race against time to find Anne, who was the latest victim, while fighting off Crystal, Lyle and Onyx. Alex finds a barely alive Anne, with a slit throat, on a lab table. It turns out that she used her life magic to mask herself and repair herself, fooling Vitus, who at this point is gunk in a tub. Vitus joins the fight, but Alex manages to outsmart everyone once again, pitting Onyx against Vitus, while he and his group escape, with Crystal and Lyle long gone. The group manages to escape to Alex’s safe house in Wales. Then they spend a few days dealing with government bodies, telling them what transpired.

Ultimately, Alex and Luna are invited to watch Fountain Reach burn, with Crystal in the wind, and Lyle in trouble as he had been the member of the council who pushed to have the tournament in Fountain Reach. Then, Alex leaves Luna with clear instructions on who to call and what to do in case he does not return. He heads to Tiger Palace, the club owned by Jagadev, and goes straight to the Tiger-Man himself. Alex thanks him for the information and then calls Jagadev out on his bull, saying that he’s been the one behind the attempts on Anne’s life because Jagadev was using her to find out information on her classmates, which he then gave to Crystal, making Anne the perfect spy. At first it doesn’t seem to make sense–Jagadev sent everyone to Fountain Reach, almost as if he wanted to kill everyone.

But then Alex did some research, all the way to 1865. Jagadev goes still. In the year that the thirteenth amendment was ratified in the US, the British Raj came to India, and the rakshasa wars were happening in Mage Society. There was a group of British and Indian mages supported by an auxiliary force that attacked the palace of Lady Arati, a rakshasa who was killed. Her husband, also a rakshasa, escaped. Out of curiosity, Alex tried to trace the family trees of the mages who carried out the attack, but it was difficult as nearly all of them seem to have died over the decades from mysterious deaths or disappearances. However, there are two descendants of those mages today–Anne and Variam–and the name of the rakshasa that escaped the attack was Lord Jagadev. They both make some threats against each other, but ultimately Jagadev kicks Anne and Variam out along with Alex, telling him that if they return, their lives are forfeit.

During their move in, Variam argues with Luna, while Anne sits out on the roof looking at the city. Alex talks to her and it turns out that Anne knew Harbir, Variam’s older brother, which is how they met. Harbir had tried to help and Anne wasn’t able to save him. She was then kidnapped by Sagash, the Dark Mage, and held hostage for a long time, because he wanted her to be his Chosen, but she denied him that. Anne then points out that it’s the first time she and Variam are on their own–they do not have a mage to protect them. Alex would not mind taking them on, but he is not versed in elemental magic or life magic, so he would not be able to train them at all in the way they need.

My Verdict: The third book of the Alex Verus series certainly brings additional characters, and more complexity than the first two. It’s certainly a quick and entertaining read. Once again, we learn how Alex Verus is able to outsmart those stronger than him, with what many consider is a weak magic. But to me, this shows that even if you know how to use the tools that you have at your disposal correctly and smartly, you can outrun and outfox the strongest people. Alex’s story is always about being cunning and smart, doing the investigation and putting the pieces together to help beat the ones who think they’re on top. That said, it’s a bit dark and morbid for my tastes– I definitely preferred the first two books.

It’s not the most brilliant of books I’ve read–Harry Potter will always hold my heart–but it’s certainly a form of magical society that appears to be more based in reality than the fanatical. If you’re looking for a story about an underdog beating the odds, this is certainly a series that you would enjoy.

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