Author: Benedict Jacka
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
What it’s About: Several months after the events in Taken, on a nice summer evening, Alex is playing board games with Anne, Variam, Luna and Sonder. During the game, while they step away, Anne tells Alex that there is an eighteen year old boy who is attempting to spy on them. Alex goes up to the roof, watches the boy, and then scares him out of his wits. The boy doesn’t answer Alex’s question beyond telling him that “Will” had ordered him to spy. Furthermore, it was clear to Alex that the boy didn’t know what he was doing with the knife he was wielding, and the boy looked terrified of him, although Alex had no clue why.
The next morning, Anne and Variam head out for their appointment with a consultant that may help them in finding a master-apprentice relationship. During the eight months that they have been with Alex, it was difficult to find them a placement because of their prior history—the connection to the Dark Mage Sagash, Jagadev, and the murders for which they were inaccurately arrested during the tournament. Alex in the meantime opens up his shop, and is assisting several customers when Luna, his apprentice arrives. Shortly after the last customer leaves for the time being, Alex foretells the arrival of a mage, who turns out to be a Keeper, a policeman from the Council. Keeper Caldera, as she is called, takes them to a pub nearby, and orders them a drink. She wants to speak to Alex because of rumors that Richard Drakh—Alex’s former master who is a Dark Mage—will return. Alex is unable to give her any information as it has been ten years since he escaped Richard’s mansion and cruelty, so Caldera asks about Deleo, with whom Alex has minimal contact since his departure from the mansion.
After they are done, Alex gets a text message from Anne saying that she will be late home tonight, which makes him curious. He tells Luna to head back to the shop to meet up with Variam (called Vari), and to get dressed for their educational outing. In the meantime, Alex heads to the Mind Mage consultant with whom Anna and Vari had an appointment that morning. Dr. Shirland, who is also a psychologist for regular humans, is unable to share with Alex what was told to her in confidence, only what she thinks is information benefitting a sponsor. They agree that while Vari hates the Keepers and blames them for not getting Anne out from under Sagash, she believes that Vari has the only chance at getting an apprenticeship with them because of his fire ability. She claims that even though he will have issues with discipline, he is determined and is a fighter with a very active personality so he needs work, and it would be the most effective for him to be a Keeper. She adds that his association with a Dark Mage and knowledge of their culture would be an added bonus to the Keepers because they’re the only arm of the Council that deal with Dark Mages on a regular basis. The doctor tells Alex that she already gave Variam the information of a contact that he could use, should he so choose. Anne is a different story according to Dr. Shirland because she is a powerful life mage, which means that she has control over every aspect of someone’s or something’s life, healing or harming with one touch. Dr. Shirland says that in most Master-Apprentice relationship, the power lies with the master; however, in the case involving life mages, the master would be putting the power into the hands of the apprentice. Alex understands why that would make someone jumpy, but he counters that most mages also need Life Mages to heal them. Dr. Shirland responds that those life mages are the ones that they can trust, and Alex realizes that no one can trust Anne because of the connection to Sagash, Jagadev and the murders, as they would considers her at least touched by darkness. Alex asks Dr. Shirland if she could change people’s mind about Anne, and she says that she can’t because she thinks that they might be right as Anne does not wish to talk about her time as a hostage. Dr. Shirland doesn’t think that Anne is as innocent as Alex thinks she is, and when Alex thinks back on his time in Vitus’ chamber, he realizes that Anne was not clumsy with her spells—which is unusual for apprentices as they are clumsy when they first try a new spell. Alas no one knows what happened to Anne when she was with Sagash, and Dr. Shirland is unable to assist until this issue is fully resolved.
Alex returns to his apartment, and talks to Variam momentarily about his career option, before taking Luna to the casino. Luna is an adept—she has one type of magic that only works in one way, while Mages are able to use one type of magic in numerous ways—whose magic involves her curse which protects her while hurting those around her. Alex wants to use the time at the casino to teach her that her curse also works on a probability outcome, and that just like it protects her by hurting others, it will bring her luck at the casino. While he is playing at a table, a guy comes up to the table and starts gambling as well, which soon turns into a tense moment. When Alex turns to leave the table, the boy follows him, along with a group, which includes the Chinese boy from the roof. The boy—Will—is after Alex and wants to kill him, but Alex has no idea why. A fight ensues in the casino, and one of Will’s cohorts sets the casino on fire, while Alex gets stabbed by Will, who mentions his last name is Traviss and the city of Sedona, Arizona. Luckily for him, Luna arrives just in time to save Alex, fighting off everyone else with her whip.
Sixteen hours later, Alex wakes up from a memory—one in which he, Tobruk, Shireen, and Rachel (all of Richard’s apprentices) were out in Arizona, where they found Catherine Traviss, a girl that Richard wanted to be brought back alive, and Tobruk killed her boyfriend by setting him on fire—to find himself in Arachne’s lair, while Anne had healed him. When Variam, and Sonder return to the lair, they join Luna and Anne to hear Alex’s story as to why these people were after him. It’s the first time that Alex reveals to them that he was under a Dark Mage’s apprenticeship and did horrible things. This shocks many in the group, except for Arachne, who is a big magical spider. Sonder walks away to digest this, while Anne, Luna and Variam stick around to help Alex.
The next day, after Anne determines him fit to return to the real world, Alex, Luna, Vari and Anne head out to his shop. They’re having a conversation, when Anne detect Will and his team nearing the location. Thinking quick, Alex opens up his shop, the Arcana Emporium, and tourist flock inside. He also calls Deleo to leave her a voice message to call him back, and Caldera, asking her to come soon. Will and his friends come into the shop to try to start a fight, but are surprised that Alex has friends who are standing up for him. There is tension, but ultimately, they leave the shop. Caldera arrives sometime later, and Alex asks for information about Will and his group, but Caldera refuses to give him any information without getting anything in exchange. Ultimately, Alex agrees to go visit Richard’s abandoned mansion with Caldera the next morning in exchange for the information on Will and his friends, which he finds out are called the Nightstalkers and they seem to be after Dark Mages. They were behind a huge matter in Bristol involving some Dark Mages.
Later that evening, Alex goes out to meet with Deleo at an abandoned warehouse. Alex asks Deleo what happened to Catherine Traviss, which triggers an absolutely negative response in Deleo, and she tells him to never contact her again. She storms off, and Cinder, a mage she works with, goes off with her. He then returns to tell Alex that he should stay out of the way.
When Alex returns that night to the apartment, Luna suggests that he visit Elsewhere—a different dimension that allows you to walk through people’s dreams. He agrees that it might be worth a try, and during his sleep, he enters Elsehwere, where he finds Shireen. She begins by showing him scenes of her and Rachel—how they met, and what had led the two of them to Richard. Suddenly, Shireen warns him about danger and kicks him out of Elsewhere. Alex finds himself being awaken by Anne, who had taken on the first shift of guarding that night in case the NIghtstalkers came back. They had, and Alex barely manages to get out of bed when the roof over his head exploded as a result of a bomb. He and Anne escape the house through the hole in the roof, and run for their lives throughout London, trying to outpace the Nightstalkers; however, they continue to be on Alex’s and Anne’s tails. Alex makes the last-minute decision to jump onto the roof of an oncoming train. Unfortunately, the Nightstalkers follow them, and Alex comes up with a plan by putting force walls on the train, which renders the bullets that Will shoot at him harmless. When the train enters the tunnel, Alex and Anne hide on the side of one of the cars, but Alex had left the force wall engaged, and as a result, it causes the cars behind them to de-rail.
They spend the evening avoiding the apartment while Luna and Vari deal with the police, and Alex uses one of his stash-houses to change into different clothes. Afterwards, they head to a Council-owned Gym, where Alex uses the annuller in order to break any spells that may be enabling the Nightstalkers to find him. The two of them talk for a while, and Anne asks Alex to not kill the Nightstalkers, so he promises. He then sends Anne off to see Luna, while he makes some preparation for his upcoming visit to Richard’s mansion. Once he’s done, he meets with Caldera, who brings along Sonder in order to use his Time Magic on Richard’s mansion. She creates a portal to the ground of Richard’s Mansion, and momentarily Alex reminisces of his time there. Immediately, he warns them of the ward around the front door, which would alert Deleo, so Caldera creates a door to the side of the front door, and they go in. Sonder uses his time magic on the first floor of the house, revealing that Deleo has been incinerating any intruders to the mansion. Caldera wants to go down to the basement, but Alex warns her that there is a Nocturne, which is a creature that kills by sound, that Deleo had set up as a ward. He also mentions that he can’t see a future in which they defeat it. Further, Alex warns them that they should leave, but Caldera resists.
The Nightstalkers arrive, and Caldera warns them to not attack, but she also isn’t willing to give up Alex, so a battle ensues in which Caldera becomes badly hurt. Alex takes one of the weapons that a Nightstalker uses, and throws it down the stairs to the basement, which in turn triggers the Nocturne. In the ensuing chaos, while the Nightstalkers try to fight off the Nocturne, Alex takes the three of them to his old room on instinct. Caldera focuses on making a gate to another location, while Sonder creates a time stasis. They barely make it out without discovery, arriving at Caldera’s home. She refuses to have Anne assist her, and instead calls for a Council Life mage that she can trust.
Alex leaves the house and returns to his apartment, where he grabs his mist coat from his panic room, which is really a warded room that keeps his most precious magical items, as well as those that are dangerous. Three of the Nightstalkers arrive, including the Chinese boy, Lee, who tells the other two that he can’t pinpoint Alex’s exact location, and that he cannot tell where Alex is anymore. They leave the house, and after ensuring that he wouldn’t run into them via his divination magic, Alex also leaves his apartment and heads to a hotel. At the hotel, he falls asleep and enters Elsewhere, where Shireen is waiting for him. She shows him memories of what happened after she returned from seeing him after his escape. It turns out that she had lost faith in Richard, and argued with Rachel. Shireen was on her way to release Catherine and get her out, when Rachel used an incineration spell on her, hurting her. Richard arrived at that point, and told Rachel that it is her decision to make on what happens to Shireen—he can either heal her and Rachel goes back under her shadow, or she can end Shireen’s life and become stronger. Ultimately, Rachel harvests Shireen for her powers, not knowing the consequence would be that Shireen’s consciousness would become part of her. During the Harvesting, a third spirit enter’s Rachel’s body as well, and as a result she becomes Deleo. Shortly after that, Deleo harvested Catherine, and incinerated her body. She then opened a portal for Richard to go to another Dimension.
Alex turns to leave the memory, and finds that he is faced with the real Deleo—not the one from the memories. He leaves Elsewhere, and he finds that she’s in his hotel room, which confuses him because Deleo should not be able to find him with the mist cloak on. He barely manages to get away from the bed before she incinerates it. This results in a chase throughout the streets of London, where Deleo incinerates anything that Alex had been on. Ultimately, he manages to evade her, finding an abandoned warehouse to sleep in. Once again, he finds himself facing Shireen in Elsewhere, who tells him that the reason Deleo has been able to find him was because Elsewhere creates a connection between people when they enter it together, which is why he was always able to find her. She also has one request of him in exchange for all of the help that she had given him—to redeem Rachel, who she still considers her best friend.
After wandering the whole day around London, Alex makes it to Arachne’s lair in a groggy state. Arachne promptly pulls the Mist Cloak off him, because it is an item imbued with magic, and it turns anyone who wears it for a long time translucent. Vari shows up a day later and tells him that the Nightstalkers had sat outside of Luna’s apartment hoping that Alex would show up. Alex is about to give up on coming up with a plan that would not involve Vari or Anne killing the Nightstalkers, when he has an idea. He had called Caldera who told him that the Light Council had shot down her idea of coming up with a task force to take down the Nightstalkers, despite them attacking a Keeper, so it was clear to him that there’s no one else to take them down. Alex gives Vari some orders, and once Vari leaves, Alex exits the lair to make a call to the NIghtstalkers. He wants to talk to Will in order to make a truce, but Will disagrees to let go of the grudge. As a result, Alex warns him to not mess with him again, and hangs up. He returns to Arachne’s lair, which appears to be the only place that protects him from the searching magic that Lee uses. Arachne tells him that she has created for him another imbued item—she is a weaver, after all—which is a lightweight armor that will protect him from stabs and some bullets.
The next morning, Alex readies for war, and Vari gates Alex to the grounds of Richard’s Mansion. As soon as Alex sees that the Nightstalkers have detected him and are on their way, he opens the front doors of the Mansion, goes down to the basement, and prepares himself by setting up the items necessary to create a force wall. The Nightstalkers come, and find Alex to be too relax, which unnerves all of them except for Will, who is determined to take out Alex. Then Deleo and Cinder show up, which is when the Nightstalkers realize that they are trapped between Alex, who has a force wall up, and Deleo and Cinder who are blocking the exit. Will refuses to back out, and when he recognizes Deleo, he mentions that he wants to kill her too for what she did to Catherine. The name unhinges Deleo and she starts to incinerate the Nightstalkers one by one. At one point, she sends an incineration spell that shatters the force wall, but Alex is long gone. Will ultimately chases him and tries to fight him, but unbeknownst to him, Alex is protected from his sword, and when Will attempts to stab him, Alex stabs Will through the gut with his sword. When the fights end, only one of the Nightstalkers is still alive, but Cinder tells Alex to head out, and Alex doesn’t know what happens to the guy.
A few days later, Alex watches the funeral of Will at the same cemetery where Catherine’s gravestone exists. Lee is there with a girl, and notices Alex due to his ability to sense people, so he comes over to Alex and they talk. Lee isn’t full of hatred, but he is bitter, and Alex asks him when does the revenge stop. They go their separate ways, and Alex returns to his apartment. By this point, Vari had moved out as he had accepted the apprenticeship with a Keeper. Alex finds Anne packing her stuff—she has decided to leave because of the fact that he had killed the Nightstalkers. He gets angry, and scares her, but realizes that this is not what he wants Anne to think of it, so he gets dejected. Afterwards, he heads out to Arachne’s lair, and talks to the large spider.
She gives him advice- he did the best he could and there was no way out without killing, his friends will come around if they so choose and they will be stronger for it, and that this may ultimately have a good impact on his standing in the mage world. The information hasn’t gone out yet, but once it does, it may make people think twice before messing with him. Alex feels content with this advice, and returns home, where he works more on his plan for renovating the apartment. Luna and Vari show up, and they talk, with him also showing them his plan for the upgrade.
In a dream that night, Alex sees himself as Rachel walking through the basement of Richard’s mansion, as if she’s walked these steps numerous times. She comes into the newest portion of the mansion, built before Richard’s disappearance, and watches as a portal opens up. The man that comes through that portal is Richard.
My Verdict: This book was not as action-filled as the other books of the Alex Verus series; however, we find out a lot about Alex’s past, and the connection with Deleo—who she is and how she became who she is. We find out more about how certain magical items work—such as the mist cloak and the force wall—along with new magical creatures.
That said, I really wish that we could have found out more about Anne’s past as she seems to be keeping it close to the vest. It’s one thing that I really hope will be developed in the future books of this series, but that is yet to be seen. The last chapter of this book, about the dream in which Richard returns, is the one that looks to be a springboard for the next book, and I guess we shall see what happens with Richard’s return. But one thing is certain—Alex’s adventure as a butt-kicker are far from over.
I really hope that the remaining books in this series (there’s like 10 of them!) do not all follow similar plot lines—Alex living a good life, then encountering some bad dude or being asked for help by someone from the Council, without getting the full information, and gets ambushed a bunch of times while investigating, after which he finds a way to stack the odds and win again—with new characters and new ideas. If so, this series will get boring pretty fast, but at the moment it is good, for a 3-5 hour read.