Book Review: Burned

Title: Burned
Author: Benedict Jacka
Genre: Fiction

What’s it about: Around Christmas, a year after the events in Veiled, Alex gets a phone call from Talisid who warns him that Levistus used the vacation of three of the Senior members of the Light Council to pass an emergency motion dictating the execution of Alex and his dependents. Due to legalities guarding against the abuse of such a thing, the motion won’t go into effect until a week later, which means that there’s little time and room to maneuver. Talisid indicates that he will do what he can to help, especially in setting up appointments with the vacationing Senior Council Mages so that Alex can speak with them to convince them to vote against Levistus. Still, Alex is cautious, and with the help of Anne, Variam, Luna, and Sonder, he comes up with a Plan B to save them.

The plan is that Variam would take Anne to his master, Landis and move their sponsorship over to Landis, which would take them off the dependency on Alex. In the meantime, Luna would take her Journeyman test, effectively becoming an independent Mage, while Alex speaks to the mages. Alex speaks with Chalice, Luna’s Chance teacher, who agrees that Luna is ready for the tests. In exchange for helping Luna prepare so quickly for the tests, Chalice wants information on Richard Drakh and his plans. While he waits for Talisid to reach out to him, Symmaris visits Alex and tells him to avoid getting involved with the Keepers or helping Richard, which frustrates Alex as he has been out from Richard’s grasp for years, and has done everything against him. Still, people believe that Alex is helping Richard attain his goals.

Talisid informs that one of the three mages will vote against Levistus on principle for not liking Levistus, and that the second mage would stay neutral. That leaves them with the third mage, Undaaris, who Alex visits. During their conversation, Undaaris tells Alex that he will consider voting in his favor if Alex gets involved with the Keeper operation against Richard, but it has to be a success. Despite not liking his chances, Alex agrees. That night, Alex gets attacked again, this time in his home. It was a botched assassination attempt, which ends up burning his shop, and his home. Anne comes to help him, but they are surrounded, and she makes a sacrifice to give Alex an advantage against the attacker, which results in her getting third and fourth degree burns. Both Arachne and Landis tell Alex that he needs to watch out his back, and that continuing to be independent by not choosing a side will not be good for him.

Alex assists the Keeper operation in getting the relic that Richard wants. Supposedly, it is located in a bubble realm that opens during a certain alignment, and is only accessible through Aleppo, Syria. Before he goes in, one of the Keepers, Coatl, who likes Alex, warns him that there is another Keeper by the name of Ares, who will attack him. Alex leads the Keeper operation in the darkness, encountering the Dark Mages along the way. With the help of Landis, Alex manages to evade Vihaela, and heads to the sarcophagus, where he sees a group of Dark Mages, including Morden. He threatens Morden with releasing information that would make him lose the precious Council seat, and Morden backs down, without much of a fight, and Alex attempts to work on the relic from the Sarcophagus, when he gets attacked by Ares. Caldera comes to his rescue, and together they hand the relic to Rain, Caldera’s commander. Then they head back out to the entry, but a small group of men get separated in the dark from the main group, so Alex tells Rain that Caldera will lead them out, and he will go back to get the other men. They make it out of the bubble realm with enough time before it closes and seals itself again for another several months.

When they return to the Keeper Headquarters, Alex hands the box of relics to Councilman Maradok, Symmaris’ boss, and ultimately behind the assassination attempts on Alex. He then returns to Anne, who patches up the burns that Alex got from Ares, and Variam and Luna show up. Alex gets some time to talk to Luna, and tells her to give Variam a chance, even if they don’t know what will come next. The next day, Alex speaks with Chalice, and tells her what he found out during the operation about Richard and his plans. Chalice in turn reveals that she doesn’t want the Dark Mages on the Light Council, because then there won’t be any space for the independent mages who don’t want to choose one or the other section of Mage Society, and she likes the status quo where independent mages like the two of them can make a living without getting permits from the council in the United Kingdom. She also states that by joining up the Dark and Light Mages in this council, they will end up being ruled by Drakh.

Landis updates Alex about things going on in the Council, and tells Alex that Anne’s sponsorship should go through the next day, but admits to feeling uneasy about something. Anne and Alex spend Christmas together, talking about their pasts, and Anne mentions her previous relationships and how men are afraid of her having so much power.

With one day left, Alex goes to watch Luna’s Journeyman test in Canary Wharf. He and Lyle, an old friend of his, talk, and Lyle tells him that Undaaris is in a good mood, so he will vote against Levistus’ motion. Alex stands with Sonder, watching the Journeyman test, seeing how Luna defeats a Combat Golem with ease, and is about to lead one of her friends through an energy field as part of the next set of her Journeyman test, when Alex gets a phone call from Landis. Landis warns him to get out of Canary Wharf, as an order had come down from the Council for Alex’s arrest as a pretext to keep him contained until the Council proposal goes through. He’s been set up. Alex avoids the keepers at Canary Wharf, and outsmarts Caldera, who continues to be after him because of her orders. Variam tells Alex that they were also set up–the program office transferred his sponsorship to Landis, but not Anne’s and there are keepers going to arrest Anne.

Alex gates to a park, speaks to Lyle and takes his anger out on Lyle through the phone–it’s the second time that Lyle has been involved in trying to help Alex, but instead resulted in Alex getting in hot water. Undaaris had voted against Alex, along with Levistus because Levistus promised to support Undaaris as a candidate in some kind of appointment. Alex then gates to his safehouse, and looks for Anne, but her house has changed so much that he’s not able to gate to her house. Anne then shows up at the safehouse, and they talk–apparently Variam had warned her, and then helped her fight the Keepers off. Later, Talisid calls Alex and gives him the news–Variam is in custody but Landis is trying to get him out, while Luna passed her test and is a new Journeyman Mage. It also turns out that they don’t know who ordered Anne’s arrest, but once the motion passes, since Anne is still Alex’s dependent, both of them will be executed on sight. Talisid tells them to get out of the country, so they leave to New Zealand.

The two of them spend the next several weeks country and city hopping, outrunning and outsmarting the Council Keepers and assassins who are after them. Finally, in Lagos, Nigeria, Alex and Anne realize that someone may have tried to piggyback on what Levistus was trying to do–it didn’t make sense that out of the three apprentices, Anne was the only one who had an order for her arrest. Alex checks the future, and realizes that around midnight, there will be a phone call, so they pack up their meager belongings in preparation of trouble–while Alex doesn’t believe that the council will continue to send assassins after them with nothing to show for results, he knows they have a while to go before the Council stops. Right around Midnight, as Alex predicted, there is a phone call from Barrayar, Levistus’ primary assistant, asking to make a deal. Barrayar sends Alex a link to a live camera feed around Luna’s apartment, showing blocks of C4 set up and ready to explode her apartment, and tells Alex that he has two hours to get to London, or else Luna will die.

Alex and Anne make their way to London, and Alex strings up explosives around an empty warehouse in London, where he plans to make his last stand. He gates with Anne to Melbourne, touches her face tenderly, and asks her to pick up a bag, at which point he closes the gate behind him, leaving Anne with no way to get to him. Alex speaks to Barrayar and tells him to meet at the warehouse–he sees as a bunch of soldiers make their way to the warehouse, but suddenly they stop. Alex calls Barrayar to tell him to hurry up, but Barrayar congratulates him angrily on his victory, after which he hangs up. Alex has no clue what is happening, and waits for an hour, when Landis calls him because Anne woke up Variam, who in turn woke up Landis because of Alex’s suicidal tendencies. Alex asks Landis to find out what is going on that Barrayar’s men pulled back, and Landis calls back to tell him that Alex has been appointed as Light Council Liasion to the Keepers, granting him Keeper Status for the Order of the Star. The appointment was done by Morden, which gives Alex a stay of execution. Alex gates to Melbourne, sleeps and then returns to his safehouse in Wales, where he meets with Morden. Morden tells him how he did it, and tells Alex that now he needs to come home to Alex’s tradition as a Dark Mage. He also tells Alex that Anne has been granted the same thing, and that now they’re going to be working for Richard. Alex tells Morden off, but Morden attacks him, and tells him that he will resume his position as Richard’s assistant or else Alex’s loved ones will be killed. As such, Alex was forced to acquiesce, and Morden gave Anne the same choice.

The next day, Anne and Alex find themselves outside of Richard’s mansion, where Alex tells her that he sees only Evil when he looks at the mansion. Ultimately, they go in for the meeting with Richard, Alex’s former Master, as they had been told by Morden.

My Verdict: This book was WAY more intense than the other ones so far. So first of all, it’s hard to understand why a lot of the light mages think that Alex is helping Richard; however, Mage society is so fractioned that the people who think this way only see things in black-and-white. Furthermore, Maradok had gotten two diviners to help the Council figure out the future, and in the one where things go wrong, they see that Alex is the one that gives the relic to Richard, so their only option is to kill Alex, which takes that chance out of commission. That said, it seems that no one sees the fact that they’re all being used by Richard as chess pieces–being placed exactly where Richard needs them, to get what he wants. Morden does his bidding, and it’s clear that the two men are working together. My first thought when Morden backed off from the Relic was that it was all a set-up to get Alex into something–it didn’t make sense that Morden would give up so easily on the Relic, without coming back later to get something from Alex in return. This is how Morden works–there’s always a price to pay with him, and unfortunately, Alex didn’t realize it until it was too late. The fact that Alex was unwilling to choose a side, was what ultimately hurt him in the end, as his decision was forced.

That said, Alex will now be a Keeper on behalf of Morden. Knowing Alex, he won’t do exactly everything that Morden asks him to do, and will continue to follow what he believes to be right, making him the perfect spy for both sides. Hopefully, if he’s smart enough, he’ll reach out to Talisid and take him up on the offer of being a double agent, in the next couple of books, in order to fight against the corruption in the Light Council (Levistus), as well as Dark Mage interests. It would be in his best interest to do so. Furthermore, the moment between Anne and Alex in Melbourne, before he shuts the gate on her to protect her reveals a lot more than I would think. I always thought that Alex had a soft spot for Anne, but he never allowed himself the ability to feel, because he didn’t think he was worthy. Still, it’s clear that he cares for her more than he thinks and that they’re now in this together, they’ll stick together. I hope we see more of a relationship develop between Alex and Anne.

By far this book was the most gripping of the series, keeping me on the edge, and I could not help but continue reading it without putting it down!

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