Author: Benedict Jacka
What’s it about: Alex Verus, an independent Divination Mage, is now the Junior Councillor on the Light Council, the most powerful government body for Light Mages in the United Kingdom, thanks to Morden, the first Dark Mage on the Council. Alex has made it his job to find most, if not all, of the imbued items that were stolen by the Dark Mages from the Vault, a secure storage facility kept by the Light Council for dangerous items. Finishing up the mission to recover the Splinter Crown, an imbued item, and evading a would-be assassin sent by a member of the Senior Council, Alex gets a phone call from one of his friends that the Council is in session, without him. Alex gets into the Council meeting, raising complaints from three individuals–Levistus, Alma, and Sal– three light mages who stick together and are against Alex. Their purpose was to meet without him to get him off the Council, but ultimately the resolution against Morden doesn’t pass, so Alex keeps his seat on the Light Council.
That evening, Alex returns to The Hollow, a shadow realm that he shares with his friends, Anne, Variam, and Luna, and they discuss the Council meeting. With some convincing, Alex takes Anne on as his aide, and one of the first things they do is go to a meeting with Bahamus, a senior Council member who is somewhat on Alex’s side, Talisid, a member of the Guardian factions of the Council that has worked closely with Alex, and Maradok, another council member who was against Alex working the job to retrieve the jinn, a magical creature, from Syria. Bahamus wants Alex to speak with Morden in order to get him to turn on Richard Drakh, the most dangerous Dark Mage and Alex’ former master.
Alex does meet with Morden in the prison, and finds Cinder in order to get in touch with Onyx, who coincidentally is fighting with Cinder over an imbued item. Alex and Anne meet with Onyx in Morden’s mansion, and after threatening to kill him with lethal explosives made from poison, Onyx agrees to cooperate. After a few days, Onyx provides a time and location of Drakh’s appearance, and after the Keeper’s Intelligence services vets the information, the Council mobilizes the Keepers to capture Drakh. Alex is not supposed to be involved with the whole operation, but Talisid also tells him that the council wants Alex close by in case they need him.
As usual, Alex doesn’t follow the rules, and together with Luna they enter Tiger’s Palace, where the event is supposed to take place, while Anne keeps a lookout outside the place. They avoid an enchantment spell that has overtaken the crowd of adepts, who were the primary audience of Richard Drakh’s speech, and take down the mage that was trying behind the enchantment spell. Rachel/Deleo shows up, and Alex takes the advice of a dragon he visited–he listens to Rachel/ Deleo about her hatred of him, but is unable to figure out the similarities between Rachel and him in order to bridge the gap and get her on his side. With Luna, he avoids the attack from Rachel, and they land in the middle of the audience. At that point, the Keepers arrive, and chaos ensues when a dark blob, which everyone assumes to be Vihaela, arrives and strikes down the leader of the operation.
Amid the chaos, Alex takes charge and starts giving tactical orders to not only Rain, the head of the Order of the Star, but also a contingent of Keepers. Alex realized that it was a trap to make it seem like the Keepers attacked a large gathering of adepts unprovoked, which would have ultimately turned the adepts against the Light Council, and soured relations. By taking charge, he manages to keep casualties to a minimum, yet it’s still not enough. With a small group of mages, Alex tries to reach Richard, but Richard and his group evades them, so the primary purpose of the operation ultimately fails.
The fallout from this is that the Council wants to kill Morden, which would mean that Alex would be removed from the Council position. Alex has no choice but to go to the prison , while Barrayar and Solace, Sal’s and Alma’s aides negotiate with Morden, but he brings Anne along with him. And then things go horribly wrong–Alex brings up a topic from the attack on Tiger’s Palace, of which Anne has no recollection. Suddenly, Anne’s second personality, known as Not-Anne, shows up, and Alex realizes that the black blob that he thought was Vihaela during the Tiger’s Palace operation, was really Not-Anne with the Jinn’s power. She tells him to stay out of it, and that for once she plans to be in charge of Anne’s body, after which, she knocks out Alex. When he finally comes to, Alex makes his way to Morden’s cell, where he finds Barrayar, Solace and Caldera fighting off some shadow constructs. Then Morden and Not-Anne (disguised as the black blob) exit the cell, Morden throws Alex the Chain of the council, and then they disappear. Alex realizes that the shadow constructs won’t kill him, and goes chasing after the two, without success.
He knows that the Jinn has taken over Anne’s body and consciousness, so with Vari and Luna’s help he goes to retrieve Anne. To do so, he must enter Anne’s Elsewhere, where he faces Not-Anne and the Jinn. Realizing that he’s got precious little time and doing anything physical will not only hurt Anne, but destroy him, in a last ditch effort, Alex mentally tells Anne that he doesn’t want to return to a world without her, and that he loves her. As a result, Anne fights her way out of her cell, kicks out the Jinn, and then chains and locks up Not-Anne in an even deeper part of herself where she will never be able to hurt Anne again.
Returning to the real world, Luna and Vari had dropped off Anne with Dr. Shirland, the psychologist, and after two hours of conversation, the Doctor tells Alex that Anne is fine, and that Not-Anne has been diminished. Alex then goes to visit Anne, and tells her that what he had told her in Elsewhere was true–he loves her–and they kiss.
My Verdict: FINALLY! Throughout the last couple of books, there were hints here and there about Alex’s feelings for Anne, but for the first time, he’s actually acted upon them. Out of the four people that make up Alex’s inner circle–not counting Arachne–I really empathize with Alex and Anne. Both of them were the type of people who had made peace with the fact that they were going to be alone, in different ways. Alex didn’t think he’d have any friends that cared about him, or people that he cared about, when the series first started. Anne, on the other hand, didn’t think she’d find someone who would love her back in the way that she deserved–not being afraid of being with a woman who has more power than him–and she resigned herself to the idea that she’d be single. These are concepts that are familiar to me as a hard of hearing individual–I’ve never fitted in with any particular crowd. I’m too “deaf” to fit in with the normal hearing people, and I’m too “hearing” to be part of the Deaf community, and so it’s easy to make that peace that you’re going to be alone by yourself forever when you’re one of the ‘independents.’ But that’s the thing that Alex’s story shows–sometimes being independent because you’re true to yourself is a good thing, and it’s what brings you into circles with people you otherwise wouldn’t connect with, because those are the people who aren’t visible in normal society- and who also feel like they don’t belong in the normal molds of society.
And so life goes on like that for many years, until the moment that you look back upon those years, and realize that you were part of that society, just in a different way than you’d ever expected. For Alex, he bridges that gap between independents, adepts, and Dark Mages, with the Light Council. He’s experienced being independent, and knows how Dark Mages think, while also cultivating a large amount of following in the adept community. Normally all of these individuals were shunned by the Light Council, and those perspectives weren’t even considered by the members of the Light Council, until Alex comes onboard. And suddenly, his perspective is fresh and different, so Alex is able to use all of his knowledge and insight in an advantageous way, as is evidenced by how he takes command of the Keeper forces in their attempted capture of Richard. In fact, in that part of the book where it’s mentioned that there were 17 casualties, which everyone on the Keeper force says was a pretty good casualty number as opposed to what could have been, Alex is able to turn around and say that it’s the Keepers who see it that way, but the adept community wouldn’t see it as a success. They’d feel ostracized and think that the Keepers don’t care about them enough to protect all of them.
That ability is going to be an asset, I think, as Alex moves on through the next three books of the series. I believe he may be the only one on the council who brings in the adept, independent, and Dark communities into the Council fold by being that communication link and bridge between them. As a result of that, I don’t think Richard Drakh is going to win anything and become anyone of importance in the overall Mage community, because Alex will outsmart him.
As for the part where Alex reveals his feelings for Anne, and she fights her way back from oppression–it honestly reminds me of the story of why Harry Potter survived Voldemort in the first place, and while Snape protected Harry–love is the strongest magic of them all. Up until that point, Anne was withering away, doubting herself despite her power. She wished for a different life, and felt hopeless and helpless, so when Alex told her that he loved her, she realized that she had something to fight for. So fight she did. What remains to be seen is if that dark side of Anne, Not-Anne, stays buried deeply, or comes out with a vengeance, because one of the themes regarding Anne was that you can’t bury your past, or a part of you–you have to deal with it head on–and Anne hasn’t been able or willing to do so.
This book is even better than the last, and it seems like the series keeps getting more interesting and rich with every passing tome, so this series is definitely something you’d like to start reading if you’re going on a very long trip.