Author: Benedict Jacka
Genre: Fiction, Magic
What’s it About: Alex Verus, a divination mage, takes out a patrol on the Himalayas in Tibet, before calling Variam Singh, a fire mage that he had mentored previously. Together, they enter the subterranean home of Jagadev, the humanoid tiger know as a Rakasha. Someone had barely come through the location before their arrival, killing the army of mages inside the home. The two of them find Jagadev, strung up on the wall, and both Variam–known as Vari for short–and Alex try to talk to Jagadev. Ultimately, Vari burns Jagadev to a crisp, and the two of them narrowly get out of the tunnels before Rachel–a former friend of Alex’s–shows up with the intent to kill Alex.
The next day Alex considers his plan of attack as he has the Light Council, Richard Drakh (his former master) and Anne (his former lover) coming after him. He ultimately reaches out to Morden, a Dark Mage, about how to get the Council off his back, and Morden agrees to assist him. While he waits for Morden to get back to him, Alex decides to scope out his old store and watches his former apprentice and current friend, Luna, answer questions from Keepers about when was the last time she had seen Alex. He then watches as Anne enters the store, and overhears her talk to Luna about joining her ranks by taking on a Jinn–a genie, but Luna tells her that she will think about it. Before Anne is able to do anything else Alex makes her notice him, and the two of them share a moment to chat. He asks her to take out Levistus for him, putting him as a priority over Anne’s old master, Sagash. He figures that Anne hasn’t yet figured out how to get into the Shadow Realm–a location that exists as a shadow of a physical place–that belongs to Sagash. She agrees to his request, and he tells her that he will be in touch with her about the next steps.
Alex does try to reach a truce with the Light Council, but they aren’t willing to entertain it, which is why he takes up Morden on his information. According to Morden, Levistus–who is the Head of the Light Council–has created a synthetic intelligence that basically spies on people. As a result, he has a lot of information to blackmail the other council members with, resulting in a substantial sway over their decision-making processes. Morden tells Alex where the artificial intelligence is, and tells him that there is a window of opportunity the following afternoon.
Alex scopes out the Heron Tower in London, and then decides to pick Cinder, another fire mage, as the person who would help him get in the following afternoon. Cinder agrees in exchange for Alex getting him some face time with Deleo–also known as Rachel, Alex’s friend from his apprenticeship under Richard Drakh. He agrees.
The two of them sneak into the building using a different company as the coverage, but Alex is unfortunately not able to figure out how to bypass all the magical and otherwise security measures. He instead reaches out to the synthetic intelligence, known as November, who agrees to be taken out of the building to have a life of freedom, and gives him the codes to enter the location after they disable the power. Alex manages to get into the room, and take things apart, when suddenly he realizes that Rachel will be gating into the room. He calls Cinder and tells him to get up to their level, so that he can meet with Rachel. Alex then outsmarts Rachel and Levistus’ security team, jumping off buildings, across construction sites, and attempting to hide on a leaving train. Rachel and Levistus’ team find him, but apparently they run off when Cinder shows up. Alex and Cinder then hop onto the helicopter of the team that is trying to kill them, and escape from that helicopter just before it gets shot down by the Royal Air Force plane.
Shortly thereafter, Alex reaches out to the Council for another truce, but they still won’t take it without an exchange of a sort–specifically asking that Alex give up November in exchange for the conditions of the truce. He amends a couple of terms–just like the council did–and then adds that he will be picking the location of the meeting place. They agree to show up in pairs of three. While he starts rolling the ball on that front, he reaches out to Cinder, and together they go to Drakh’s old house, where they wait to meet with Rachel.
She shows up, and doesn’t want to kill Cinder, but attempts to kill Alex, who in turn takes her into Elsewhere. There, Shireen–another friend of theirs and an apprentice of Drakh’s–shows up and tries to beg Alex to save Rachel, but he doesn’t move a muscle. He is tired of her always showing up at his locations and trying to kill him, and it seems that Rachel is more determined than ever to do that. The mirror in Elsewhere shows a reflection of Rachel, which in turn ends up killing her. Shireen is upset, saying that he killed her too, and that ultimately Rachel wasn’t Drakh’s Chosen, but rather Alex was. She then slowly disappears, this time for good. He and Cinder part ways after that.
Finally, Alex decides on the location, and tells Talisid, his Council liaison, where they are meeting–a deep shadow realm. He waits for them in the shadow realm, and then when they enter that one, he goes into the deep shadow realm, where time works differently–10 minutes in the shadow realm is 5 hours in the real world. Talisid shows up claiming that there are only two people with him, but Alex knows that they had kept the gate open longer than was allowed by Keeper Protocols, and that there were more than three people coming through that gate. He is right on the money as several individuals–the size of a small army–reveal themselves. He escapes them back to the Shadow realm, where he meets another small group of Keepers and tells them that they don’t stand the chance. Some people put down their weapons, and he is able to leave the location freely.
He then heads over to a park where Arachne–his former spider friend–had a lair. There, he meets with Anne and the two of them head over to Levistus’ estate. A battle ensues, and Anne takes on many of the mages, and the individuals inside the subterranean office space. Alex fights with Caldera, his former Keeper mentor, and manages to almost kill her. Anne shows up, and heals her just a bit, saying that she didn’t want to have all of the fun. She then heads out, leaving Alex to fight Levistus on his own. Alex does fight him, and kill him.
Back at the Hollow–Alex’s shadow realm–he does his best to heal, when Landis–a very powerful battle mage from the Orders of the Shield–shows up, and tells him that the Keepers from the Order of the Shield have stayed out of the battle because they told the council they believed that pursuing Alex was useless. He tells Alex also that they’ve known about Levistus’ dealings and were worried that within the decade, he would become a dictator, which angers Alex because he believes they should have done something about it. Landis then asks him to call the council again with the same offer, and tells him that this time, they will take it. After he leaves, Alex sends a message to the council, which sends back a swift response. He has Luna come by the Hollow, and heads out to a location in Wales to lay alarms and traps to make sure that no one would catch him unawares.
Just as he is about to reach out to the Council, he senses someone else had arrived, but he doesn’t have time to actually move locations, so he goes ahead with the call to the Council. Alex threatens the Council that if they continue to underestimate him and come at him, he will make sure that all of them get destroyed. The Council calls back quickly agreeing to the temporary conditions–he will go back to being an unaligned mage, all his associates will be left alone, and they will discuss the other conditions in the future. He then turns to Morden, who has been listening to him the whole entire time. Morden congratulates him on the negotiations and tells him that he is retiring from the Council, going into teaching of young Dark Mages. At first Alex thinks that the Council will not let Morden get away, but Morden points out that the council said that they won’t act against Alex’s associates, with an s, which can include Morden due to their working together. Morden also tells Alex that he will find out some painful stuff sooner rather than later.
Unsure what he means, Alex uses his divination magic and realizes that Anne showed up in the Hollow. He rushes home to Luna, and listens to Anne’s proposal about Luna taking on the Jinn. Luna says no, Kalypo says no, and Hermes, the fox, says no. At that point, Anne starts a fight, making it clear that Anne is actually no longer in control, but the jinn is. Alex fights back, but is barely able to do anything until Vari appears. Leaving Vari fighting Anne, Alex and Luna fight their way through the Jann–lesser Jinn controlled by the Jinn– to the cottage, where Alex grabs a spear that he took from Levistus’ home. Between him, Luna and Vari, they manage to kill all of the Jann, leaving Anne alone. Anne then tries to steal Luna, and has her tendrils reaching out towards Luna, when Vari tries to push Anne’s magic with his own. Luna’s curse is added to the mix due to proximity, and suddenly a white flash happens, with Vari and Anne disappearing.
Alex is able to reach out to Vari, only to hear a few things from him before the communication goes silent. He helps Luna get healed, but before they are able to do anything more regarding Vari, Richard shows up and tells Alex that he has been invited to a meeting between Richard, himself and the Light Council because things are about to get worse thanks to Alex. Apparently, Alex had unleashed the jinn.
Verdict: The book was entertaining, and definitely fast-paced, making it easy to read. I was mistakenly under the impression that this book would be the last book in the series and that we would be finding out more about Richard Drakh’s background, since it seems like those were the questions that were swirling by book ten. But certainly, this book is not the end of the series, as I’ve discovered that Book twelve has been submitted to the publishers.
While it is a book that I enjoy for entertainment, there’s something about it that has been honestly bothering me. I think it’s the darker nature of the book, the one where in almost every chapter there is a lot of killing, murdering and death. It is all so pointless, though I understand why Alex has done what he did, what with the arrest warrant and potential execution. He does it for the people he loves. But the truth is, I liked the series more when Alex outfoxed and outsmarted his enemy in the book; where he found himself ahead of the curve, because of his abilities, or the moments where he did find himself with his back against the wall, but he still managed to get out with very little killing. Usually the deaths were not done at his hand, but as a result of a reaction to something. But in the last couple of books he and Vari have become these murderous people killing others out of revenge or “lack of choice,” and he’s began to use people who once were his friends, like Sonder, all because he needs information from them but they remain strongly on the Light Council sides. It does make him seem very selfish, and arrogant.
I would have liked to at least see some kind of redemption, especially in the case of Caldera or Rachel. I feel like these two characters were so important to Alex’s past and lasted so long throughout the series with their own little side plots, that the author should have written them to turn to his side.
I will definitely be reading the twelfth and hopefully final book of the series when it comes out, in order to find out what happens with Anne–my hope is that he will find a way to separate her from the jinn and she will return to herself, while they work on changing the way things work between the Light and the Dark Mage societies. But I do suspect that I will struggle with wanting to start the book because of how dark and heavy to stomach it has gotten.