Book Reviews

Book Review: Risen

Title: Risen
Author: Benedict Jacka
Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Fiction

What It’s About: Alex Verus, a divination mage who has turned independent after his bout with Dark Mages, is currently wanted by the Light Councils for his actions while he was part of the Light Council. Despite being highly wanted, Alex manages to evade them by using stones to create portals across different worlds and locations, making the Light Council lose their sight on him.

He has managed to enter the shadow realm belonging to Sagash, the Dark Mage master who hurt Anne, Alex’s lover, to watch as Anne and Richard Drakh, Alex’s former Dark Mage master, take over the realm for purposes that are not quite clear. As the battle rages over the Shadow realm between the Anne-Drakh contingent and Sagash’s apprentices, Alex quickly make friends with one of Sagash’s apprentices, Jin. She shows him around the realm so he could get a better look and understanding of why Anne–and more specifically, the Marid inside her, wants this realm.

Through divination work, he and the apprentice make their way around the realm, avoiding traps, and soldiers from both sides. She is the one that tells him that Sagash has created wards that would collapse the portal making ability around the shadow realm in the even that they get attacked again. He quickly comes to understand that the Marid inside Anne needs the realm for something specific, but also Anne is taking revenge on Sagash for all of the horrors he inflicted on her years ago, getting her deeper into the Marid’s control.

Alex evades the Light Council on his way back, makes some calls, checks in from afar with Luna, his former apprentice after the Light Council once again attempts to get information on Alex’s whereabouts. When they finally meet in Alex’s shadow realm, The Hollow, Luna and Alex worry over Variam–a friend of Anne’s and Luna’s–and whether he is possessed by a djinn. They wonder if they could save Anne and Variam from the possession.

But there’s a caveat.

Alex is sure that he’s only got days to live–a secret that he won’t tell anyone until he sees this all through.

Ultimately, Alex, the Light Council and Richard Drakh realize that the whole situation involving the Marid inside Anne is threatening the whole world. It is Drakh who reveals that the Marid is planning on using Sagash’s shadow realm to create a djinn army, and take over the whole world, in which humans would fare even worse than mages. The Marid will be doing a ritual that will allow them to turn these mages and humans into djinns under its control, and making it impossible to buck the Marid itself from its host body. As a result of this information, the three factions make a truce.

However, it’s only a matter of time before it is expected that the backstabbing will begin.

The Light Council believes that in order to neutralize the threat the Marid poses, they will have to kill Anne. Alex does not agree as he has his eyes set on saving Anne, but he goes along with the truce until he can prove them otherwise. But also the Light Council does not trust Drakh at all, seeing him just as big a threat as Anne, if not bigger. So, the Light Council makes an agreement with Alex that he will kill Drakh in exchange for putting Alex or another Dark mage back on the light council, no longer pursuing him, and if he manages to save Anne, to forgive her. Begrudgingly, the Light Council agrees to his terms.

As the Light Council works on figuring out how to stabilize the wards around Sagash’s Shadow Realm to enable portals, Alex puts his own plans into action. He visits another diviner, Helikon, and asks him how to block divinations. Helikon does teach him how to do it, but tells him that it would take years to be as versed as Drakh, and while Alex knows this, he figures he could cover up his deficiencies, by doing the thing that he’s best at: sowing chaos, being indecisive. At the same time, Alex realizes that Drakh is not going to follow the plan set out by the Light Council, and agreed upon during their calls. He tries to convince the Light Council to change the plans, though they refuse–so he goes to his friend, Landis, who is in charge of one of the Orders that protect the Mage society–kind of like soldiers–and hatches a different plan.

As expected, Drakh triggers a secondary ward that causes the wards to collapse, and the vast Light Council force is locked out. But because he had planned ahead, Landis’ group is inside, and is able to battle against all of the djinns. Unfortunately, the plan was for a specific force consisting of Sonder and another individual from the Order, to power a weapon that would destroy the wards around Sagash’s castle to stop the ritual. This gets thrown out the window when the Marid in Anne shows up and kills Sonder. Alex steps up and takes charge of the remaining Order members, making decisions, even as he clashes with another individual who does not agree with anything.

As a result of his fate weaver and altering the fates, Alex manages to get the man killed, thereby removing any resistance to his plan. They had been fighting Drakh’s forces, so Alex comes in with a white flag, speaks to the apprentices who have no idea why they’re fighting the war for Drakh, and manages to get them to surrender. Then, with a small force, he enters the crypts of the castle, where he comes across Caldera and Variam who have become possessed by djinn. In particular, Luna makes an agreement with Variam’s djinn to honor the initial agreement that Alex and that djinn had when it was in the Monkey’s paw. She agrees that the djinn can take a single life per year, and stay with her in the arcana emporium as long as he releases Variam from his grip. Caldera is also taken out, along with other mages possessed by the djinn.

With time running out, Alex gets a hold of Anne, and using the portal into the dreamworld where he seeks out the Dark Anne as well as the Light Anne. He forces them to get over their differences to shatter the clear cut boundaries that were between the two of them, thereby becoming one Anne. This allows the two parts of her to work together to expel the Marid from Anne’s body and consciousness, but as a result of this expulsion, Anne is unconscious as she continues to heal herself. Coming out of this dream realm, Alex is faced with fighting Drakh, and using the fate weaver, Alex alters decisions at the lost possible moments, blinding Drakh from being able to fight as effectively as he could. This results in Alex killing Drakh–

At a great cost to himself…the fate weaver takes over his heart, slowing it before stopping it.

Just as Alex takes his last breaths and beats, Anne wakes up and attempts to reverse the fate weaver’s course–but he’s too far gone.

A while later, a detective from the Order visits Luna’s Aracana Emporium to ask questions about Alex and Anne. She attempts to read Luna’s mind, but Luna has become adept at blocking and identifying the mind reading techniques. She tells the Order member to stop asking around, because her answers a few weeks ago after the collapse of Sagash’s shadow realm, now and in the future on the topic of Alex and Anne will remain the same: they are dead. Once the detective is gone and well out of sight, Luna grabs a gate stone and portals to The Hollow–the shadow realm. There she meets Anne, talking briefly with her, before treading over to a different area, where she finds Alex, alive and well. It turns out that because the fate weaver made it all the way to Alex’s heart and Anne could not reverse it, she forced the fate weaver to take over the rest of Alex’s body and revive him that way. After all, the fate weaver does not wish to die, so it works to keep both of them alive; however, this resulted in Alex’s magical signature to completely change, meaning that it appears that he died when Sagash’s realm collapsed, in the battle of Drakh. Alex has made his decision to stay away from Mage Society going forward.

My Thoughts: The last book of the Alex Verus series was really good–of course we knew that the battle was coming, and I was certain that Alex would do everything to save Anne because he loved her. And he did, at great cost and sacrifice to himself. What really surprised me though was to find out that Alex’s mom is Russian–it was such a random thing to add into the story–the way he popped over to St. Petersburg to talk to his mom while saying his final goodbyes and she told him that he needs to come back to her. I don’t know why, but that was not something I was expect.

The other thing that Alex grapples with throughout the book is who he is at his core. He’s always rejected the Dark Mage society because of his morals, but he never fit in with Light Mage society either due to his different upbringing and perceptions. Throughout the book he grapples with that fundamental part of him as choices take down all the defenses, walls and ideals that Alex had kept around him so that he wouldn’t act a certain way. It seems like maybe he’s never ever been all that nice or moral, and it’s something that he realizes as he goes through all of these moral ambiguities, and reflects on them. Finding a character that has been so reflective of himself is highly unusual.

An expected, but also very solid ending to a wonderful, long running series.

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