Marked by Benedict Jacka

The Blurb On The Back:

Alex Verus is tracking down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages – however; when the Light Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex must use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal.

You can buy Marked by Benedict Jacka from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s several months after BOUND.  Morden has been arrested and is detained in San Vittore for his role in the attack by Richard Drake and other Dark Mages on the Vault – the Council of Light’s highest security storage facility, which saw them get away with 127 imbued items.

As Morden’s aide, Alex Verus has begrudgingly assumed his position on the Junior Council and is leading the hunt to retake the stolen items, which are slowly making their way into the world and causing havoc.  But not everyone on the Council of Light is happy with Alex’s rise and he’s still having to watch out for assassins out to permanently remove him from the Council’s politics – including Crusaders from within the ranks of the Keepers.

More personally, Alex is still worried about Anne following her encounter with a djinn at the end of BOUND.  While Anne assures him that she’s free of the djinn’s influence – and this appears to be borne out by other mind mages – Alex knows that no encounter with an imbued item goes so easily and he’s worried about the existence of Anne’s ruthless alter-ego, Dark Anne, who remains imprisoned within Anne’s psyche and is seriously unhappy about it.

With the Council of Light wary about bringing Morden to trial due to the ructions it could cause with the Dark Mage community, a scheme is pulled together to use Alex as a go-between with Morden to make a deal that will lead to the capture of Drake.  Doing so will pit Alex against a range of Dark Mages who all want him dead – no matter what it takes – while failure will give more fuel to the Light Mages who would also like to see him dead so Alex will need all his smarts and all his magic if he and his friends are to come out of this in one piece …

The 9th in Benedict Jacka’s ALEX VERUS SERIES is another action-packed adventure that also advances and complicates the political background that Verus is operating in while also (finally) advancing a romance plotline with Anne that’s been rumbling on for too long and its ending leaves the overall board in an interesting position, such that I will definitely check out book 10.

Given how far into the series this book is, you can’t dive into it without having read the preceding ones first because the huge cast of characters and the various relationships and political factions make it too difficult to grasp everything that’s going on (although to be fair, Jacka does provide useful background summaries where needed in the text).

I really enjoyed how Alex’s new position on the Junior Council allows Jacka to give more information on how the Council of Light operates and the different factions at play within it.  Particularly good is how Verus explains the indifference of the Council to the treatment of Adepts and Jacka uses it to show how this seriously threatens to blow up in the Council’s face as Drake starts an outright charm offensive to win the Adepts over to his side (something that is left unresolved at the end of the book, leaving scope for book 10).

Jacka manages the clever trick of avoiding the reader becoming too bogged down in politics through his use of fast-paced, action scenes, which cleverly help to illustrate the wider problems that Alex is facing.  The opening chapter is a good example of this as Alex leads a team of Keepers to recover the Splinter Crown (a seriously nasty imbued item) from a factory in London, giving him the chance to summarise what happened in BOUND, explain how he can’t trust some of the Keepers and then leap into how this impacts on his position on the Council.

One thing that really elevates the series as a whole is how much Alex has changed over the course of the books – from an outsider who only wanted to manage his magic shop and help out those in need where he could – to literally becoming a key player in the magical world.  Also good is how other characters call him on his flaws – not just Rachel/Deleo, but also Anne, Luna and Arachne (who I would have liked to see more of in this book as Jacka is doing some serious foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen to her).  It’s also becoming clear that Alex is going to have to start reassessing his principles given what happens to the people around him and there are some hints here that at some point he’s going to face an impossible choice.

I am also a fan of the development that Anne has had over the last few books and Jacka is clever in his use of Dark Anne to show the more ruthless, self-serving side to her character. Although I can’t say that I was surprised by one of the twists in the plot (in fact, I was more surprised at Alex’s surprise), Jacka still handles it well and uses it to good effect to hint more at Drake’s agenda.

Drake himself is a bit of a cypher here and I am getting to the point where I really want to get more of a feel for what his end game is and where Alex ties into it.  That said, I strongly suspect that the big reveal about his magic is that he’s actually a Diviner more powerful than Alex (which would explain why he made Alex his first Chosen and explain some of the events in this and previous books). No doubt this will turn out to be completely wrong though – in which case, I’m going to look pretty silly …

The ending ties together some character development and sets up the plot lines for the next book.  I am a committed fan to this series, and will definitely buy a copy to check out.

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