Review of Veiled – Book 6 of the Alex Verus novels by Benedict Jacka

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I’ve enjoyed this London-based urban fantasy series, featuring divination mage Alex Verus and was delighted when Veiled joined the canon. To get the very best out of the series, I recommend that you start with the first book, Fated, read my review here. So would Veiled live up to my expectations?

VeiledAlex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he didn’t see this day coming. He’s agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master. Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there some Keepers who will do anything to see an ex-Dark mage fail. He finally has the law on his side – but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

When reading the blurb above, if you think it sounds a tad like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, you’d be right. And I’m fine with that. Jacka’s Brit humour and his sense of the London setting give this book a sufficiently home-grown feel that I don’t have an issue with any apparent similarities, as the differences matter.

Alex’s problems with the magical authorities don’t ease down as much as you’d think they should, now that he joins the investigative team who are checking out an attack on a tube station. This is classic urban fantasy fare. What sets it apart for me, is Jacka’s very clever use of Alex’s divination powers. He can see a short distance into the future – and the more people surrounding him, the more different timelines fracture into dozens of possibilities. It gives him an edge against some lethally powerful magic-users and their creatures, but the catch is that he has to concentrate very hard. And if he doesn’t, he won’t last all that long, for while he works hard at hand to hand combat, he doesn’t possess particularly vicious magic, or great strength. It’s very well done. Especially as it could rapidly become a boring nuisance if the writing wasn’t so smoothly accomplished.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters peopling this world, from the gigantic spider who weaves magical artefacts, to the apprentice, Luna, whose chance magic draws bad luck on those who threaten her. Another joy is the wheeling and dealing that goes on in this pleasingly complex political backdrop. This fantasy world is every bit as tangled and compromised as our own, but peopled with some truly scary, unpleasant people, which means that Verus has to keep a constant watch out for danger, nicely ramping up the ongoing tension that pervades this story.

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, engrossing read. And I’m looking forward to reading the next slice of Alex Verus as this series shows no sign of running out of steam.
8/10

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6 responses »

  1. Wow. I haven’t been here for a while. I sense some heavy commenting is about to commence ;).
    I’m not much into urban fantasy, because after reading some books they all start feeling the same, but I was wondering if you’ve read Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series. I have to say that even though I didn’t enjoy Dresden much, I found Felix’s story to be really engaging.
    But maybe it depends on which books you read first since they all use similar characters, setup and plot solutions.

    • Hi Joanna – thank you for swinging by and taking the time to comment:). When I was a younger, voracious reader there wasn’t ANYTHING like urban fantasy. So I guess I’m making up for lost time, because as long as the writing is sharp, the plotting good and the characters interesting, I’ll read it until the cows come home! Yes, I have read the Felix Castor series and you’re right, it’s very well done. I also particularly love the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovich, also set in London, which I think is outstanding, as is Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series and the spinoff Magicals Anonymous, which also has a generous serving of humour… Have you read either of them?

      • No, I haven’t. I mostly steer away from urban fantasy: I read through some of Felix Castor books (I don’t think I’m on top of the series though), one book of Dresden (and was unimpressed) and 2 or 3 books from Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” series – I sort of liked it, but around book 3 the repetitive plot solutions started to irk me and I never continued it. I guess “Deathless” by Valente could be considered a kind of urban fantasy (though it’s set in Russia). I might have a look at the series you mention, though urban fantasy is rarely my first choice of a book.

      • I tend to feel a bit the same about epic Fantasy, though this year I’ve read some really enjoyable well-written offerings with a whole lot more pace and character than some of the turgid drivel I’ve previously trudged through… I recommend both series – the writing is very accomplished and though Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series definitely fell into a pattern, I still think the first two are worth reading.
        The ‘Deathless’ by Valente sounds intriguing. I very much enjoyed ‘The Night Watch’ by Sergei Lukyanenko. Is it like that, at all?

      • Oh, I didn’t know you’ve read Lukyanenko. I enjoyed his books.

        Deathless is nothing like his book though, I guess most wouldn’t even consider it urban fantasy. Valente is not Russian and you can feel it (well, Slavic people like me can feel it 😉 ), but it’s still a beautifully written story based on Russian folklore and tales. And I liked her Orphan’s Tales even more (because of it intricate Arabian-Nights-like structure). If you’re in for beautiful wordcraft and beautiful yet dark tales (nothing childish about them though), I do recommend both of the books.

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