Tag Archives: Benedict Jacka

Friday Faceoff – Love is friendship set on fire…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is fire, so I’ve chosen Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka.

 

This is the cover produced by Ace in April 2016 is certainly eye-catching. I love the view of the Shard from across the Thames bathed in the beautiful patterns of yellow, orange and red in an artist’s impression of fire. The darker cloud of sooty smooth behind the title font is both simple and effective. This is my favourite cover.

 

This UK offering, produced by Orbit in April 2016 is also well crafted and beautiful. The map of London is superimposed upon a red flame licking up the cover. However, I do find the blurb bang in the middle of the cover detracts from the drama and complexity of artwork.

 

Published in April 2016 by Tantor Audible, this cover is another compelling effort with the far more realistic flames engulfing the London cityscape with the Thames in the foreground. However, I think the title font is plain to the point of disappointing. What do you think and which is your favourite?

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London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

Weekly Wrap-Up – 10th April 2016

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This is where I join in the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where bloggers can share what they’re reading and what they’re writing about.

For the second week in a row I completed reading five books, and will be reviewing all of them, although I haven’t yet written them all, as my grannying duties this week have got in the way of my blogging. Again, a couple of these books I completed while reading them to the grandchildren. I have already posted a couple reviews as they were published this week, but the others are still waiting to see the light of day.

 

Desolation – Book 2 of The Demon Road trilogy by Derek LandyDesolation
This children’s horror is all about a couple on the run from a demon. I’m impressed at how well written and entertaining it is, with plenty of action and plot twists – and how it all kicks off when they end up in a town called Desolation… This review was posted on Thursday.

 

burnedBurned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
This is the latest instalment in the adventures of the divination mage Alex Verus. A foot-to-the-floor, adrenaline-fuelled novel with a shocking conclusion. As this book was published on Thursday, I posted my review on Saturday.

 

The Witches Revenge – Book 2 of Beaver Towers by Nigel Hintonwitchesrevenge
The Easter holidays has given me the opportunity to continue reading this enjoyable children’s fantasy adventure to my grandson. This book is far scarier than the first in the series and enthralled us both, so I read far later into the night than I’d intended. The review will appear in due course.

 

therhesuschartThe Rhesus Chart – Book 5 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross
Arcane British agent, Bob Howard, is confronted once more with beings with paranormal powers, meaning that the Government agency The Laundry has to swing into action. This supernatural whodunit is distinguished by the sharp, snarky first person commentary by Bob.

 

Space Hostages – Book 2 of the Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougallspacehostages
This hugely enjoyable science fiction adventure is for children, apparently, but we were all giggling in some places and enthralled in others. I will be posting the review of this in due course.

 

My posts last week were:-
Weekly Wrap-Up – 3rd April
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuirre
Teaser Tuesday – Desolation – Book 2 of The Demon Road by Derek Landy
*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Gasp by Trevor Hoyle
* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Desolation – Book 2 of The Demon Road by Derek Landy
Friday Faceoff – UK vs US books covers of Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff
* NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

It’s been a busy week with grannying, so the blog and writing have taken a back seat, somewhat. My most popular post was last Sunday’s Weekly Wrap Up, closely followed by my Tuesday Teaser.

I’d like to thank everyone who swung by, particularly those of you who went to the trouble of leaving a comment. Take care and have a great week, now that the trees are finally starting to burst into leaf – yay!

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Burned – Book 7 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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I was keenly anticipating this book – to the extent that I pre-ordered it on Amazon and we don’t do that all that often. So did it live up to expectations?

burnedDiviner Alex Verus finally made one too many enemies on the Council of Mages, and now one of them is angry enough to have him executed. Fighting for his life is nothing new, but this kill order also calls for the death of Alex’s dependents—and there’s no way that he’ll let Luna, Anne, and Vari take the heat. With only a week before he’s history, Alex will have to figure out how to disassociate himself from his friends, scrounge up allies on the Council, and hopefully keep his head attached to his body.

No hanging about with this slice of the Alex Verus storyline – we are immediately confronted with the death sentence that has been passed by the Council of Mages. This single act turns Alex’s life upside down and we get a ringside seat in first person viewpoint as he battles to cope with the consequences of this latest problem. I have always thoroughly enjoyed Jacka’s take on Alex’s divination gift. He is not a particularly powerful mage, but with focus born of years of practice, during a fight he can sort through a variety of possible futures and find the few where he survives. Of course, it’s all well and good setting up this dynamic, but it only really works if it is effectively written, which is a lot harder to do than Jacka makes it look. He has to keep up the pace and tension during the action scenes, as well as giving us Alex’s desperate attempts to sift through the various options allowing him to stay alive. Fortunately, he is very successful at managing this trick.

There are times when I read a fantasy world and wish I were there, however I surface from an Alex Verus novel profoundly relieved I am me, living right here. While there are Dark and Light mages, the difference between them is not as wide as you might imagine. The Light mages are not all about sprinkles, unicorns and doing the Right Thing – they are about keeping more or less a status quo where magic-users have a measure of independence and trying to work together. However powerful magic-users have about as much team spirit as a clowder of cats, so they spend a great deal of time negotiating and squabbling with each other. While the Dark mages are all about acquiring power. So the majority of people within the magical community align themselves to one or other in order to survive. Verus, after escaping his abusive apprenticeship with one of the most lethal Dark mages, vows never to join any faction. And in doing so, immediately sets himself against a range of powerful, vested interests.

I love the intricacies of this world and as with any successful long-running fantasy series, there is also a strong supporting cast of characters. My current favourites are Luna, Alex’s chance-cursed apprentice and Anne, a life mage. There is also an impressive range of lethally inventive and powerful enemies ranged against Alex, and this is the book where they all seem to finally gain momentum to thoroughly upset his current existence.

As for the ending… well, I didn’t see THAT coming! Without encroaching into Spoiler territory, suffice to say it is a major gamechanger that will test Alex in ways he has never been tested before. So the Higbee household are now eagerly anticipating the release of the next book. In the meantime, don’t rush out and get hold of Burned if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading the previous six books – instead tuck into the first book, Fated. This enjoyable series deserves to be read in order as it goes on delivering.
10/10

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

Review of Fated – Book 1 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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There’s been a slew of excellent fantasy featuring London, recently – Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor series, Ben Aaronovich’s Peter Grant series and Nick Harkaway’s latest hefty offering, Angelmaker, spring to mind, for starters. Now add another newcomer – Benedict Jacka. The snag in choosing a genre as popular as urban fantasy, however, is that it is already crowded with plenty of excellent writing. Can Jacka’s new hero, Alex Verus, favourably compare in such company?

In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you’ll find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his would-be apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light and investigating a mysterious relic that’s just turned up at the British Museum.

fatedIf you’re thinking that the blurb sounds a tad familiar, you’d be right. There is a lot about this book that will be squarely bang in the middle of the genre conventions – London is used as an effective backdrop to a lot of the magical chicanery; Alex Verus with his trolleyful of emotional baggage could fairly be described as isolated and conflicted; there is a swathe of magical infighting that somehow sucks Alex in… But what is also true is that Jacka has added some twists of his own. Alex is a probability mage. His particular gift is the ability to be able to see into the future. Jacka has thought through what this gift actually would encompass – and I found his take on divination a plausible and enjoyable version that provides Alex with problems and strengths in equal measure.

And he certainly has problems as he crosses paths with the Dark Mages, whose brutal treatment of their apprentices – or anyone else who takes their fancy – is overlooked by the Council responsible for magical law and order. There are a number of vividly depicted antagonists whose brand of aggressive battle magic manage to make Voldemort look almost cuddly. There are also some intriguing allies – Luna, whose family curse means that if anyone gets too physically close to her they end up dying; Starbreeze, a friendly air elemental that whisks Alex off at the speed of wind that ensures the pace doesn’t flag and Sondor, a bookish mage with a real interest in History.

The writing is slick and accomplished. Scene setting and exposition are all seamlessly woven into the story arc, which is a deal harder than Jacka makes it look. As I’ve mentioned, the story is set in London and Jacka uses particular landmarks, such as the British Museum, to great effect. While Alex is hauled unwillingly into the middle of the action, we are also given slices of backstory that explains why he is so paranoid and anti-social. Overall, this debut is a thoroughly entertaining, satisfying read that establishes Jacka as One To Watch. If you have a weakness for conflicted wizards that operate in a hostile, layered world and haven’t yet encountered Fated, then I recommend that you go looking for this book – because when you do, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t immediately go hunting for the sequel, Cursed, once you’ve completed the book.
9/10