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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cursed by Benedict Jacka (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read the first chapter HERE
Order the book HERE
Read FBC’s review of Fated

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Benedict Jacka first thought of becoming a writer when at the age of eighteen he started writing a story in his school library. Since then he's graduated with a B.A. in philosophy from Cambridge, lived in China, and worked in various different occupations such as civil servant, bouncer and teacher before returning to London to study law. He’s also taken part in competitive ballroom dancing and martial arts. He currently lives in London.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Things are going well for Alex Verus. He’s on moderately good terms with the Council, Luna’s settling in as his apprentice, and nobody has tried to kill him in weeks.

But when a mysterious woman bursts into his shop one night with a construct assassin on her tail, he’s thrown into the middle of a plot to revive a long-forbidden ritual for draining the power from living creatures. Alex’s old enemies Cinder and Deleo are after the secret, as well as a Council mage named Belthas and a mercenary named Garrick; at least one of them is trying to get Alex killed, and unfortunately for Alex he doesn’t know which. 

And finally, Luna’s found a boyfriend. In between dodging assassination attempts and trying to keep Luna in one piece, Alex needs to figure out who’s really playing who – and whose side he should be on. He can see the future, but knowing whom to trust is something else.

FORMAT/INFO: Cursed is 293 pages long, divided over twelve chapters. Narration is in the first-person solely via Alex Verus. It also contains a chapter excerpt for Taken. Cursed is the second book in the Alex Verus series and can be read as a standalone title.

May 29, 2012 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Cursed via ACE books. The UK version was released in both paperback and e-book format on June 7, 2012 via Orbit.

ANALYSIS: Benedict Jacka’s debut Fated came with high praise from Anne Sowards and Jim Butcher and therefore had a higher amount of anticipation from most readers (including myself). Fated was a decent debut as noted in my review, it had its share of shining points and some dull edges that made it seem like most other highly anticipated debuts. Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review also noted some points which I thought were crucial in highlighting the book’s not-so-rosy spots. All in all I was curious to see where the author would take the story next and with the release schedule being so reader friendly, I dove into Cursed.

The title of the book like its predecessor does give a small clue into the book’s plot, while the first book gave us a look into Alex Verus and his power as a diviner. This book while focusing on him also takes a closer look at Luna and her power arising from her familial curse. The story begins with Alex working with the Council thankfully on better terms due to his actions as seen in Fated. The council asks for his help on tasks due to his non-aligned nature and one such task finds him visiting an old factory in a decrepit part of London. His presence is required as he helps a group of soldiers lead by a man called Garrick to capture and possibly kill a creature called Barghest. They find out that some one has beaten them to it and since nothing can be done about it, Alex retires back to his shop.

His problems begin once again as Luna his assistant cum apprentice brings her new squeeze who picks up a certain deadly object from Alex’s shop and it seems that Alex can’t do much to stop it. To add to that a woman named Meredith is attacked near his shop and she decides to take sanctuary within. All of these things combine to give Alex a scare like no other and pretty soon other mages become embroiled in these matters, giving Alex no respite but to step in and once again try saving everyone including himself, Luna, and his friends as this time the web around him is too convoluted for him to decipher.

The plot in this book is a welcome respite from that of its predecessor, beginning from its usual mystery, the readers will be given more than just one case as Alex Verus is drawn into multiple schemes, some inadvertently like the case of Meredith trying to escape a monster, some through obligation as in with Luna and her boyfriend and lastly through his past history with Deleo and Cinder, the dark mages who are fiddling with a crucial power. All of these schemes have Alex running from pillar to post without any respite and all the while trying to stay one step ahead with his divining abilities. The author has to be lauded for completely overhauling the faults and discrepancies of his debut, not only is the plot twisted but also has quite some pace to it. Beginning from a quiet trip to a factory, the author lulls the reader as well as his protagonist into a false sense of security about the overall direction of the storyline before violently yanking the carpet from one’s feet both literally and figuratively.

The twists in this story will definitely surprise the readers as well as keep them flipping pages all the way to the surprising conclusion. I could not help but be nicely surprised at all the revelations this story had to offer in terms of the world, the magic system as well certain facets of a few characters. Alex Verus as a narrative force excels in his second outing as in the first book; there were more than a few comparisons to his famous compatriot across the pond in a certain windy city. However the author shows that Alex is his own man and while showing a tremendous resilience similar to that employed by Harry Dresden, he has his own style to enamor readers with. London as showcased in the story is also explored and more facets about its magical past and present are revealed to the reader. One particular subterranean revelation should have the readers buzzing in regards to its origin, purpose and over all effect in the future and kudos to the author for introducing such an unpredictable twist in the story.

In the previous book review I had mentioned five aspects about the book that made it seem too much like a clone of the Dresden Files, I’m happy to report that while many of those points are present, their influence has been effectively dulled. The protagonist takes the center stage and the readers will get to see the story develop around him and with the twists that occur, it should keep most readers guessing what will happen next. Some of those twists are a bit predictable in regards to the motivations of certain characters however the author definitely tries to compensate that by making the associations between characters that much harder to figure out.

There’s also the secretive past of Alex Verus that was so seductively mentioned in the first book and gets teased in this one as well, the readers however get no concrete information about him except some crucial observations from Cinder in regards to Alex’s nature. With a series one can never be sure how much the author will tip his hand in regards to the mysteries and so we will have to wait for the next book to see if we get to learn more about him. Lastly the way the story ends, readers will be itching to get their hands on Taken the third volume of the Alex Verus series and I will be among them as well.

CONCLUSION: Benedict Jacka outshines his debut effort and makes a case for himself and his series to be taken seriously. Cursed ups the ante in almost every department of the book and it will fetch the author more fans as they strive to find satisfaction from books other than the Dresden Files. Be sure to check out this wonderful series set in London about a secretive diviner mage and the people around him.


SQT said...

I was actually looking for a reason to give this series a try. I guess a lot of authors don't find their stride until they've written a few books. I wasn't a huge fan of the first October Daye book by Seanan McGuire but I'm constantly told I need to keep going. That might be the case with this series too.

The Reader said...


The first book FATED wasn't all that great but it did lay a good foundation, this book just takes off from its starting pages and makes the story end on an interesting turn.

I'm in for this series simply based on the excellence showcased in this book.



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