Taken, by Benedict Jacka

Review published on September 30, 2013. Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy

Alex Verus’ life is running as smoothly as the life of an independent mage can run. He’s running his shop and training his apprentice Luna and trying to live his life as quietly as he can but it isn’t as easy as it used to be to keep his anonymity. His recent adventures and rather unexpected victories have brought him to the attention of the wider community of mages. So, when he is invited to travel to Fountain Reach to be a supervisor during a tournament for apprentice mages he isn’t too surprised. But since the past few times when he did accept requests for help from other mages have only lead to danger and brought him close to losing his life, Alex has no doubts when he reclines the mind-mage’s offer, despite her best efforts to control his thoughts.

When he is subsequently asked to look into the unexplained and suspicious disappearances of apprentices Alex does accept the invitation. And before he knows it Alex finds that he and Luna are on their way to Fountain Reach after all, where they will have to combine their efforts with two independent and initially very hostile apprentices.

While apprentices continue to disappear, Alex finds himself in an environment where spells don’t work as well as they should, facing an unknown opponent who seems to know his every move before he makes it, facing an long time enemy determined to kill him once and for all and not finding any clear clues as to why the young mages are disappearing or who is responsible.

And once it does become clear exactly what is going on, who is behind it and why it seems that Alex may at last have found himself an opponent he won’t be able to defeat.

This is the third Alex Verus book and just like “Fated” and “Cursed” this is a face-paced, thrilling, original and at times very funny story. Alex Verus is a wonderful main character. He is very likeable but by no means perfect; he has his quirks, his weaknesses and his pride to balance his inherent goodness and inclination to help those in an even weaker position than he is. As a diviner, Verus can’t so much predict the future as determine all the possible futures ahead of him depending on what choices he makes. And because he doesn’t really have any other magical powers, this ability to stay one step ahead of those around him comes in very handy.

I love that these stories are set in a London I recognise. This is the real world into which a magical layer has been incorporated in such a way that it is almost possible to believe that it really exists. I also like that while these books are clearly inspired by Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and this particular book has one or two features that reminded me of Hogwarts, the stories are fresh and original and don’t own anything to anyone except Benedict Jacka, the author who wrote them. On the other hand, it doesn’t surprise me at all that these books come with a recommendation from Jim Butcher. If either Harry Dresden or Alex Verus would cross the Atlantic I could see these two get into all sorts of adventures together.

As this series progresses Alex is picking up some rather interesting side-kicks. There is Luna, who because of her curse has to stay well away from all direct human contact. And in this book Anne, an apprentice life mage and Variam, an apprentice with control over fire are added to his unlooked for collection of strays. I can only hope that these three youngsters will be around in future books because they really add an extra dimension to the story.

Like I said, this is the third book in the Alex Verus series. And while it is perfectly possible to read this book as a stand-alone I would advice anyone to read the two prequels first. Apart from the fact that you’ll get more out of this book if you’re familiar with the background story, the earlier books are just too much fun to miss out on.

If you’re in the mood for an urban fantasy with a healthy dose of magic and lots of heart-stopping moments you could do a lot worse than to pick up this book. I would be surprised if you didn’t find yourself getting lost in this almost real, magical world only to surface after the mystery has been solved, danger has been averted and the story has been told.

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