Friday, December 20, 2013

"Chosen" by Benedict Jacka

(cover image from

Chosen is the fourth volume in Benedict Jacka's Alex Verus urban fantasy series, and it might be the best yet. (My brief reviews of the first three novels are here.)

In this book, we finally learn the details of Verus's past, when he was apprenticed to a powerful Dark mage. This has been an important part of the series all along, but even Verus hasn't known everything about what happened back then, and we readers have only seen hints of it. Now we know, and it's not pretty.

Verus has been trying to put all that behind him, but it's not going to stay in the past. In this book, he's attacked by a group of young adepts - single-talent magic-users, who are often treated badly by full mages - led by the brother of a woman Verus helped abduct more than a decade previously.

These people are deadly dangerous, and they just won't stop. Verus can't talk his way out of this, but he doesn't want to kill them, either. (Their anger has plenty of justification, after all.) Of course, he doesn't want to die, himself, and he certainly doesn't want to put his friends in danger.

What do you do when there are no good options? Yeah, this is fantasy, but it's a good question, and in this book, we see Alex Verus struggling with it. He doesn't want to kill, and he certainly doesn't want to be killed, but he can't talk his way out of it, either. These young adepts are blind in their hatred.

Meanwhile, the whole book is one desperate struggle for survival after another. Alex Verus isn't a very powerful mage, not by his society's standards. He's a diviner (he can see the probabilities of possible futures), which makes him pretty much a one-trick pony. So I've worried that it might get old. After all, we've already seen nearly everything Verus can do.

But Verus has friends, now. And as I read the previous books, I wondered if that's how the series would stay fresh. Well, that works well in this book, but it's also the case that Verus simply uses his brain. I like that. He's not especially powerful, but he gets the most out of what he's got.

Note that those friends also complicate matters, since Alex Verus cares about them. He's not the lone-wolf he used to be, which is very good for him, but still - very definitely - a source of worry.

Chosen opens with a peaceful scene which shows just how much his life has changed. But the past comes back with a vengeance. And there seems to be no good solution. At the end,... well, his life has changed again.

I was really impressed with this book. It's vastly entertaining, but thought-provoking, too. Yeah, it's pure fantasy, and you simply must suspend your disbelief and accept the premise. But the characters feel real, and their decisions feel like they matter.

As I say, Verus is facing a problem with no good solution. What do you do then? What would you do? This question is the whole point of Chosen. We all have to make decisions, and sometimes, we make the wrong decision. Frequently, those wrong decisions have consequences - consequences which might come back and bite us in the butt.

But what do you do if there are no good solutions, if all your choices are bad? Maybe that's a result of previous wrong decisions, but there's nothing you can do about that now. Can a decision be considered wrong if there are no right choices?

Note: The full list of my book reviews can be found here.

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