Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and waterways. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals and where tourists and moody teenagers mingle.
In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might 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 has just turned up at the British Museum.
Another book, another alternative London. (There’s a theme in my reading at the moment it would seem) this time the world of Alex Verus. A magician trying to live a quiet life, in his little shop, doing a bit of trading here and there and keeping his hand in occasionally.
The alternative London on show, isn’t as fantastical as say The City’s Boy (review due next month) or Neverwhere, (although there is a wonderful character who is a huge spider!) but, based much more in the society of Mages that Alex used to be a part of.
I did like the (quite harsh) back story that Benadict Jacka built for Alex, it explains a lot of his motivations and the attitudes of the good and bad mages we meet though out the story and there’s a definite blurring of bad and good when if comes to the morality on show…
Anybody that has read Jim Butcher’s work will find some very familiar themes here, a fact acknowledged by a blurb from the man himself and nod towards someone who can only be Harry Dresdon early on. But, Benedict Jacka mostly succeeds in forging his own route through familiar ground.
The plot itself is interesting and pretty fast paced, building towards a satisfying conclusion. For me it did stumble a little early on, mostly because (I think) Alex is being played by so many sides, it takes him a while (and therefore the plot) to find his feet. I’m all for keeping MC’s on their toes, but it felt he spent most of the time reacting rather than forging ahead.
Still, he’s nicely complex lead character, a mostly decent guy who wants to do the right thing, but with a dark past (that he is clearly still trying to fully come to terms with, despite what he may think.) that sometimes conflicts with that decency, and with plenty of skeletons still in his closet, which bodes well for future books, meaning we still have plenty to learn about him.
Something I know other reviews have noted is the sexist world that appears to exist with the Council and the Mages.
I loved Starbreeze and Luna, but they are most certainly in the quirky, kooky roles, who despite having their moments are cast in the victim roles, to be at some point rescued by Alex. The book is desperately needing a strong female character or two (I have to note here that despite being slightly quirky and called Luna, she is not a carbon copy of Luna in the HP books).
From what we learn about the rest of the world, this is probably not to be unexpected and I don’t particularly have an issue with it, as long as we grow past it.
So, it’s not perfect by any means, but the bits that work, work really well, and the more I read the book, the more I wanted to keep reading, (and carry on to the next one), which is as good a sign as any, I suppose. I’d like to see that continue into the next book (which I’ve already bought), and for some of the female characters to step out of stereotype and into the 21st century. I have every hope this will happen.
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