Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Underrated Books Part 2: The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka

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I love paranormal mysteries. I am also really, really picky. I like narrators that have strong voices and a healthy sense of humor; I like books that are well-crafted and worlds I could believe are real. And I love a good mystery.

Alex Verus satisfies all of these tastes better than anything else I've read. The top five reasons I love it:

5. The World

I can name one series off the top of my head that I put down because the world felt thin. I can name another one that I got very, very tired of the additions to the world; too quickly they started to feel like alterations. Alex Verus, on the other hand, lives in a world that is beautifully crafted and utterly believable. We learn more and more about this world as we go through the series, but it all fits together. Things that look like oversights in the first book turn out to be crucial to the plot of the third book. And I believe this world. It feels real, magic aside. The way people react to that magic plays a huge role in that belief; despite being mages and adepts, they all react in very human ways to the world around them.

4. The Serial Nature

I'm a big fan of serial stories, mainly because I really like characters growing and changing and that just doesn't happen in episodic series. Alex's world changes. His relationships with people change; his developing master/apprentice relationship with Luna is a major arc throughout the books. His backstory continues to be revealed at the same time that he changes in how he treats it and how he reacts in the present. And how the world reacts to him changes too, as he goes through the adventures of the books. From one book to the next, you're watching a slightly different batch of characters move through a slightly different world, because everything changes and progresses, and that to me makes for an exciting, dynamic series.

3. The Side Characters

I. Love. These. Characters. I love Sonder's history nerdery. I love Luna's growth regarding her curse. I love Arachne's everything (giant spider who designs clothes and chews Alex out for ruining them). I love Talisid's utter lack of subtlety, I love Deleo's progression, I love Shireen, I love Cinder's interactions with Alex, I love all of them. The only ones I don't love are the ones I would love to stab and those are the ones I'm supposed to hate so to be honest all the characters are perfect.

2. The Plots

I wish I could say more about the plots without spoiling it. I will say that they, like the world, are all utterly believable. They, like the world, are dynamic and interlink with each other. They are well-crafted, driven by all-too-human motives and mages, suspenseful, and pack a punch every time.

1. Alex Himself

Like I said, I'm very picky about narrative voice. There are series that people love that I just find the narrator boring. If you're going to write in first person, make sure the voice is one that I can stick with for hundreds of pages at a time.

Good news: I can stick with Alex for a thousand pages at a time. I read the entire series almost straight through; the last two I read in one day each. Alex has the kind of voice that I would like to be friends with. He makes me laugh about things that shouldn't be funny. He's brutally pragmatic (another thing I love in a character). He has a backstory that is neither forced nor overwhelmingly bleak. And he learns. Through the series he grows and changes and learns from his mistakes. He's easily one of my favorite fantasy narrators.

0: I'm really, really excited for Hidden

Okay, this isn't so much a reason why I love the series as a result of all the reasons above. Without spoiling anything, Chosen was a huge pivot point for Alex and his world, and I'm super excited to see how it plays out in Hidden.

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