Taken is the third installment in British author Benedict Jacka’s urban fantasy series centering around a wizard named Alex Verus. Having run-ins with experienced battlemages and coming out victorious seems to boost one’s reputation. Such is Alex Verus discovering. Where a few months ago he was a relative unknown in the supernatural circles, Alex is now drawing the attention of some powerful players. As a very competent diviner—a mage who can see into the future—Alex’s abilities are in high demand.
And so Alex picks his contracts with care—because if there is one thing he hates, it’s unpredictability. However, his latest case is leaning more and more toward impossibility as he discovers more about it. Apprentices have been disappearing without a single trace, leaving Alex with no evidence, witnesses, or suspects. The only thing he does know is that someone is keeping tabs on him. Throw in an assassination attempt on one of his apprentice’s classmates, a Dark mage with a personal grudge against Alex crossing his path, and a vengeful rakshasa, and Alex might just have more on his hands than he can handle.
Oh, and someone on the mages’ Council might be involved.
No pressure or anything.
I have never before really appreciated how lucky American urban fantasy-reading audiences are. In my own personal experience, most of urban fantasy literature is set within the United States, and therefore I, as an American, don’t have to get used to the societal reflections within the story as those who don’t live in America might. In my reading history, I have experienced a bit of disconnect with urban fantasy written by British authors for similar things. This is not a good nor a bad thing, it’s just something that is. However, it has detracted from my overall reading experience in the past (looking at you, Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series and Simon R. Green’s Nightside and Secret Histories series).
However, I have not had any disconnect with Benedict Jacka’s writing in his first two novels, and he continues this trend in Taken. Even though the story moves us out of London proper for a good chunk of the novel, Jacka is clear and distinct enough with his worldbuilding that audiences not familiar with Britain can follow without a hitch.
Precise world building
With Taken, Jacka continues to showcase his style of world building. Unlike authors who will toss their readers right in and hope for the best, or like authors who are hesitant about world building overpowering the story and so only give sporadic infodumps, Jacka finds a balance between the two. In the Alex Verus novels, he is very precise with his world building, only giving it when it is absolutely needed. Even then, though, it’s not a blatant, obvious thing. Instead, it comes not just from narrative description, but from the character interactions and the like. It’s not the most organic world building I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely one of the most efficient styles I’ve read recently.
The one thing that didn’t really impress me about Taken was the story. While reading, it catches you up and doesn’t let you go—but when thinking about it afterward, you realize that not a whole lot happened, especially compared with Fated and Cursed. It’s not that it wasn’t compelling, it just seems that Alex went around in circles for a lot of the novel.
Also, I really didn’t fear for Alex’s well-being in this novel—definitely not to the extent I did in the previous two installments, at least. In Fated, especially, I got a sense of how powerful Alex could be, but also of just how very vulnerable he is. This sense was almost non-existent in Taken—which could just be an extension of Alex’s growing confidence, but I think he works better as a vulnerable character.
Now, both of these things seemed lacking due to the expectations I had coming out of Fated and Cursed, so don’t take this to mean that I hated the story—not at all. It just wasn’t as meaty as I had expected and hoped it was going to be. I hope that Jacka gives us a bit more in the next Alex Verus novel.
Despite the story lacking in comparison to the rest of the series, the characters within Taken are brilliantly realized. And not just the old faces who we’ve seen before—Jacka is a competent enough wordsmith that he is able to fit new characters naturally into the world he’s created. Alex and Luna are the obvious old faces, and Luna gets a decent chunk of screen time here—not as much as in Cursed, but the story is less about her this time around. Sonder makes a few appearances and we see that he’s matured a bit—and also has a bit of a crush on someone in particular.
However, it was the new characters that really drove a lot of the story in Taken. Jacka crafted detailed backstories for most of the characters introduced, and they fit naturally within his world. Beyond that, they are also completely believable people. All of this especially counts in regards to two of Luna’s classmates: Variam Singh and Anne Walker. I definitely wouldn’t want to get on Variam’s bad side, but despite his badassery, I think my favorite character in Taken is Anne. She’s a complicated character, but an honest one—something that Alex isn’t used to. And they interact a lot over the course of the story. I hope we see her again, and I am going to put my prediction out there right now that she and Luna are going to get in a spat over a particular someone.
Why should you read this book?
If you want an urban fantasy not set in the United States, you need to read this series. As always, I recommend starting with book one (Fated), but Taken is able to stand on its own. If you’re looking for an exciting read that balances between being a fun romp and a suspenseful story, read this book. A worthy installment to a series sure to appeal to fans of Jim Butcher and featuring a fantastically-realized world and characters who could walk off the page, sit down on your sofa, and share a drink with you, Taken is a stay-up-all-night-until-you-finish read that will leave you wanting more.