01/07/2012. Contributed by Vinca Russell
pub: Orbit. 309 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50025-6.
check out websites: www.orbitbooks.net and www.benedictjacka.co.uk
Alex Verus is back for another adventure in 'Cursed' by Benedict Jacka. This time Alex saves the life of an enchantress and, as a thank you for his troubles, becomes caught up in a plan to steal the energy from magical creatures using a dark ritual. Naturally, the good guys want to stop this from happening and the bad guys want all the power they can get, but it's not always clear which side is which. With a little help from old friends and maybe even from old enemies (after all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend isn't he?), Alex must prevent the ritual and once again try not to get killed in the process. As if that wasn't enough, his apprentice, Luna, has a new friend with a little magic problem that might get them all killed anyway and there's something powerful lurking in the depths that even Alex can't predict.
If you haven't read the first book in the Alex Verus series, 'Fated', then don't be afraid to pick this one up anyway as it's pretty much self-contained. We do see a number of recurring characters from book one but everything you need to know is explained again here. This is both a benefit and a drawback as far as I'm concerned. On the one hand, it's great to be able to dive in here and understand who everyone is and what is going on between them. On the other hand, it perhaps limits the amount of further development of the characters so that we don't learn all that much more about them by the end of book two.
'Cursed' is a good blend of the real and the magical, taking us on a journey from the mundane idiocy of tourists and the day-to-day pleasure of a stroll in the park to a different world where a giant spider is the best tailor around and you can share an otherworldly dreamspace if you have the courage. These contrasts are really what urban fantasy is all about - taking a place we think we know and adding in those layers of the fantastical and the unknown to take us away from reality - and Jacka accomplishes it well.
The dreamspace, called Elsewhere, is one of the things that is nicely expanded from the first book as we learn more about how it works, how greatly it differs depending on the person in control and how terrifying it can be. It was also good to see the return of the history mage, Sonder, who gets to play a much bigger part this time and whose calm and peaceful character complements well the almost ruthless nature of Alex that we see developing.
The plot probably won't have you gasping in surprise, but it's neatly tied together and once again I enjoyed the grey areas between Light and Dark, the difficult choices that need to be made when things get critical. There are also a few neat little hooks to get you back for the next book. Arachne seems to have a few secrets left to share, the relationship between Alex and Luna will be interesting to follow and as Alex seems to be developing a bit of a reputation, I'm sure more adventures will be heading his way very soon.
Overall, this was an enjoyable, if unchallenging, read. Jacka seems to be developing his own style, giving the world of Alex Verus a much more immersive quality and I have every hope that this will continue as the series progresses.
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