Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review of Cursed Book Two of the Alex Verus Series by Benedict Jacka

Verus is back in good favour with the light mages and has settled into a routine of training his apprentice Luna.  He still worries about introducing her to other mages, but he is determined to teach her how to manage her curse.  It seems that things cannot run smooth in Verus' life for long, because he is quickly on the hunt to find out who is draining the magic from magical creatures.  That should be enough for him to deal with, but when Meredith shows up at his door being chased by a construct and asking for help, Verus has yet another problem to deal with.  Who is this woman and what is she really after?

His apprentice Luna is frustrated at the slow rate of her training and her lack of involvement with other mages.  More than anything, Luna wants control of her curse and to live a normal life. When Martin enters her life and offers Luna her hearts by using the monkey's paw - a magical object.  Martin's pull on Luna quickly places a wedge between her and Alex.  Verus draws in Sonders for research, but can the two of them find enough reason to convince Luna that Martin is dangerous? To make matters worse, Arachne, one of the few beings he is comfortable around is in serious trouble.

Is you can probably guess, Jacka packed a lot of action into Cursed.  In Fated we got a lot of information about Alex's backstory, but in in Cursed, it felt like Jacka stopped developing his character.  Alex basically moved from situation to situation with very little insight or development.  One of the things that made him unique in the first book was his magic, but I found that in Cursed that Jacka put a gun into his hands far too often.  One of things which distinguished Alex from other male protagonists, is that he had to reason his way out of  issues, but in Cursed this was greatly diminished.

Unfortunately, Jacka continues to have a problem with his female characters. I understand that Luna has been cursed; however, the rapidity with which she enteres a relationship with Michael simply does not make any sense to me whatsoever. This entire situation seems to exist to make her appear in need of guidance and protection.  It makes Luna appear simple and overly naive.  Meredith is the other female character in Cursed and she is essentially a trope. Her power is to enchant people and Alex finds himself sexually attracted to her to the point of distraction.  In and of itself, this character would not have been a problem had Jacka given us well rounded female characters to juxtapose with Meredith. A woman who uses her beauty and sexuality to trick men is not new and in fact is sexist.  One of the largest problems with Jacka's female characters is that Arachne functions as the voice or reason, but she is not actually human.  This is further problematized by the fact that even Arachne needs to be saved in this story and in fact, so are Deleo who is a powerful mage, as well as Luna.

Once again, London is the setting for this series but continues to be highly erased.  As I said in my review of Fated, this is absolutely normal for urban fantasy but that does not make it anymore acceptable. London is an extremely diverse city, and yet neither of Jacka's books have any characters of colour, or any characters who are GLBT. Even with all of Jacka's great descriptive work to stage his setting, the lack of diversity makes it hard to believe that his story is truly set in London.

Okay, I know that I have listed a lot of faults with this book, but the truth of the matter is that I very much enjoyed reading it and I like Jacka's style of writing.  I think that he is incredibly imaginative and when he does not get bogged down in tropes, there is something extremely unique about his work. His novels thus far have been fairly quickly paced and even though they involve magic, Jacka makes it all feel extremely plausible, which is a tough task in this genre.  In books to come, I hope to see further development of the female characters, as well as an enlargement of Jacka's world but mostly, I just want to see what scrape Verus is going to get into next.