Marked (Alex Versus Series #9)

Marked (Alex Versus Series #9)

by Benedict Jacka

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Mage Alex Verus is hanging on by a thread in the ninth urban fantasy novel from the national bestselling author of Burned.

When Mage Alex Verus ends up with a position on the Light Council, no one is happy, least of all him. But Alex is starting to realize that if he wants to protect his friends, he'll need to become a power player himself. His first order of business is to track down dangerous magical items unleashed into the world by Dark Mages.

But when the Council decides they need his help in negotiating with the perpetrators, Alex will have to use all his cunning and magic to strike a deal—and stop the rising tension between the Council, the Dark Mages, and the adept community from turning into a bloodbath.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101988541
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Series: Alex Versus Series , #9
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 198,391
Product dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Benedict Jacka is half-Australian, half-Armenian, and grew up in London. He’s worked as a teacher, bouncer, and civil servant, and spends his spare time skating and playing tabletop games. He’s the author of the Alex Verus series, including BoundBurnedVeiledHidden, and Chosen.

Read an Excerpt

chapter 1

The factory hadn't changed much in five years. The building was the same shade of brownish grey, grime on brick, and the rusted coils of razor wire still gaped atop the walls. From my position on the rooftop I could look down into what had been the car park, and into the windows of the factory itself. There were no signs of movement, but that didn't matter; I knew what was inside. Off to the right, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf rose into the night, yellow-white pinpoints glittering off the dark waters of the Thames, topped by the double strobe of the pyramid-shaped tower. The hum of a boat's engine blended with the deeper rustle of the waves, all of it merging into the sounds of London.

It was June, but the night wasn't a warm one. The breeze off the water was keeping the air cool, enough so that my armour was comfortable to wear. My armour is plate and mesh, an imbued item, alive in its own way, and if I focused on it, I could feel its presence, guarded and watchful. There was a second imbued item tucked into my pocket-a dreamstone-and a third hidden in that factory. Of the three, my armour was the only one I was glad for. It might not be the strongest of items, but it was one I'd come to trust, and its reactive mesh had saved my life more than once. It could deflect a knife or bullet, maybe even a spell from a battle-mage.

Assuming the battle-mage didn't have time to study the armour beforehand and figure out exactly how much power he'd need to pierce it.

A voice spoke from behind. "Hey."

"Correct term of address, please," I said absently. Normally I go by Verus to colleagues and Alex to friends. As of eight months ago, I'd picked up a new title.

The man behind me grimaced, thinking I couldn't see him. He was young, with close-cut hair and a narrow face, and he'd been staring at my back for the past few minutes. His name was Chimaera, and he was the newest and youngest of the three Keepers assigned with me to this job.

"Councillor," Chimaera said grudgingly. "We going?"

"Patience," I said. Sergeant Little was due to call, but it wouldn't be for another two to five minutes. So I'd gone up here to admire the view, and to see if Chimaera would make a move. So far he hadn't, but I'd seen flickers of possibilities where he did, enough that I was continuing to stand with my back to him, waiting to see if he'd give in to temptation. I wondered whether Chimaera had volunteered, or whether someone had put him here. I could look into it, if I had the time.

Standing here made me think of the first time I'd come to this factory. I'd been hunting a barghest, and once it was over I'd met Luna up on this rooftop and warned her that the Keepers who'd been working with us today might be our enemies tomorrow. I'd thought I was experienced; with hindsight, in my own way, I'd been as naive as her. Back then I'd thought of the Council as a single block, something to work with or distrust. But it wasn't a single block: it was a thousand individuals, each with their own motivations and agenda. Trust didn't come into it; you work with the tools you're given.

My communicator was about to ping, and the short-term futures were quiet. Chimaera wasn't going to try it. Pity. I waited for the voice in my ear to say my name before answering. "Verus."

"We're ready," Sergeant Little's voice said.

"On my way," I replied, and turned. "Time to go."

Chimaera nodded. I could feel his eyes on my back all the way down.

The men were already assembled when we arrived. There were twenty Council security, armed and armoured, led by a compact, tough-looking man with sharp blue eyes called Sergeant Little. Of the two Keepers, I only knew one, a tall veteran with a long face who went by the name of Ilmarin. The other, Saffron, was a heavily built woman whose communication consisted mostly of grunts.

"Our target's in the factory," I said. "Both him and the people he's suborned. Sergeant, pick out enough men to cover the exits. The rest of us will go in through the front door."

"ROE?" Sergeant Little asked.

He meant the rules of engagement. It was a good question, and one with no good answer. "Nonlethal where possible. Remember, these are civilians."

The sergeant nodded slowly, though I could tell he was doubtful. One of the other men wasn't so reticent. "All due respect, sir, but that's going to be a bit hard if they're shooting at us."

"I'll be on point," I said. "Keepers Saffron and Ilmarin will assist. We'll disarm as many as we can."

"What about me?" Chimaera said.

"You're rearguard."

"Why should I-"

"Because Ilmarin and Saffron can subdue nonlethally," I said. Ilmarin was an air mage, and Saffron a mind mage. "You can't. Unless you were planning to burn them half to death."

Chimaera scowled. Fire mages are notoriously bad at using less-than-lethal force, and they don't respond well to criticism, either. "You're going to prove something by going first?"

I saw the faces of the security men shift, and several looked at Chimaera with expressions that were a little too neutral. The Council has a habit of using its security forces as screening units, and if someone needs to be first through a door, then it's usually a Council security man who gets the job, in much the same way that one might poke a suspicious object with a long stick. Sometimes the object turns out to be a bomb, which is hard on the stick. The men (and it's almost entirely men) on the Council security forces know the risks of the job, and they're paid well, but no one likes to be reminded that they're expendable. Ilmarin shot Chimaera a sharp glance, which the younger mage didn't notice.

"Is this the kind of discipline Keepers are taught nowadays?" I didn't raise my voice, but I didn't take my eyes off Chimaera either. "You were assigned to my command. If you have a problem with that, get lost."

Chimaera glowered but didn't answer. I waited a second, then turned back to the others. "Primary objective hasn't changed. Remember, there isn't any limit on the number of thralls this thing can maintain. It takes it a certain amount of time to bring someone under its control, but once it's got them, it keeps them. That means the longer we leave this problem, the worse it's going to get."

"What about the bearer?" Sergeant Little asked.

"No restrictions," I said. "Take him down any way you can." I would have liked to take the guy alive, but I was asking enough from the men as it was. I looked around. "Any questions?"

The group looked at me. No one spoke. "Okay," I said. "Move out."

Up close, the factory loomed like a monstrous shadow. Orange radiance from the streetlights lit up the upper walls, while the ground floor was shrouded in gloom. "One on the gate," Ilmarin said quietly into my ear.

I nodded. I could have crept up and taken him down, but we could afford to take things slowly. "Saffron?"

Saffron leant around the railings, staring into the shadows surrounding the front door. I could feel the spell working, a kind of rhythmic pull. Mind magic is hard to detect; it's not easy to make out the details of a spell even when you know what to look for. Thirty seconds passed, a minute, then I saw a dark shape slump to the ground. The futures in which the alarm was raised vanished.

We moved up, the security men trailing us. Once we reached the door I clicked on my light, shining it down. The beam revealed a kid of maybe seventeen or eighteen, dressed in dirty clothes. He was fast asleep, breathing slowly and steadily, and on his head was a silver-mesh cap.

"That's how it controls them?" Sergeant Little asked quietly.

I nodded. The Council records on this thing had been thorough, and they'd contained drawings of similar devices. The cap was made of metal, crudely soldered, and it was clamped around the boy's skull. "How long would it take you to get it off?" I asked Saffron.

Saffron shrugged.

Which meant I couldn't count on her to do it fast enough. "Cuff him and move him back to the perimeter," I said. This one hadn't been carrying a gun; that would change once we got inside.

Little's men removed the sleeping boy while Ilmarin worked on the door. It opened quickly and we moved in.

We picked our way through dark corridors. Junk and rubbish littered the floor, making it hard to find a path, and every now and then there'd be the crunch of something being crushed under an unwary boot. Each time it happened, Little would shoot a glare at the offending person, but I didn't turn to look; all my attention was focused on the futures ahead.

There were signs that the factory was in use-footprints in the grime, splinters of wood and brick that had been kicked out of the way-but there had been no attempt to make the place more hospitable. There was no power, and judging by the smell, no plumbing either. Even if there had been, I didn't think anyone would want to live here. The factory had an unwholesome feel to it, malignant and cold.

There was a metallic skittering, something small bouncing away down the corridor. "Hold up," Ilmarin said quietly. He put a hand to the wall. "Sergeant?"

"I see it," Sergeant Little said, frowning at the scratches and pockmarks in the concrete. "Looks like an AP mine."

"They've got the place trapped?"

"No," I said absently.

Behind me, I felt Ilmarin and Little exchange glances. Little bent down, picked up a ball bearing, sniffed at it. "It's not new."

"You sure?" Ilmarin said. "If there are mines here . . ."

"This is years old," I said.

Ilmarin gave me a thoughtful look. He'd been with me the last time we'd come here, and there hadn't been any mines. "He's right," Little said. "Too much dust in the scorings."

"You hear that?" one of the other men said.

We stood still, listening. After a moment I could pick it out: a steady throbbing sound. "Generator?" Little asked.

"I think so," Ilmarin said.

"All right," I said. "Little, have the men do their final checks."

"You're still planning to be the first one in?" Ilmarin asked me.

"You don't approve?"

"I don't mind backing you up, if that's what you're asking," Ilmarin said dryly. "But I have a shield."

"Well, I don't," Saffron announced, "and I'm not going in first."

"Stay and cover the door," I told her. "You can pick them off from there."

"And Chimaera?" Ilmarin asked.

The young Keeper was at the back of our procession, far enough away to be out of hearing for the conversation. "I meant what I said," I told Ilmarin. "I want these people alive."

"You do make life difficult for yourself," Ilmarin murmured, but his lips quirked in a smile. "Well, then. Shall we?"

I looked at Little and got his nod. "Let's go kick the hornet's nest."

The main factory floor had been mostly cleared. The old machines, too heavy to be moved, still squatted like rusting statues, but the concrete around them had been swept clean, the rubbish piled untidily in the corners. In the centre of the floor were a pair of splintered wooden tables, and a dozen people were clustered around each, sitting on broken chairs and old packing crates. They were young and old, male and female, and they were all hunched over, working with feverish intensity. All wore the mesh headpieces that we'd seen on the boy outside. Above, catwalks ran from wall to wall. Yellow lights around the room threw off a dull glow, and in one corner a petrol generator was rumbling away with a steady chug-chug-chug.

Ilmarin and I walked out onto the factory floor. With the sound of the generator drowning out our footsteps, no one noticed us at first. Then a woman at the end of a table saw us out of the corner of her eye and looked up.

There was a moment's pause, and then every other person in the room looked up in eerie synchronisation. Twenty-four pairs of eyes stared blankly at us, and then as one they rose to their feet and began moving forward.

"Well, we have their attention," Ilmarin said. "What's step two?"

"Step two is to take out the ones with guns," I said. I'd been hoping that their reaction to two apparently unarmed men would be to capture, rather than shoot. It seemed to be working, at least so far, but three at the back had pulled out pistols. If I wanted to avoid any dead bodies, I needed them disarmed.

The thralls had closed to within a few feet. Their arms came up, reaching to grapple. "Go," I said, and darted forward.

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Marked 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It’s just gotten better and better. Complex, fully-realized characters, plot lines that are smart without being so complicated you don’t know what’s going on, no gratuitous torture of the main characters just to make them more “interesting”. I so look forward to each new book. Keep writing, Mr. Jacka, keep writing!
bhendbks More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of this series since discovering it three books in, which means I wait anxiously for the next title to drop, which fortunately one does every year! Alex Verus continues to get in more and more hot water and MARKED supplied some surprising twists. Plus there was a dragon and a jinn (one being maybe not so helpful as hoped, the other causing jinn sized trouble). If I were Alex, I'd have needed a large gin and tonic as this episode came to a close -- and I don't drink gin! It isn't easy continuing to up the ante and entertain (and hold) a reading audience, but Benedict Jacka is holding his own and continues to supply an upgrade in suspense and danger and deviousity as a mage with Alex's talents has to be very creative to take on and best more powerful magic slingers. Kudos to Mr. Jacka and I'm poised for the next volume in the series next year!
Sailon More than 1 year ago
Strong, likable characters all embroiled in magical mayhem, machinations and power grabs, even if they don’t want to be. Unexpected twists and shocking revelations, engage and captivate this novel’s audience. I received this ARC copy of Marked from Berkley Publishing Group - Ace. This is my voluntary and honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not enough need more
drakenfyre More than 1 year ago
4.5/5 *This will be as spoiler free as possible Marked is the 9th book in the Alex Verus series, and Alex is still going strong. Alex is on the council of Light Mages, and it's still a difficult uphill climb dealing with the light mages, especially after the incident that happened at the end of Bound. Alex is put in charge of gathering the artifacts that were stolen, and he is learning the old adage of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" being stuck having to deal with Onyx and still trying to figure out what Drahk is pulling, and why he wanted the artifacts in the first place. Along with dealing with a very polarized council, Alex is trying to figure out Morden’s game while being locked up. Alex and Anne are the main focus of this book, along with dealing with the council and the artifacts, Alex is put in a situation where he needs to confront "Evil Anne" and help Anne realize that she needs her dark side to help balance her out, despite Anne locking "Evil Anne" away a long time ago. This is in a world were dark and light mages are both good and evil. The two main protagonists are in a world where their very survival is at stake. The way this left off, there really needs to be a 10th book.
PenKay More than 1 year ago
We are at the point in a series when I’m always reluctant to start a new book because I’m waiting for the series to start to go downhill. That, thankfully, isn’t happening in this series. Alex is in the middle of trying to recapture items of power, all the while people still want him dead. Admittedly, it’s a little harder since he’s is in a better position (see previous book) than ever before, but Richard is still trying to seize control, and Alex and the Council don’t agree on how to do it. But Alex knows him better than just about anyone and knows Richard won’t stop even if innocents get in his way. The author is a great writer, and the plot in this one has left us at the end where I can see many more books in this series without going stale. Alex is a little wiser/harder/stronger than before, and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next, especially after the end. Give this one a try; you will love it! Highly recommend! I was provided a complimentary copy of the e-book which I reviewed voluntarily.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marked hits the ground running with Alex Verus leading a Keeper retrieval team in search of magically imbued items lost in the disastrous raid on the Light Council Vault in Bound. Of the two orchestrators of the attack, Morden is in prison awaiting trial for treason and Richard Drakh is at liberty. As Morden's aide, Alex now has a precarious seat on the Junior Council. Alex has as many enemies as ever, some who want to use his skills as a Diviner Mage, and others who just want him dead. As usual, Alex is walking a tightrope with his survival and that of his core of close allies his primary goal. When the Council wants him to negotiate with Morden to capture Drakh, his survival becomes even more precarious. The only solution that Alex can see is to amass more personal power. Especially since it is now clear that Drakh's primary interest in Alex is in gaining control of Anne, his ally, and a powerful Life Mage. Alex's interest in Anne is more than friendship, something that has been obvious to everyone but him. The series has a very long story arc, stemming from Alex's disastrous decision as a young man to apprentice to the Dark Mage, Richard Drakh. Revolted by Drakh, Alex escaped from him, but as a result, very few Light Mages will ever trust him. Alex kept a low profile as a shopkeeper in London for several years, but his enemies drove him out and destroyed the shop. He and his core allies have been bouncing from one crisis to the next, but Alex has done his best to keep them safe. The Dark Mages are a horrendous bunch, but The Light Mages aren't much better; arrogant, hidebound and addicted to playing political games. They see Alex as a convenient tool, but one not to be trusted. Benedict Jacka's excellent series is an impressive sustained feat of storytelling and imagination. The world he has created is endlessly fascinating, peopled with likable characters as well as those we love to hate. Alex himself is continually evolving, becoming more hardened, as well as more crafty. He is perhaps not as likable as the young man we first met, but circumstances have demanded a change. Marked ends on a somewhat more positive note than some of the previous novels, but stay tuned. I highly recommend the Alex Verus series and would start with the first in the series, Fated. It's possible to read Marked without all the background, but why miss out? Thanks to NetGalley and Orbit for an advance digital copy. The opinions are my own.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have greatly enjoyed this series to date. I gave it a try after reading Jim Butcher’s quote on the cover of book 1 and I’m glad I did. My only complaint is the fact that now I am caught up on the series, I can’t just go buy the next one anymore. Looking forward to the next release!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent characters with non stop action. Unique plots and challenging paths for the lead characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jacka has created a very satisfying installment in his opera - and I mean opera in a good way. Verus has matured and has reached a point where he realized that walling up one's heart out of fear of loss, is losing out on life. It is logical to love. The composer Yip Harburg said that the best music makes you realize that by getting the listener to " ... to think with your heart , and feel with your mind..."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hope this series keeps going. Story keeps moving along nicely and this is an excellent addition!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Super exciting, I couldnt put the book down
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was a lot of fun to read and ended mostly how I wished it did