Book Festival This Sunday

I’ll be appearing online at the Hugendubel Bookstock Festival this Sunday!  My event’s at 9:20 pm German time – I’ll be on with Kevin Hearne and it should run for half an hour or so.  Hope to see some of you there!

In other news, with Risen’s release a month and a half away, I’ll be releasing the first chapter next week, on the 22nd.

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Alex Verus #9.5 – Endgame

(This is part 9.5 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

I finished the first draft of Marked in the summer of 2017.  Its edits would take a while, and I wouldn’t send off what would become the final version until much later that year, but the summer and autumn of 2017 was the point at which I had to make the decision about how long the Alex Verus series would be.  

“How many books will there be?” was a question I’d been asked many times by this point, and I’d usually given an answer between 10 and 14, with my most common guess being 12.  This guess turned out to be exactly right, but this wasn’t because I’d been working from some kind of master plan.  When I started Alex Verus #1, I wasn’t thinking in terms of a series at all, and it wasn’t until I reached books #4-#5 that I started planning out the story arc in any sort of detail.  Instead, I’d said 12 because that felt vaguely to me like the right sort of length.  

Around this same time, my agent negotiated contracts with my US and UK publishers for three more Alex Verus books.  I’d asked for 3 because I felt that that would probably be about the right length to end the series . . . 

. . . if I wanted to end the series.  Which was the big question.  

The most common reason for a book series to end is that the publisher drops it.  I didn’t have this problem:  both my US and UK editors were quite happy for me to keep on writing Alex Verus novels, and in fact encouraged me to keep the series going.  From their point of view, the Alex Verus series was a modest but clear success – it was obvious by this point that any Alex Verus novel that I put out was going to sell, so as far as they were concerned, the natural thing to do was to keep churning out Alex Verus books until I was totally out of ideas or my readership got sick of them.  

There were other reasons to continue the series.  My readers seemed to enjoy it, and on the occasions that I talked about bringing the series to a close, I’d always get comments asking me to make as long as possible.  There was also the world development to consider – I’d spent a while developing the Alex Verus world, which meant I had a lot of work to draw upon whenever I needed it.  Writing more Alex Verus novels was much easier than the prospect of starting something new.

But far and away the biggest reason to keep the series going was security.  By 2017 I was an established author, but I wasn’t THAT established – certainly not famous enough that I could write something new and expect it to sell just on the strength of my name.  By this point I’d been able to call myself a “successful” author for maybe 2-3 years, but I’d been an unknown/failed author for a good 15 years before that.  For all I knew, this was just some temporary blip, and as soon as I stopped putting out Alex Verus novels, things would go back to how they’d been before.  Ending the series, and committing to starting something new, felt like burning my bridges.  I was effectively betting my future career on the idea that I MIGHT be able to write something else that would be successful in the way that the Alex Verus series had been, despite not knowing for sure exactly what the Alex Verus series had done right.  It was a scary prospect.  

Those were the arguments against ending the series.  All of these played out throughout 2017 (and for a couple of years before that) at the back of my mind.

Set against that were the arguments FOR ending the series.  

Ending the series would let me create a new world.  This would admittedly be a ton of work, but a lot of things in the Alex Verus setting had been locked in by choices I’d made very early on, some of which had had far-reaching effects.  Just to take one example, the fact that most mages in the Alex Verus setting could make teleportation gates had an ENORMOUS impact on the world.  Conflicts worked differently, transportation worked differently, and entire types of story that revolved around travelling to or from a place just couldn’t be told.  It also led to all kinds of awkward questions such as “why haven’t mages used this power to completely reshape the world economy”, though in practice, from a story point of view, I had much bigger problems with the fact that it was ridiculously difficult to force a mage into any kind of confrontation that they didn’t want to have.  This wasn’t a big deal, but by this point I was thinking that I’d quite like to be able to write something without being quite so restricted by the decisions made by my younger self.

Much more important, to me, was my vague feeling that twelve-ish books felt like about the right number.  I’ve always believed that stories have a natural length.  It isn’t just a matter of the author’s decision – there’s a ‘right’ length for any given story, and the more you diverge from that length, the worse the story gets.  I think the biggest reason for this is the story’s themes.  Some stories aren’t long enough to explore their themes fully, and those are the ones that feel disappointingly short.  But much more common (especially in the fantasy genre) are the stories where the author runs out of big ideas or themes to explore, but keeps the series going anyway.  The characters stop growing, the world stops changing, and the story becomes static, to the point that you can read an entire book and realise at the end that nothing has really happened.  This is very common on TV (The Simpsons is the best-known example) but it happens more than often enough in fantasy books too.  Usually when I realise that a series has reached this point, I drop it.  I didn’t want that to happen with the Alex Verus series – I wanted to create something that I could look back on and be proud of, and that meant giving it a proper ending.  

But the final and strongest reason for me to end the series was interest.  By the end of Book #9, I wasn’t bored with the Alex Verus series.  But I had the feeling that if I kept on writing it for too much longer, I would get bored.  And once I got bored, I knew it would show.  Better to end on a high note.  

I didn’t make the decision quickly – I turned it over at the back of my mind for months, if not years.  But at last, I decided to end the series.  12 had been my initial guess for the number of Alex Verus books, and 12 was where I’d leave it.  

As to whether that was the right decision . . . well, given that I’m writing this in 2021, it’s too early to tell.  Maybe I’ll come back to this post in a few years when I know the answer!

Posted in Author Commentary | 5 Comments

Book Festivals and New Series

Two pieces of news for this week.

First, I’ll be appearing at another online German book fair next month, on October 17th – this one’s called the Hugendubel Bookstock Festival.  I’ll be doing an event with Kevin Hearne (the Iron Druid author) on the Sunday at 9:20 pm, Central European Time.  It’s going to be a Zoom event, like the last one – these are very convenient for me, as I get to do the fair without having to take time away from writing!  I’ll post more information on the Friday before the event, on October 15th.

Second, the first book in my new series is coming along well.  As of this week it’s passed the 75,000 word mark, which if the pattern for my Alex Verus books holds, means that it’s somewhere around 80% done.

So far, the new series is turning out quite differently from Alex Verus.  I haven’t written the ending yet, but to me, it’s feeling as if the books are going to be more series-focused, and less episodic.  So, more like the later Alex Verus novels, rather than the earlier ones.

The plus side to this is that the whole story is going to hang together much better, since everything is designed to work together from the beginning.  On the downside, each individual book is going to be less of a standalone, but I don’t think that there’s any way of getting around that particular trade-off.

No update on publication as yet.  I’ll let you know as soon as I have any news.

Posted in Events, News | 2 Comments

Alex Verus #9 – Marked

(This is part 9 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Marked was the last book in the Alex Verus series that was at all a standalone, as well as the last book in the series that followed the old model of there being a long break in-universe after each story.  For books #1-#7, the main events of the novel would usually take place over a few days to a few weeks, after which there would be a gap of anywhere up to 9 months before the next story.  There’s still a gap after Marked, but it’s the last one – from Fallen onwards, things start happening very fast.  

Marked is also the most politics-focused book in the series, in that Alex both starts and ends the book as a member of the Junior Council.  Alex, at this point, is at the absolute ceiling of the point where it still makes sense for him to go out on street-level adventures.  In fact, he’s probably past that ceiling – no other members of the Junior Council would do things like track down a Dark mage and then help him fight off a bunch of raiders who are attacking his warehouse.  (The fact that Alex goes right ahead and does this anyway is a sign that he’s much more comfortable going out and fighting his own battles, rather than sending other people out to do it for him.)

However, the biggest issues I had to deal with in Marked weren’t about Alex’s political position, they were about what the book needed to contain.  The events of Marked take place around 70% of the way through the Alex Verus series, which is around the point in a story where you have to start building to the climax.  I knew roughly what needed to happen in Alex Verus #11-#12, but to get to that point two key events needed to happen.  Most of the decisions I made about Marked were dictated by this.  

These two events both related to Anne.  The first was the reveal that Dark Anne was gaining dominance, and had made a deal with the marid jinn.  The second was the point of disaster where Dark Anne takes over completely, changing Anne from Alex’s lover and ally into his most dangerous enemy.  This would then lead into the series endgame, where Alex had to deal with Richard, the Council, and Anne all at once.  

My initial plan was for Marked to contain both of these events.  But as the book grew longer, I became less and less sure that I could make that work.  I felt as though there needed to be a break in between the events, firstly to build tension, and secondly to let readers get used to the idea of Anne getting taken over, before having it actually happen.  Unfortunately, by the time I’d realised that, Marked was about 50% done, and there was no possible way I could fit all that into the amount of pages I had left.  

The solution I came up with was to split these events over two books.  The reveal would happen in Marked, and the final takeover would happen in Fallen.  In between the two, Alex would try to fight off Anne’s possession, and would succeed . . . for a while.  

Unfortunately, this caused a new problem, which is that the resolution at the end of Marked doesn’t really resolve anything.  Marked ends with Dark Anne being locked away, but by this point it was really, REALLY obvious that this wasn’t a permanent solution.  I’d spent so much time building up Dark Anne as a long-term threat that anyone who’d been paying even the slightest attention could instantly see that locking her away was a very temporary answer.  As a result, many readers found Marked’s ending a bit unsatisfying.  While it’s realistic that someone with Anne’s issues is going to try and bottle up her problems, it doesn’t make for the best story.  

On the plus side, spreading the events over two books meant that I could take my time and not rush things.  The seeds of Alex’s eventual break with the Light Council were planted, readers got plenty of time to see the Anne disaster coming, and Alex and Anne got to spend most of a year as lovers before everything went to hell.  (It felt kind of excessive to spend something like 3 books building up to them getting together, then blowing everything up in the same book that it happened – I wanted them to have at least a little time together before the trainwreck.)

Alex’s break with the Light Council had been coming for a while, but the fact that it was caused by his actions at San Vittore was a very deliberate decision on my part.  In the past, many of the Council’s actions in going after Alex (particularly the death sentence in Burned) had been very obviously unfair.  In this case, I wanted Alex to actually be guilty of what he was accused of.  It seemed important to me that Alex’s break with the Council should be a consequence of his own decisions – by this point Alex has gained enough influence that Levistus and his other enemies can’t just casually get rid of him any more, he has to give them an opening.  In choosing to cover up Anne’s actions, Alex gives them that opening.  Of course, given Alex’s personality, there was absolutely no way he’d have turned Anne in – the Council would have sentenced her to death in an instant, as gets demonstrated in the very next book.  Still, legally speaking, the Council are completely within their rights on this one.  Anne is a massive danger, and Alex is an accomplice to what she does.  Unfortunately for the Council, their attempts to deal with this problem just end up making it worse.  

Marked also moved along the Rachel plotline.  I was still working out Rachel’s place in the story at this point, but I was starting to think that her role was to be both one of the worst people Alex had ever met, and also someone he needed to learn from.  The conversations between Alex, Rachel, and Luna in Marked are relatively slow, because I was figuring them out as I went along, but at this point, I was getting close to the decision point (which would come in book #10).  

Finally, Marked had the dragon prophecies.  I won’t go into too much detail about these here, because I’m writing this in September 2021 and Risen hasn’t come out yet, so all that I’ll say is that all three prophecies are fulfilled by the end of the series.  #2 is fulfilled in Fallen, while #3 is finally fulfilled in Risen.  

Posted in Author Commentary | 3 Comments

Risen Release Schedule

Well, we’re about two and a half months away for the release of the twelfth and final book in the Alex Verus series!  Here’s a look at the schedule for the events leading up to and around its release.

I’ll be releasing two preview chapters this time (rather than the usual one), in the same way that I did with Fallen.  The second chapter works better as a lead-in to the rest of the book, I think.

As usual, I’ll be doing an Ask Me Anything Q&A session on r/fantasy after Risen’s release.  This’ll take place on December 14th, one week after the US release, to give people plenty of time to read it first!

And because someone always asks:  yes, the audiobooks should be coming out at the same time as the paper and ebook editions.

My Author Commentary series will be continuing at a rate of about one every three weeks (next one will be a week from today, and will cover Alex Verus #9, Marked.)  I’ve timed it so that the commentary on Forged should come out a couple of weeks before Risen’s release.

Schedule

• October 22nd:  First preview chapter of Risen releasing on this site
• November 5th:  Second preview chapter of Risen releasing on this site
• December 2nd:  UK/worldwide release of Risen (paper, ebook, and audio)
• December 7th:  US/Canada release of Risen (paper, ebook, and audio)
• December 14th:  Reddit AMA on r/fantasy to follow the release of Risen

 

Posted in News | 7 Comments

Alex Verus in Germany – End of the Series

Some news for my German readers today!

As some of you will know, my German publisher started publishing a German translation of the Alex Verus books a few years ago, with the translated edition of Fated coming out in 2018.  Since then, the books have been coming out in German at a steady rate of one every six months – book #6 just came out this May, and book #7 will be released this November.

Well, as it turns out, the German edition has been very successful – so much so that as of this week, I’ve signed a contract for all the remaining books in the series!  The previous contract went up to book #8, and the new contract is for books #9, #10, #11, and #12.  My publisher’s current plan is to keep to their two-per-year schedule, in which case the planned release dates for the translated books should be something along the lines of:

Alex Verus #7 (Burned):  November 2021
Alex Verus #8 (Bound):  May 2022
Alex Verus #9 (Marked):  November 2022
Alex Verus #10 (Fallen):  May 2023
Alex Verus #11 (Forged):  November 2023
Alex Verus #12 (Risen):  May 2024

It’s possible that the books might be delayed a few months past these dates, but it shouldn’t be any longer than that.

The only reason that this is happening is because the Alex Verus books have found such a good reception in Germany, so to all of my German fans:  thank you for buying and supporting the series!  I really didn’t expect Alex Verus to do so well in Germany, and watching the German edition grow so quickly in popularity has been one of the nicest surprises that I’ve had over the past few years.

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Alex Verus #8 – Bound

(This is part 8 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Alex Verus #4, Chosen, and Alex Verus #7, Burned, had a lot in common:  both were climax/transitional books with lots of big dramatic confrontations.  And in both cases, they were followed by slower books that started off a new arc of Alex’s story.  Hidden had been slightly less successful than Chosen, so I was expecting something similar to happen with Bound.  

To my surprise, it didn’t.  Bound was significantly more popular than Burned – in fact, as I write this in mid-2021, it has the third-highest rating of anything I’ve ever written, only beaten by Alex Verus #10 and #11.  I’m still not sure why.  The best answer I’ve come up with is that Bound, like Veiled, was an experiment where I played around with the formula:  it was just that this time, the changes worked a lot better. 

The most obvious experiment I did with Bound was to change the story’s timeframe.  Previous books had usually taken place over a week or two, with the bulk of the story concentrated into just a few days.  Bound, on the other hand, covers a nine-month period in Alex’s life, starting in January and ending in October, which I think is a longer stretch of time than every other individual Alex Verus novel put together.  I did wonder whether my readers would find this to be too slow a pace, but I needn’t have worried – they seemed to adjust to it just fine.  The longer timeframe meant that I could include some subplots that could develop more gradually than would have been possible before.

Where Veiled had been a police story, Bound shifted the story into the realm of politics.  There had always been a lot of political manoeuvring in the Alex Verus series, but in books #1-#7 it had taken place way over Alex’s head.  Bound, on the other hand, is the point at which Alex starts to become a political player.  He starts at a disadvantage, and he’s a lot weaker than the established figures, but for Alex that really isn’t anything new and he quickly finds that his Dark mage background gets more and more applicable to Council dealings the higher up he goes.  It’s not emphasised in the books very much, but the sort of political dealings that Alex gets into in books #8-#10 are much closer to the activities of a ‘typical’ diviner.  Alex’s focus on close-range combat is very unusual for someone of his magic type – most diviners take the attitude that if you’re in a fight, you did something wrong.  

Another big change in Bound is that it’s the first time in the series that Alex has a boss.  Although he was with the Keepers in book #6, Bound is the first point at which Alex is really forced to work for someone, as opposed to being independent.  I hadn’t thought much about how Alex was going to handle taking orders from one of the series villains, and so I let things develop on their own to see how they’d turn out.  Somewhat to my surprise, Alex and Morden got on much better than I’d expected, quickly settling into a smooth (if not exactly friendly) working relationship.  The ‘relationship’ even survives the various semi-betrayals of books #8 and #9, and by the time Alex and Morden finally part ways in book #11, Alex realises that while he still doesn’t like Morden, he doesn’t really hate the guy any more.  (With hindsight, the fact that Alex and Morden could work together so effectively was probably a hint that for all his professed animosity towards Dark mages, Alex had a lot more in common with them than he was willing to admit.)

However, the bigger reason that I made Alex’s dealings with Morden relatively stress-free was that I quickly realised that I really didn’t need to make things any more miserable for him than they were already.  Alex’s life just absolutely sucks in Bound.  He’s working for Team Evil under the threat of death for himself and everyone he cares about, most of his Light mage colleagues are estranged from him if not outright hostile, his enemies on the Council are periodically trying to snatch him away to a horrible death, and worst of all, there’s pretty much nothing he can do about it.  Out of his few remaining allies, Alex can’t spend time with most of them without putting them at risk as well.  About the only person he can be around without making her situation worse is Anne, and that’s only because her own position is just as awful as his is.  It’s only a matter of time before one of them is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and as it turns out, the one whose luck runs out first is Anne.  

What happens to Anne in book #8 is one of the darkest and most unpleasant scenes in the entire series.  I didn’t enjoy writing it, but it’s there for a reason – it’s what makes Anne finally snap.  Anne, by this point in the series, has gone through a lot.  She’s taken a lot of beatings, but between her magic and her natural resilience, she can recover from suffering and trauma very quickly.  Partly as a result of this, everyone around Anne has unconsciously started to assume that no matter how badly she gets hurt, she’ll shrug it off.

Unfortunately, they’re wrong.  Everyone has a limit, and Bound is where Anne hits hers, and due to her particular psychological issues, this comes out in the behaviour of her dark side, which is where Anne redirects all the parts of her personality which she’s unable or unwilling to deal with.  Up until this point, Dark Anne has been more-or-less willing to toe the line.  But the torture in Bound, combined with the years and years of mistreatment by Light and Dark mages, is what makes her finally go over the edge.  Alex, unfortunately for him, doesn’t see this.  It’s not that he doesn’t care for Anne – he does (in fact, he’s pretty much in love with her by now).  But he’s not a psychoanalyst and he’s better at understanding his enemies than his friends.  He would have had a hard time in any case, since Anne’s private and self-contained personality makes her danger signs quite small and easy to miss, even for those closest to her (Luna doesn’t spot it either).  Ironically, the one who does recognise the threat is Variam, but by the time he tells Alex, Alex is too busy with their numerous other problems to deal with it until it’s too late.  

I didn’t want to make Bound too depressing, though, so the book does have some more hopeful parts, of which the biggest is Luna’s story.  While Luna technically graduates in book #7, Burned, she hasn’t made the mental shift from apprentice to journeyman, as shown by the fact that she still kind of needs Alex to tell her what to do.  Bound is the point at which that changes.  Luna realises that she needs to choose a path of her own, and after thinking about it for a while, the one she decides on is her first point of connection with the magical world – Alex’s shop.  Using what she’s learned, Luna rebuilds and re-opens the Arcana Emporium, becoming its new proprietor.  There’s a scene towards the end of the book where Alex tells Luna not to re-open the shop, knowing that she’ll refuse.  When Luna says no, Alex calls her by her mage name for the first time, and from that point on, he never gives Luna an order again.  They’ll stay friends and allies, but they’re no longer master and apprentice:  for the rest of the series, they’re basically equals.

With Bound, Luna’s story arc comes full circle.  She’s gone from a stranger walking into Alex’s shop, to apprentice, to journeyman, and now she’s taken over Alex’s position as owner and manager of the store for a new generation.  As such, Luna’s story from this point onwards is basically done.  As Alex moves further into the realm of high-stakes politics, Luna stays in the Arcana Emporium as a link to the world he’s leaving behind.  

Posted in Author Commentary | 3 Comments

Ask Luna #179

From: Alicia

Hey, Luna, how’s things?

Here’s an easy one (I hope!).

Alex mentioned in Taken that he doesn’t drink coffee. So, I find it odd that he meets people in coffee shops a LOT. I’ve been going through the books again recently and I can think of several off the top of my head: the Starbucks in Angel, a coffee shop in Soho, another coffee shop in Islington where you guys met Chalice for tea, a cafe in Highgate and so on. 

It’s puzzling.

Do you like coffee? What’s your favorite coffee drink?
(I love coffee, so seeing a guy who doesn’t drink coffee visit so many coffee shops has made me curious!)

Thanks!

Alicia

It’s not as odd as you think, and the reason is really simple:  Camden has a LOT of coffee shops.  Actually, that’s true for all of London, but it’s especially true for places like Camden/Islington.  You can pick a random spot on a random Camden shopping street, turn 360 degrees, and you’ll see at least one coffee shop and usually more.

So if you want an easy place to meet someone that’s sheltered from the weather, a coffee shop is just kind of the standard.  Meeting someone for coffee is a very non-committal sort of thing that doesn’t really imply anything.  Now that I run the Emporium, I’ve started doing it too.

Oh, and no, I don’t drink coffee either, these days.  Just sort of drifted out of it.  Sometimes I think I’ve picked up some of Alex’s habits over the years.

From: Logan

1. What can you tell me about mage families? I’ve heard there are mage families, but not heard a set of individuals that were clearly both mages that were also parents/children, brothers/sisters, husbands/wives, etc. Besides Light, Dark, and Independent, I would think familial connections would play a large part in mage politics/grudges and not be so hidden that you’d never know who’s related, especially when the mage population of Britain sounds like a few thousand people, but I haven’t heard of any related mages.

2. Are Vari’s family normals or mages? I would assume normals, since they went to Jagadev for protection instead of them and none of them were involved that one Christmas when Vari had that problem because he was Alex’s dependent.

Actual mage families aren’t as common as you’d think.  Mages have families, but that doesn’t make them mage families, and the reason is that as far as I can see, magic isn’t actually all that heritable.  If your mother’s a mage, that makes it more likely that you’re a mage, but given that mages are outnumbered by normals by thousands to one, “more likely” doesn’t actually count for much.  Even if both your mother and your father are mages, the chances of you being a mage as well are still really really low.

So the usual story with ‘mage families’ is that you get a mage mother, and a mage father, and then the kids are sensitives at most.  You’d probably have to have some ridiculous number of children to make it likely for one of them to be a mage, and most mages don’t have many children.  Every now and then someone beats the odds and you get a father/son who are both mages, or whatever, but it’s very rare.  What’s much more common is that you have a mage somewhere in your family tree, just from a really distant branch.

Vari’s family are normals or sensitives (it’s a bit hard to say which).  His family’s got a history of producing mages but he’s the only one in the current generation.

From: Dave

Hi there. You’ve listed the common types of magic in the past, but I’m curious about the rare types that are barely or never mentioned at all, such as Illusion, Light (as in, light-spectrum), Lightning, Sound etc.

What other rare types have you encountered or heard about? Any “shadow mages”? “Blood mages”, perhaps? Some more exotic types? Can you list them?

Shadow mages are a thing.  Blood mages I’ve heard of, but from what I can tell it’s just a nastier branch of life.  As for rare ones, hmm . . . Shapeshifting, obviously.  Gravity.  Entropy.  Some of them (like body mages) just seem like a mix of a standard type with something else, while others (like matter mages) feel like completely their own thing.

From: Celia

Hi, Luna! I know you haven’t had a lot of time for just sitting around and playing games, lately. But I’m curious, back when you guys had time to play, did Vari ever accuse you guys of cheating? Seems like everyone but Variam could use their powers to influence games. Alex could use pathwalking to make decisions, Anne could use lifesight to read peoples’ reaction to their cards, you could use your curse on dice (though Alex at least would notice.) All Vari could do is burn your hotel down to the ground if you play monopoly. 😉 And Vari seems like the competitive type who might not take well to losing!

ALL THE TIME.  It got to the point that he’d start complaining before we’d even set up the pieces.

Looking back on it, I probably should have used my curse to sabotage everyone else so that Vari could win once in a while.  But my control wasn’t good enough to do that back then, and eventually Vari just started refused to play at all.  I guess there’s probably a lesson there.  People won’t keep playing with you if they lose every single game.

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New Series Update

I wrote a post a few weeks ago with some information on the new series that I’m writing.  I hadn’t been expecting to have any more news for you guys for a while, but it turns out things are moving faster than expected!

As of yesterday, Book #1 of the new series is now about 50% done, assuming that it ends up a similar length to my Alex Verus novels.  I’ve been making much faster progress than I’d been expecting to – when I started the book my most optimistic estimate was that I might finish by the end of the year, but if I keep up this sort of speed, I’ll be done by November.

As it’s turned out, the 50% mark of the new book is also a very natural break point, so over the next week I’m going to add a series synopsis and send the thing to my agent so that she can start showing it to publishers.  The idea is to do the contract negotiations for the book while I’m writing the second half, so that by the time the first draft is done I have some idea of when it’s going to come out.  Of course, there’s always the chance that negotiations will drag out/go badly . . . but in that case, all the more reason to start early.

(This wasn’t at all how things went with the Alex Verus series, by the way.  In that case I finished the first draft of what would eventually become Fated, then sent it off to my agent to be shopped around to publishers.  But I’m an established author now, with a track record of finishing books, so I get a bit more leeway.)

But anyway, with any luck, in a week or so, the first half of this book will be in the hands of publishers.  At that point I expect things to slow down – publishers usually take quite a while to read and respond to new submissions – so there probably won’t be any firm news for months.  As soon as I have any solid information, though, I’ll share it here.

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Alex Verus #7 – Burned

(This is part 7 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Burned was the second big transitional book in the Alex Verus series, and it marks the point at which the series shifts from book-length episodes to a single long-term story arc.  Books #1-#6 are mostly self-contained;  books #7-#12 are all parts of one much larger story where the end of each book leads directly into the beginning of the next.  

The events of Burned also marked a shift in tone.  In books #1-#6, Alex is a small fish.  He’s not very important in the larger scale of things . . . or at least no-one thinks he is, which in practice means more or less the same thing.  This lack of importance means that he can (for the most part) walk away at the end of each adventure and be reasonably safe.  But this is already changing, and by books #5-#6 there are warning signs on the horizon that trouble’s approaching.  In Burned, it arrives.  

That trouble ends up being pretty extreme.  I think the early books in the Alex Verus series had given readers a bit of a sense of security – no matter what happens, each book ends with Alex going back to his shop and his regular life and the status quo.  By the end of Burned, that status quo has been blown up.  You can sum up the story of Burned as “Alex loses things he cares about,” and the most obvious things he loses are material possessions.  First is his mist cloak, signifying that he’s coming to the end of the part of his life where he can solve his problems by hiding or running away.  The second loss (and the harder one for Alex to bear) is his shop.  For the entire series so far, Alex’s main job has been managing the Arcana Emporium.  It’s probably not something that most people would see as very important, but it matters to him – for him, it’s a way to help people in a small but significant way, something that I tried to show with that last scene where Alex advises a young novice in his shop.  When the Arcana Emporium burns down, Alex is cut adrift.  He plays around in later books with the idea of opening it again, but by the time he’s in a position to do that, he’s reluctantly come to understand that it’s just not a viable option.  

The reason that Alex can’t go back to being a shopkeeper is because of the third thing Alex loses, which is his anonymity.  By the end of Burned, Alex is aide to the newest and most notorious member of the Junior Council, which puts him on everyone’s radar – he’s probably in the top 30 most famous mages in Britain.  (Unfortunately for him, he’s not even remotely close to being in the top 30 most powerful or influential mages in Britain, and that mismatch will make his life extremely uncomfortable in the books to come.)  Even Alex’s safe house in Wales isn’t very safe any more – enough people know about it that in a couple of books’ time Alex’s main use for it will be as a distraction for would-be assassins.

Fourth on the list of Alex’s losses is his relationship with Caldera.  Their fight in the roundabout under Westferry Circus breaks their friendship in a very final way, something that I don’t think many of my readers were expecting.  A lot of people were angry with Caldera after reading Burned;  they’d been hoping that if something like this ever happened, she’d take Alex’s side.  Others were upset, and were hoping for the two to reconcile (I particularly remember one commenter shouting “BRING HER BACK AND MAKE HER NOT STUPID PLEASE”).  I was honestly a little surprised at both reactions.  I thought I’d made it clear from the very beginning that Caldera was a by-the-book cop.  She’s loyal to the law, to the Keepers, and to the Council, in that order – yes, she’s friends with Alex, but he comes in at a distant fourth place at best.  Alex understands this very well, which is why he makes the deliberate decision to hurt Caldera to save his own life.  Caldera never forgives him for this.  

And finally, Alex loses his independence.  One of the most important conversations in the series takes place early in Burned, where Arachne tells Alex that he has three choices:  align with a greater power, become a greater power, or die.  Burned ends with Alex being forced into the first option, in the form of becoming Morden’s aide, but he doesn’t do so willingly.  He won’t fully commit to one of those three choices until the events of book #10.  

Sometimes when I write a book I don’t know whether it’ll be a failure or a success.  Other times, I’m pretty sure readers will like it.  For Burned, I was pretty sure readers would like it.  Burned was a ‘payoff’ book, similar to Chosen, with lots of drama that built on things that the last two books had set up, and I had the feeling that it would be received well.  

It was.  Burned set a new record for ratings, and generated a lot of positive reviews.  I think some readers had been feeling that there hadn’t been enough movement in the story during Hidden and Veiled, and Burned helped restore their interest.  

I did want to keep a few cards up my sleeve, though, and so Burned continued the deception that I’d started in Hidden about Richard’s true goals.  The events of Burned implied that Richard’s objective was Alex, even though everything Richard had done to protect or recruit Alex applied just as much to Anne.  Instead of trying to conceal that fact, I hid it in plain sight – I had Richard make his offer to them both in Hidden, and let readers assume that it was Alex that Richard really wanted and Anne was just incidental.  I had the feeling that most readers would automatically be inclined to believe that Alex was the important one because he was the main character, and they did.  In fact, the deception worked a bit too well – even after Richard explicitly told Alex in book #8 that “it’s not about you”, a lot of readers still assumed that Alex was Richard’s target and they’d missed something!  Even as late as book #10 I was coming across reviews and commentary that interpreted things happening to Anne solely in terms of the effect they had on Alex, when the truth was that they were happening for the exact opposite reason.

There was one final change that happened to the series at around this time – invisible to readers, but important to me.  The year I wrote Burned was the year I stopped worrying about Alex Verus’s future.  While I wrote Burned in 2015 my agent negotiated a contract with my US and UK publishers for Alex Verus #8 and #9, and I think that was when it really sank in that I didn’t need to worry about getting cancelled any more.  The Alex Verus books had built up enough of a readership that no matter what happened, I’d be able to see the series through to its conclusion. 

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