Alex Verus #6 – Veiled

(This is part 6 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 Hidden in the summer of 2013.  The rewrites would take the rest of the year, but as it turned out, Fated, Cursed, Taken, and now Chosen had been selling well enough that my editors were willing to contract for two more books.  The series still wasn’t what you could call a big success, but I did have a little breathing room.  

As a result, Alex Verus #6 was designed from the beginning to lead into Alex Verus #7, since that was how many books I could count on.  My idea for the two books was simple:  Alex would do something to anger Levistus in book #6, who would pass a death sentence on him in book #7 and force Alex to go on the run.  I hadn’t figured out what the “something” was.  

Since I had no requirements for the book other than “Alex pisses off Levistus”, I started Veiled free to do pretty much whatever I wanted, and I used that freedom to try another experiment.  One of the things I’d discovered by this point was that I quickly got bored with writing the same book over and over again, and my solution to that had been to experiment with introducing elements from different genres.  All of the Alex Verus sequels were urban fantasy novels, but they all had quite different flavours.  Cursed was an action thriller.  Taken was mystery and supernatural horror.  Chosen and Hidden focused much more on the characters, and on the consequences of their actions.  

For Veiled the sub-genre I decided to play around with was “police procedural”.  I’d recently watched the first couple of seasons of The Wire and somewhere along the way it occurred to me that the theme of “police who are supposed to be fighting crime but whose biggest problems are all caused by the dysfunctional nature of the system they’re working for” would fit the Alex Verus setting pretty well.  I hadn’t really developed the Keepers very much, so I thought that might make for an interesting story.  

But the problem with experiments is that they don’t always work.  And in the case of Veiled, the big problem was that the events with the Keepers and White Rose weren’t directly connected to the main storyline.  Alex needed to do something to annoy Levistus, but the details of the “something” didn’t really matter, and from a structural point of view, they didn’t need to take up an entire book.  And while the enemies Alex faces in Veiled are certainly evil, he doesn’t have any particular emotional connection to them.   

And so when Veiled came out, it didn’t get very good reviews.  No one thought it was bad, but readers rated it on average worse than both Chosen and Hidden, and I’m pretty sure this was due to the lack of plot progression.  Unfortunately, by the time I realised this, it was far too late, so all I could really do was learn from the experience and move on.  As such, Veiled occupies a weird place where despite being right in the middle of the Alex Verus series, it’s essentially a side story.  Veiled is probably the most skip-able book in the entire series, along with Cursed – pretty much nothing happens in either that you couldn’t catch up on with a one-paragraph recap.  (This would become much less true as the series continued.)

But let’s move on to something which I know many of my readers care about much more, often to the point that it’s THE reason for them to keep reading a book.  Namely, romance!

Ever since Luna’s formal apprenticeship in Cursed had torpedoed the possibility of Alex and Luna ever getting together, I’d been thinking about giving Alex a new love interest.  Alex is the sort who’s slow to open up, so whoever he developed an interest in, it was going to take a while.  The question was, who would it be?

The first possible candidate was Anne, which I think readers picked up on quite early.  What I think most readers didn’t pick up on was that the second potential candidate that I had in mind was Caldera.  And just as Hidden had focused on Anne, Veiled focused on Caldera, and on Alex’s relationship with her.  

Given how badly things ended up turning out between Alex and Caldera, it’s easy to think that any relationship between them would have been doomed from the start, but the idea did have a few things going for it.  Both Alex and Caldera are loyal, and generally honest.  On top of that, they’re both fundamentally ethical people.  Both Alex and Caldera place doing the right thing over their own self-interest and personal safety, which is why they come to respect each other over the course of Veiled.  So I could see why Alex might be interested in Caldera.  

(Whether Caldera would be interested in Alex was another question.  With hindsight, I think the answer was yes, but she’d probably have seen the two of them as having too many differences to make it work.  Alex basically just doesn’t care much about obeying the law, and I don’t think Caldera would ever have been able to get past that – it would have felt to her like a policewoman dating a criminal.  But given how things turned out, this ended up being a moot point.)

After doing “try-outs” for the two relationships in Hidden and Veiled, I picked the Alex-Anne relationship over the Alex-Caldera one, for several reasons:  

  1. In terms of their character arcs, Alex and Anne had a lot more in common.  Both had been taught by Dark mages that they were now trying to distance themselves from, and both had uneasy relationships with their own darker halves.  Emotionally, Alex and Anne understand each other on a much deeper level than Alex and Caldera ever could.
  2. There was a distance between Alex and Caldera that never quite got bridged.  There are two scenes in the Alex Verus series where Alex visits Caldera’s home – one in Chosen, and one in Veiled.  Both times, they get into a fight.  Caldera is loyal to the Council and to “the system”, and Alex senses that, and that places an upper limit on how close the two of them can ever be.  Alex always knows that if it comes down to a choice between him and her job, Caldera is going to pick her job, which is why he’s not surprised by what happens in Burned.  For Alex, on the other hand, the people in his life come first.  A relationship for Alex means 100% commitment, and he’s too proud (and has too much self-respect) to make someone else his number one priority when he’s only a third or fourth priority to them.  
  3. I knew even in Veiled that Anne was eventually going to become one of the major antagonists for the series.  Having Alex be in love with her at the time sounded like a really entertaining emotional trainwreck.
  4. Giving Alex a female cop as a love interest would lead to endless annoying comparisons with the Dresden Files.
  5. Alex cares as much about looks as the next guy, and Anne is better-looking.  

As a result, Veiled is the last book in the Alex Verus series where Anne doesn’t play much of a role.  For the remaining six books, she would show up more and more.  

Finally, the events of Veiled have an important (but subtle) effect on Luna.  Luna by book #6 has spent a while learning to duel and to fight, and she’s taken part in smaller combats, but Veiled is the first time she sees what a large-scale battle is really like.  The book doesn’t put much of a spotlight on it, but it leaves a deep impression on her that shapes the decisions she makes a couple of books later in Bound.

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6 Responses to Alex Verus #6 – Veiled

  1. Alicia W. says:

    I loved Caldera in “Veiled.” She & Alex made a great team, which makes her “break up” with Alex in “Burned” all the more heart-wrenching.

  2. Dakota says:

    I admit, reason #3 made me laugh. Good to know you were plotting that disaster even then.

  3. John P says:

    Similar to Alicia, I really liked the relationship between Caldera and Alex. I don’t think I’d have ever bought a romantic relationship, for the reasons you laid out (not that I’d ever have articulated them like that!). But I felt that breakup even more than when Sonder left the crew. It was one of those cases where you can see both characters’ point of view, and both are completely logical and correct for the character – but ultimately opposed!

  4. Celia says:

    I did hate how the friendship between Alex and Caldera ended, but their characters were bound to butt heads over her views of law and typical refusal to disobey orders. Rereading Veiled, I was actually surprised Caldera bent the rules to rescue Alex, when she later repeatedly refused to disobey orders to arrest him. (Or maybe she actually bent the rules for Haken… not Alex?)

    Are your feelings in regards to Veiled after publication what led you to start working with beta readers? Or at what novel did you start? 🙂

  5. Celia says:

    Clarification: I meant I was sad THAT the friendship between Alex and Caldera had to end. :). No criticism intended of that manner in which it happened.

  6. Dr Sarah says:

    I did smile at you saying ‘Veiled’ was you trying the police procedural subgenre; a while ago I was mentally coming up with one-sentence summaries for each book so that I could keep them straight in my mind, and my summary for ‘Veiled’ was ‘The one where it turns into a detective novel’.

    I’ve just reread ‘Veiled’ for the first time since learning you were considering an Alex/Caldera romance, and reading it now I can see clear signs you were setting that up as a possibility, in a ‘How did I miss that?’ sort of way. Didn’t occur to me at all at the time, though, which I think is probably another sign they weren’t meant for each other character-wise. I definitely prefer Alex/Anne as a choice!

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