(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.