Alex Verus #10 – Fallen

(This is part 10 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books.  The master post with links to all the parts is here.)

Fallen is the third, last and most important of the transition books in the Alex Verus series.  Although it’s not the end of the series, in a way, Fallen is its climax.  Fallen is where the big decisions get made, while Forged and Risen play out the consequences.  

Back in Burned, Arachne tells Alex that he has three choices:  align with a greater power, become a greater power, or die.  Alex puts this decision off as long as he possibly can, and the events of the first 1/3rd of Fallen are all designed to make it clear to Alex that this isn’t an option any more.  One by one, all of Alex’s other options are stripped away until he’s forced to make his choice.  

From the beginning of the series, readers had tended to react towards Alex in one of two ways.  Some had seen him as a basically decent guy who’d made some bad decisions in the past but who was generally trying to do the right thing.  Others had seen him a morally grey anti-hero.  (For whatever reason, female readers were more likely to see Alex the first way, while male ones were more likely to go for the second.)  Both viewpoints were reasonably accurate, but the ‘trying to do the right thing’ comment was probably closest to the mark.  An awful lot of Alex’s behaviour stems from the fact that he’s a Dark mage by temperament and is trying not to be.  His instincts push him towards being power-focused and ruthless, but since he’s seen first-hand just how ugly that can get, he deliberately chooses to be more restrained and to give people second chances.  Until he can’t.

Alex’s dark side had been on display many times in the series.  When pushed to his limit – the encounter with Khazad in Fated, or with the Nightstalkers in Chosen – he’d always been ruthless.  But with hindsight, probably the most revealing interaction is one that I think most readers forgot about completely:  his conversation with Martin at the end of Cursed.  Out in the darkness on Hampstead Heath, where there’s no-one else to hear, Alex admits to Martin that he sometimes finds it really hard to act like a good person, and that when he looks at the kinds of things that he’s pushed into doing, he wonders how big a deal it would be if he just went the rest of the way.  

On that occasion, Alex (reluctantly) takes the moral high road.  But back then, he has the option to – he’s more powerful than Martin, with resources and allies.  In Fallen, he’s forced into a similar position, except that he’s alone, outmatched, and facing much worse consequences if things go wrong.  And when Richard orders Alex to hurt and manipulate Anne, and Alex tries to take the high road again and refuses, he gets treated extremely harshly as a result.  (This in effect was the universe telling Alex “you’re not in a privileged position anymore, you don’t get to keep your hands clean.”)  His old ways of doing things haven’t worked, and he’s going to have to change.

This change is a long time coming, and Alex spends a long time turning it over (represented in the conversations he has with Richard, Luna, Variam, and Arachne).  But he doesn’t make a final decision until about two-thirds of the way through the book, in the bubble realm, just before picking up the fateweaver.  It’s probably my favourite scene in the book, and it’s the last time in the series that you see the ‘old’ Alex.  It’s just him, alone, with his choice.  He can devote himself to defeating Richard and saving his friends, whatever it takes.  Or he can draw the line and decide that he won’t go back to his old Dark mage ways, no matter what.  

He picks option number one.  

At which point the whole tone of the series changes, very fast.  

Probably the single most frequent question I used to get about Alex prior to the release of Fallen was “is Alex ever going some sort of power-up”.  Alex isn’t a lightweight by any means, but he does spend a lot of time going up against opponents who outmatch him, and I think that by this point in the series, a lot of readers had become a bit tired of Alex getting pushed around.  They really wanted to see him turn the tables on the bad guys, instead of running and hiding all the time.  

I’d known for a long time that the answer to the question would be “yes” – yes, Alex would get a power-up, and yes, you’d finally get to see him cut loose on his enemies.  However, what I think a lot of readers didn’t realise was that the biggest change that this would involve wasn’t to do with Alex’s magic, it was to do with his mindset.  Throughout books #1-#9 and the first part of book #10, Alex is holding himself back much the time:  he can see the solutions that are maximally ruthless and efficient, he just makes a conscious choice not to take them.  In Fallen, he stops holding himself back, and you get to see what Alex is like when he’s not trying to be a nice guy.  

It’s not a coincidence that the first person Alex faces once he comes out of the bubble realm is Onyx.  Onyx has been a thorn in Alex’s side ever since book 1 – he represents the brutish, crude aspects of Dark mages, and up until now, every time they’ve met, Alex has had to trick and outmanoeuvre him.  This time things go very differently, and it foreshadows the way the new Alex is going to deal with his enemies (they get one warning, and that’s it).  Alex has been learning and changing throughout the series, while Onyx hasn’t, and as a result, by this point, Alex has outgrown him.  Despite the numbers on Onyx’s side, the fight isn’t close. 

Fallen is also the point at which I made the final decision about Rachel.  I’ll go into more detail about that in the commentary for book #11, but the key conversation here is the one Alex has with Shireen in chapter 8.  When Alex points out to Shireen that redemption isn’t something that can be done to you, the writing was on the wall.

On the subject of characters having their stories end, Fallen is the beginning of the last act of the series, and as part of that, a lot of recurring characters start getting written out or having their storylines wrapped up.  Most of these characters (Crystal, Onyx, Sal Sarque, Meredith) are ones that I suspect that the majority of readers didn’t miss very much.  But there’s one character who leaves that I’m sure readers did miss, and that’s Arachne.  Arachne doesn’t die, but she does disappear, and that disappearance takes away one of the main sources of support that Alex has tended to rely on, forcing him to make his most important decisions alone.  

Finally, Fallen introduces a new character – Karyos, the hamadryad that Alex and his friends faced in Bound, now reborn.  Unfortunately, at this point it’s a bit too late both in the series and in Alex’s journey for Karyos’s character to be thoroughly developed or for Alex to form a strong bond with her.  In the last two books, Alex will stand or fall on his own.

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17 Responses to Alex Verus #10 – Fallen

  1. GregorV says:

    After Fallen old Alex is just as gone as Arachne, or Anne. In a way, he as good as died in Richard’s mansion. After that and picking up the Fateweaver, he is a dead man walking, like a vengeful spirit who still has some unfinished business before crossing over. It’s quite tragic, actually.

  2. Dr Sarah says:

    ‘Fallen’ is my favourite book out of the series. I loved having some of the major questions from earlier answered (I’d assumed we’d have to wait until the last or at least the next-to-last book before getting that many reveals) while still having major new plotlines opened up, and I loved seeing Alex’s power-up.

    The most chilling line in the entire book, for me, was almost in passing near the end; Alex is fed up with Meredith, and, as casually as if it’s nothing, he thinks about how he’s starting to sympathise with Richard. That absolutely was a ‘whoa, goodbye old Alex, hello new evil-Overlord-in-the-making’ moment. I mean, I’m hoping it won’t be as bad as that, and ‘Forged’ does establish that Alex still has a conscience, but… yeah, that was quite a moment.

  3. Celia says:

    I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite in the series… I loved Bound as well, but Forged is probably my favorite. The scene in Sal Sarque’s fortress where Alex is able to fulfill the dragon’s prophecy by getting Rachel to turn on Richard is pure genius. And Richard’s speech to Alex earlier is stellar is as well. I was a bit upset that Alex killed the two adepts who tried to surrender to him in Onyx’s mansion, however. To me that was probably his darkest moment. But it definitely showcases the changes in Alex.

  4. Celia says:

    Meant Fallen, not Forged, doh. I always confuse those titles.

  5. Jim Sackman says:

    I have posted on the Reddit that Alex could have been much darker at any time by going all Bond villain. I recognize that this would not have fit with the series. Alex could have spent time building a huge stockpile of cash and gotten rid of enemies with (for example) chemical weapons. I was always surprised how passive Alex was in relation to the threats that faced him. Even Arachnae’s warning really didn’t move him. Only choose or die did it.

  6. GregorV says:

    @Jim Sackman Alex has the same set of biases as other mages, especially Dark ones. While the Council uses mortal weaponry extensively, it requires not only cash, but also a lot of networking – knowing the right people, doing the right kind of favours (which may involve extortion, torture and murder). Being a Dark mage by temperament, Alex distrusts even simple handguns, preferring his knife. Anything which can be considered as not personal power is considered as a crutch, a sign of weakness rather than strength.

  7. Anonymous says:

    OT, but just to leave a comment WRT Favours:
    I haven’t read it and probably won’t as things stand. I am interested, but I read my books on paper. I already read enough stuff on screen and, while it’s good for working and interactive stuff, it strains the eyes no matter how much you fiddle with settings. Paper’s just better in so many ways.

  8. Josh says:

    Huh, I know it’s just a tendency, but I’ve always seen Alex the way female readers apparently tend to do? He seems like a basically good person. Even when he snaps in Fallen and goes full Dark mage from then on, he’s just ruthless, not evil.* Rachel gave him all that crap about how he thinks he’s better than her but he’s killed more people than most Dark mages do their whole lives…neglecting that virtually all of those people tried to kill him or a friend of his first. Sonder and Anne too, a little bit, and that they always tried to evade Alex’s question “what else could I have done that wasn’t ‘lay down and die’?” drove me nuts and made me even more sympathetic to him.

    *Hm, ok, now that someone else mentioned it, killing the two adepts who tried to surrender was kinda fucked up. I assume he thought either “I warned them and they laughed at me, no second chances” or ” I don’t want them pulling a Skyrim fake surrender amd interfering when I kill Onyx” or both. The former would be evil, the latter again mere ruthlessness. So, kind of ambiguous.

  9. Celia says:

    Anon, WRT Favours, I am the opposite. I only read ebooks, because my vision is terrible, and I can adjust the font to the necessary size for lighting conditions/whether I am wearing glasses or contacts. I also enjoy audiobooks as well. Mr. Jacka said he might write more short stories, depending on how sales of Favours go. Maybe if he published enough short stories it might be feasible to release them in a paperback collection…? Not sure how that would even work since Favours is not traditionally published, though. You could also try emailing Mr. Jacka and asking if you could buy Favours from him in a format you could print?, since he owns the rights to it?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Celia, I suppose there’s always that. I just wanted to voice my support in principle even if it doesn’t feature in the money pile.

    I’m curious, though. If it wasn’t for your eyesight, which would you prefer?

  11. Celia says:

    TLDR: I much prefer ebooks, even without vision problems.

    I was resistant to ebooks for quite a long time. But eventually I bought a kindle to try. Truthfully I didn’t like it all that much. It was kind of a nuisance to carry everywhere along with a phone. And I destroyed…um… about 12 of them. One lasted under a half hour. OOPS. But when I started using the kindle app on my phone, I loved it. I don’t have to worry about losing my book, cause I can make the phone beep if I lose it. If I finish a book, I can download the next book, instantly. I have hundreds of books available, and it takes up about as much space as a deck of cards. No one can see what I am reading, either, which is great when the cover is less than tasteful. 😉 I can read in bed on my phone without waking up my husband. I don’t have to lug around some 1000 page doorstopper anymore – my book can fit in my pocket! (Granted most of my clothes don’t actually have pockets, heh.) Dropping a paper book in the bathtub sucks – many kindles died that way. Dropping a waterproof phone in the bathtub isn’t such a big deal.

    Nowadays I flat out won’t read a paper book. It’s not been a problem for me, except that I would love to read the British versions of the Verus series, to compare them to the American versions, but can’t really get that version in America in ebook. I also would like to read the ninja academy series, but they are also not available in ebook. The only time I will buy a physical book now is for a book signing – and even that it just because it’s generally required in order to have a chance to chat with the author. I will still buy that same book in ebook to actually read it.

    So I am very pro ebook now. 🙂 I also love audiobooks for my commute, and wirh whispersync, you can switch back and forth between the ebook and audiobook without losing your place.

  12. Alicia W. says:

    Here’s my 2 cents on the ebook/paper book debate. I almost never read paper anymore. Decades of typing & mousing (I work in IT) have wreaked havoc on my wrists, so holding a book or eReader can get uncomfortable. I prefer the “hands free” experience of listening to audiobooks (plus, I love the performance of a skilled narrator). If an audiobook isn’t available, I’ll read the eBook on my tablet which I’ll prop up on a pillow or armrest, so I don’t have to hold it.
    Listening to a book does take longer than reading it, but I enjoy the whole experience.
    I loved Favours: it was so cool reading a story from another character’s POV. I’d LOVE an audiobook version, but I’m not sure it’s economically viable to hire a narrator for a novella. Hopefully, there will be more short stories that can be published in paperback form & on audiobook.

  13. Luke the Large says:

    Speaking of Shireen…
    At least in her early incarnations, I thought that Alex felt a certain degree of guilt over Shireen‘s fate. She was helpful to him more than once, and while she clearly had her own agenda and was, to a certain extent, locked into pursuing that agenda—I was a bit disappointed at how callously he let her die or disintegrate or whatever, in the ending to book 11.
    Right up until he didn’t, I was expecting him to open the gate and take her back out into the real world. It certainly seemed a possible thing to do, as I believe he had been told he could take things created in that world back into the real world. I guess it is a sign of his new focus that he didn’t think of it, but to me it indicates an even further loss of his humanity. Or maybe a further distancing of his emotions. Even if it wouldn’t have worked, I would’ve expected the question of whether it would to come to his mind, and if nothing else, be rejected.
    I could see him not wanting to introduce such a random element back into his life, and while a selfish decision from that perspective I would at least get it.
    That was the one element from the final scene of book 11 that I found anything less than satisfying. And yes I know this is a commentary for book 10, but the commentary for book 11 has not yet been posted.

  14. Luke the Large says:

    Regarding the e-book question: I’m in my 40s, and it’s e-books over print for me. actually it’s audiobooks preferentially, unless I can’t find an audiobook version. It’s rare that I will choose an e-book over an audiobook, unless I can’t stand the narrator, but 99% of the time I will never choose a print book over an e-book.

    For my over 80 year old grandmother, the choice is exclusively e-books. She is even more an avid reader than I am, and with the tremendous quantity of electronic books available to either get for free, or borrow for “free” via Kindle unlimited, it is an absolute no-brainer to go e-book. The several thousands of dollars I would’ve had to spend to keep her in reading material if she were stuck with physical books, does not bear thinking about. in truth she simply would not be able to read nearly as much as she does, were it not for e-books.

    There are all kinds of things you can do to avoid eyestrain, from glasses that block out blue light, to various settings on your E-reader or phone, to using the screen reader aspect of the device (all kindles have one) to read the books for you, or in this case the short stories for you.

    And directly to @anonymous: we are talking about short stories here. And right now there’s only one of them. If this is your only objection, I would strongly urge you to reconsider buying. It’s cheap, it supports the author, and even if you absolutely refuse to read it, you will at least encourage the writing of more of them. And if he writes more of them eventually he may put them out as a collection, which probably will at least get print on demand publishing.

  15. Bob says:

    ? On page 80 of 296 on my Kindle edition of Fallen there is a repeated paragraph. Does anyone else have this ad well? Early in chapter 5, begins with ” 9 days later”. Paragraph 2.

  16. Alicia W. says:

    @Bob: no, my Kindle edition of Fallen only has that paragraph one time. Maybe remove the download & download it again?

  17. GregorV says:

    Ok, now I want a TV series based on Alex Verus with an opening theme being The Rasmus – In the Shadows.

    “They say that I must learn to kill before I can feel safe
    But I, I’d rather kill myself than turn into their slave”

    And then, season by season, we watch how this phrase, which at the beginning of the series described him perfectly, becomes a lie.

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