Why I Didn’t Choose The “Total Victory” Ending

(This is part 5 of an 8-part series on the ending of the Alex Verus novels.  The master post with links to all the other parts is here.)

Because it was terrible.  

That’s the short answer.  Keep reading if you want the long answer, but let’s be clear:  I never seriously considered ending the series this way.   

The only selling point of this ending is catharsis.  Readers had been watching Alex get trodden on for a long time, and by this point, a lot of them really wanted to see him win.  This ending would have made those readers happy . . . in the short term.  But it’s still terrible, and here’s why.


The first problem with this ending is that it doesn’t fit.  

The world of the Alex Verus series is one of limits.  Alex can see into the future, but he can’t throw fire.  He can use magic items, but their effects are relatively weak.  And while as a recognised mage Alex has a certain amount of power and autonomy, it’s very clear right from the start that he can’t just do whatever he wants.  The Light Council will bring down the hammer if he gets caught breaking their laws, and if he says the wrong thing to a Dark mage, he risks being killed on the spot.  Even when Alex rises in power, as he does over the course of the series, this draws the attention of stronger enemies and rivals, which brings new problems in turn.  The limitations and restrictions that Alex is under change, but they never go away.

The world of the Alex Verus series is also one where consequences matter.  Alex’s history as a Dark apprentice causes the Council to mistrust him.  His actions as Richard’s apprentice cause the Nightstalkers to come after him in book #4.  The way he deals with the Nightstalkers causes a rift between him and Anne in book #5.  His covering up for Anne is what gets him outlawed in book #10.  The books feature good consequences as well as bad ones, but generally speaking, whenever Alex breaks the rules in some major way, it eventually comes back to bite him.

So why does all this suddenly change?  Why can Alex suddenly forget about limits and consequences, and do whatever he wants?

In a consistent world, if Alex tried to take over the country in this way, people would come out of the woodwork to oppose him, since they’d (correctly) see him as a Dark mage who was trying to become a dictator.  The most likely consequence of this would be that the country would be plunged right back into war . . . a war that Alex would lose, since while Alex at the end of Risen is enormously powerful, he’s still not powerful enough to take on the entire country at once.  To take over the Council he’d have to persuade a plurality of people that it was in their best interests to accept him as their ruler.  This would take a vast amount of time and political manoeuvring, at which point we’re basically not writing an ending at all so much as transitioning into a new and much more politics-focused storyline.  

But big as all these problems are, they’re nowhere near as bad as the mess this ending would make of the theme.


In this alternate ending, the entire series becomes the story of Alex’s rise to supreme ruler.  Alex gets everything that he personally wants and makes the country into a better place, and he does so via raw power, forcibly removing anyone who tries to stop him.  

So what does this mean for the theme?  What message is the series now sending?

Well, basically the message is that the Dark mages were right all along.  Power really is the only thing that matters, and the best solution to problems really is to just crush whoever’s in your way.  Looked at from this point of view, Alex’s big mistake wasn’t joining Richard, it was leaving him.  He should have listened to Richard from the start.  

This ending also casts Alex’s effort to avoid the Dark path in a very different light.  Alex spends a lot of the series trying not to take the ruthless, cold-hearted approach to solving problems.  It doesn’t always work, and in the last three books he comes close to giving up, but much of the series is the story of Alex trying to hold onto his principles even when it would be really, really convenient not to.  This ending undermines those efforts:  by having the Dark path be the optimal one, it devalues all of Alex’s past choices and struggles.  It turns out that all of his efforts to do the right thing were pretty much a waste of time and we could have just as easily skipped about six books with no particular impact on the story.

And while this is a “victory” ending, it’s not at all clear that it’s a good ending.  Alex might be the viewpoint character of the series, but by the end of book 12 he’s pretty damn violent and ruthless.  Would having him as dictator actually be a good thing?  Would Alex be able to resist the temptation to abuse his new power, just as the Council did before him?  And even if he was able to avoid being corrupted, what sort of legacy would he leave behind?  The next generation of mages and adepts would grow up with Alex’s success as a model to follow.  What would happen when they started disagreeing about what to do?  

Ultimately, with this ending, the Alex Verus series becomes little more than a power fantasy.  “If only I had some unfair advantage that made me invincible, everything would turn out great.”  Readers  would probably still enjoy it, but when they looked back on the series as a whole with their new knowledge of where it was going, they’d be much more inclined to judge it negatively.  They’d be right.

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4 Responses to Why I Didn’t Choose The “Total Victory” Ending

  1. Jamie says:

    I agree completely. In fact, this is the issue I have with the actual ending. By the climax of Fallen, Alex wins every encounter fairly easily, thanks to the fateweaver. The conclusion isn’t so much will he win, as (how) will he survive. Alex has, in fact, gone from a relatively weak mage trying to avoid any conflict to all-powerful.

    Make no mistake, I prefer the actual ending to the total victory or total defeat scenarios. It just seemed a bit pat and inevitable. But maybe that’s just me, and it certainly won’t keep me from rereading.

    Thanks for letting us into Alex’s world. It was a heckuva ride, and I look forward to what comes next.

  2. Kurt Von Bosse says:

    “This would take a vast amount of time and political manoeuvring, at which point we’re basically not writing an ending at all so much as transitioning into a new and much more politics-focused storyline.”

    To put it another way, to take this path would be something like turning Alex into Muad’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach. Aside from being inconsistent with the theme of Alex dealing with his limitations, it would take another set of books to tell that story and become almost unrecognizable from what came before.

  3. Patrice Stewart says:

    I enjoyed the series enormously, and found your ending satisfying and consistent with Alex’s character. Believable heroes are always flawed. He was a struggling but “rising” underdog throughout: I like “Risen”‘s double meaning, up the chain of control/command AND to the Hereafter (however one defines it). It seems quite natural for the series to resolve as it did, given the Fateweaver’s seemingly inevitable takeover of Alex, at least bodily. Arghh, he dies! No, whew, he doesn’t?! Because he remained an overall good guy, I still care.

    It was disappointing that Sonder never found his way back to friendship with Alex. He was promising but ultimately weak and betraying. I never really understood (could identify with?) Luna or Anne, each seemed so distant, though I’m glad they both survived. Landis, Hermes, and Arachne were my favorites (in no particular order) after Alex; each stood out, vivid and distinct as well as likeable.

    The series is highly cerebral within a complex action-heavy backdrop, a superb mix but unusual compared to similar series I’ve explored. This is noteworthy as you, Benedict, are very well-rounded in terms of physical/mental/etc. interests and experience. Perhaps this is your intentional writing style, or Alex’s narration is merely consistent with his cerebral persona.

    Great series and writing, with memorable characters who vary wildly and widely. An exciting story arc in layered worlds, well-explained in depth that engages and never condescends to its readers. So much to like!! I can hardly wait to read your next book and series…

  4. Cazador says:

    I was suggested this series by my brother and it gave me a delightful respite during a rough time early this year, and I ate it all quickly. I feel the ending, with all the questions it brings after the credits rolled, was a perfect way to do it. It’s not… Exactly Alex. Not is it not. Quite fun!

    Thank you for sticking with it and devoting so much of your time to giving us a hilarious series with lots of moral quandary!

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