(This is part 7 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 just too damn depressing.
Note that I said depressing, not bad. Actually, in pure story terms, I think this ending works okay (it’s definitely not boring). But let’s break it down into the same categories as before.
In terms of consistency, this ending is . . . well, actually, it’s pretty good! The characters all act in accordance with their natures, and everything that happens is a logical consequence of the events that have come before.
Some people might be a bit shocked at just how far Anne goes off the deep end in this version, but to anyone who’s been paying attention, it’s always been very clear that Anne had the potential to end up like this (it was specifically highlighted in that prophecy of Variam’s). Just because she’s one of the main cast doesn’t mean that she’s a good person, and just like Alex, the body count that she racks up by the end of Risen should really make you stop and ask some questions.
So consistency-wise, I’d say this is fine.
Here’s where the problems start. With most of the cast ending up some combination of dead, miserable, or insane, this ending is pretty dark. Now, I’m not inherently opposed to dark or at least ambivalent endings (as those who’ve read my novellas will know), but I do think that if you’re writing an unhappy ending, you should have a good reason for it. And in the case of the Alex Verus series, that brings us to the overall message of the series. With this ending, what does the arc of Alex’s story look like?
Well, the short answer is that it’s a story of failure. Alex struggles against the forces opposed against him, and to begin with he has some limited success, but in the final 3-4 books he takes on the task of trying to save Anne, and fails. Yes, he technically preserves her life, but she ends up leading such a twisted and miserable existence that the end result’s probably worse than if he’d just let her die. Ultimately, in this version, Alex would have been better off just writing off Anne as a lost cause and withdrawing from the whole battle sometime around book 10 . . . which, to me, feels rather unsatisfying. It’s one thing to write a story of a heroic defeat, but a story that ends with “guess you should have just given up” doesn’t exactly make for inspiring reading.
I also didn’t like the idea of the impact it’d have on my readers. To me, one of the marks of a good story is that it leaves you glad to have read it. It doesn’t necessarily have to leave you happy, but it does need to leave you satisfied; if you close the book feeling worse than when you started it, something’s gone wrong. My readers, by this point, had been following Alex’s story for twelve whole books. That’s a big investment, and it shows a lot of trust. I wanted them to come to the end feeling that it had been worth it.
The final reason I didn’t like this ending is a weird one: in an odd way, to me, it felt as though it turned the whole series into a prequel. This sort of story would work fine as a prequel explaining how the next round of jinn wars came about. (Why did the marid’s ring end up lost and forgotten in this trap-filled shadow realm? Well, funny you should ask . . .) But I didn’t want the entire Alex Verus series to become a prequel, particularly not a prequel to a story I didn’t have any intention of writing.
So I just went with the standard ending. Looking back, I don’t regret it.
And that’s it for the alternate endings! The final post will take a brief look at the ‘true’ ending, and wrap this mini-series up.