(This is part 8 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.)
Well, it’s been a long journey, but we’ve finally come to the “true” ending of the series.
For the two alternate endings I discussed their themes, but for this last entry, I’ll talk more about the tone of Alex Verus’s world. The way I’ll do so is via the alternate endings, because I think both of the alternate endings send a very specific message about this.
This ending implies a perfectible world. Problems come from evil individuals (such as Levistus and Richard) or a flawed system (like the Council and the Concord). In both cases, the problems can be removed or reformed. The only reason problems don’t get fixed is because the right people don’t have enough power. Once Alex gets enough power, he can force everything onto the right track and everyone lives happily ever after (well, apart from the bad guys, but they don’t count).
Of course, as I pointed out in entry 5, this ending kind of falls apart once you start thinking about it. But the important thing about this ending is that it implies that the big questions of the world all have fairly straightforward answers.
Bad Things Happen
This ending implies a much more pessimistic world, maybe even a hopeless one. Not only is the world most definitely not perfectible, trying to improve it has a good chance of actively making things worse. No matter how virtuous you are or how hard you try, everything is still likely to spiral downwards; most characters end up dead or miserable, and even the “winners” aren’t happy.
In this sort of world, the world’s problems are not only impossible to solve, they’re actively out to get you. The most you can do is win short-term victories, which take a hell of a lot of work and are unlikely to last. Heroism usually earns you nothing but an early grave, and even if you survive, you might wish you hadn’t.
The True Ending
So what’s the tone of the true ending? I think a good way to look at it is how it differs from the other two.
The true ending doesn’t imply a perfectible world. Alex survives, but only after a fashion, and has to give up much of himself to do so. Anne is saved, but she’s haunted by her past and may never be able to go home. Several powerful and evil members of the Council and of Drakh’s cabal are killed, but the structures that created them remain, and there’s no guarantee that the new mages who’ll rise up to replace them will be any better.
On the other hand, the true ending doesn’t imply a hopeless world, either. Both of the couples in the main cast (Anne/Alex and Luna/Vari) make it through alive, and while they still have problems, they’re largely free to live their lives in peace. Heroic characters don’t get rewarded, but neither are they punished. And the very worst villains usually end up dying unglamorous deaths, generally as a consequence of their own actions.
In short, Alex Verus’s world is a mildly pessimistic one, but not a dystopia. There are no easy solutions, suffering will happen, but you can prevent total disaster and have a chance of creating a good life for yourself and the people around you.
As Alex says at the very end: all in all, it’s not so bad.