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Benedict Jacka. Ace, $7.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-98854-1

The complex ninth novel in Jacka’s outstanding urban fantasy series adds substantially to protagonist Alex Verus’s self-understanding as he prepares for the ultimate showdown with Machiavellian dark mage Richard Drakh, his onetime mentor. Bureaucracy and personal conflicts render the Light Council of “good” mages ineffective in fighting Richard, and Alex knows that Richard is cannily planning to draw the swarm of unaffiliated magical adepts to his side by orchestrating a bloody confrontation. Nevertheless, while that scheme gathers momentum, Alex follows the Light Council’s orders to negotiate with some of Richard’s accomplices who may be willing to betray him—or may not. As he realizes what a long game his enemy is playing, Alex must recognize that his own ambitions may also be dangerous. The story moves briskly along with skillful character development, but by now so much lore from the first eight books has accumulated that even series fans may have to stop to figure out who’s doing what. Since much of the action depends on personal treachery and deceit, that’s a serious drawback. This is not a good place to begin reading the series, but the series itself is very, very good, and once readers have refreshed their memories, they’ll eagerly dive into this installment. Agent: Sophie Hicks, Sophie Hicks Agency. (July)