My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This review originally appeared at www.newtownreviewofbooks.com.au
Warning! Wizards are no longer weedy, spectacle-wearing dorks with wimpy scars on their heads waving sticks and reciting pig Latin. In the world of Bound, the first in the Alex Caine series by Alan Baxter, wizards are cage-fighting kickboxers, channelling eldritch powers as extensions of their murderous will in order to harden their bodies to punch through rock – or flesh/bone/brain matter – before bedding their girlfriends/sidekicks to quell their post-fight rage.
If you’re not that fussed about Harry Potter-type magic stories, then Bound is a solid action adventure with a couple of nice twists to keep your interest bubbling along. When we first meet Alex, he’s ‘just your average’ cage fighter, but he has an uncanny knack of being able to read his opponents’ intentions. It’s a facility he’s been honing and it gives him an edge in any fight. After a run-in with the local ‘match-fixing’ mafia he accepts an offer to travel to London from an old man named Welby who proves – against everything Alex believes – that magic exists and that Alex has some facility with it. Welby needs him to read a particular book – a seemingly simple act – but this book refuses to be read by just anyone and Welby thinks Alex might be the key.
Things go south very quickly and Alex finds himself bound to the book, which actually contains the remnants of the mad god Uthentia, as well as possessing a shard of the Darak Stone – another very magical talisman – that was originally used by a group called the Eld to banish the god to a nether dimension. Luckily for Alex, who has no idea of the hidden world he’s stumbled into, he teams up with Silhouette, a ‘Kin’ – one of a kind of fairy people who are long-lived and responsible for vampire and werewolf legends as well as a great many other expressions of humanity’s darker imaginings. Unfortunately, the book has an agenda of its own and exerts an influence over Alex that is hard to resist, particularly when he has to face down a powerful Kin in Silhouette’s nest:
‘So how do I get rid of it?’
‘You can’t. Eventually it’ll kill you, after it’s caused as much damage as it can, and then move on to someone else. The Eld did an amazing job really, reducing the power of Uthentia to that.’
‘Oh, well that’s good then!’ Alex rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. ‘I thought the book was special, that it could be read by someone with a powerful vision. Welby told me … ’
‘Welby?’ Joseph laughed. ‘Is that where all this leads back to? That whelp?’
‘Welby is the one who roped Alex in,’ Silhouette said. ‘He was aware of the grimoire, but couldn’t read it. He discovered that Alex could, but by then I think it was already too late.’
Joseph gestured dismissively, his face resigned. ‘Of course it was. The book always tacks itself onto someone with power, someone who can wreak as much havoc as possible before they’re overwhelmed. Welby, for all his studies, certainly isn’t powerful enough. But there are plenty of people who are. Welby really has no idea of the world he dabbles in.’
Silhouette made a noise of understanding. ‘Welby’s dead,’ she said. ‘So’s the man who originally had the book, although it was Alex who killed him.’
Joseph laughed. ‘You see! This is what it does. It led you here indirectly and if you’d died in the arena one of us would have got stuck with it. Look on the bright side, Alex. You’re one in a long, long line of poor suckers paying the debt incurred by the Eld to save the world.’
So Alex is trapped by the remnant of Uthentia and worried about what it will make him do. He’s also not so sure about Silhouette, who has an unsettling habit of feasting on human flesh. Alex is worried about becoming a monster like her, but he also can’t trust her motives. Does she truly want to help him or is she just stringing him along as part of some bigger gambit by her nest master, Joseph?
And then there’s Hood, accompanied by his factotum/lover Sparks, who wants to possess the magical items Alex has, despite the danger they represent, and sends an increasingly powerful range of magical beings to track down Alex and Silhouette with the hope of wresting the book and the stone from Alex’s dead fingers:
‘This situation bears the hallmarks of something very intriguing. I want to know who killed this despicable little man and why. Have the boys get round here and gather up anything of value before the police or some other busybodies stumble across it all. We can’t let an opportunity like this slip by. Any authorities will think it a simple robbery. There’s nothing to trace this back to us if we’re clean.’
Sparks nodded. ‘Yes, sir. And the killer?’
Hood smiled. ‘I think we need to call in the Subcontractor.’
Sparks face split in a wide grin. ‘Excellent!’
‘But first.’ Hood ran a long, thin hand through Sparks’s hair. ‘This whole situation rather thrills me. Bend over that desk, Ms Sparks. I have some excitement that needs releasing.’
Sparks dipped her head coyly, her grin staying put. ‘Why, Mr Hood!
So the stage is set for a round-the-world chase with Alex fighting personal and real demons in his quest to free himself from the curse of Uthentia. It’s all a lot of fun, although as you might guess from the extracts, I’d add a graphic language and violence advisory if you’re at all squeamish. The one thing that bothered me was the fact that, for the most part, Alex remains a cipher throughout the book. We know his parents died in a terrible accident, and he often thinks of the words of ‘Sifu’, his martial arts master, when squaring up to a rival, but it feels as if there is a whole backstory for Alex that we just can’t access, but can hope this is explored in the other two books, the second of which – Obsidian – is now available as an ebook.
View all my reviews