Friday, 27 June 2014

Bound by Alan Baxter

Bound by Alan Baxter is the first novel I've read by the author, although I have read short stories in the (recent) past. I have to admit I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this book (aside from accurate fight scenes) and I don't think I could've predicted what I did get.
Alex Caine is a martial artist fighting in illegal cage matches. His powerful secret weapon is an unnatural vision that allows him to see his opponents’ moves before they know their intentions themselves.

An enigmatic Englishman, Patrick Welby, approaches Alex after a fight and reveals, ‘I know your secret.’ Welby shows Alex how to unleash a breathtaking realm of magic and power, drawing him into a mind-bending adventure beyond his control. And control is something Alex values above all else…

A cursed grimoire binds Alex to Uthentia, a chaotic Fey godling, who leads him towards chaos and murder, an urge Alex finds harder and harder to resist. Befriended by Silhouette, a monstrous Kin beauty, Alex sets out to recover the only things that will free him - the shards of the Darak. But that powerful stone also has the potential to unleash a catastrophe which could mean the end of the world as we know it.
Probably the simplest way to describe Bound is as an origin story for Alex. At least, that's how it felt when I got to the end. I'm probably getting ahead of myself saying that, though. Let me go back to the beginning.

Alex has a small talent for magic and is discovered by a more experienced magic user after using his magical intuition to win a cage match. After that, he picks up magic pretty quickly. Too quickly I thought, until the main thrust of the novel revealed itself. There were two really interesting aspects to the story, I thought. First, there's the effect the cursed grimoire has on him. Being cursed, it is inherently evil and its magic insinuates its way into Alex's mind. It doesn't exactly control him, but it has a negative influence. I found Alex's struggle with what's inside of him fascinating. He wonders, during the book, whether he is becoming evil himself and I found myself asking the same questions. I really wasn't sure how it was going to go, which made it a more exciting read.

I can't not mention the main antagonists (aside from the cursed grimoire, that is). We are exposed to the magic relic dealer, Hood, through the eyes of his PA, Sparks. Hood has no scruples and spends the book trying to get his hands on whatever it is that Alex and Silhouette have (he doesn't actually know). Sparks is a more difficult and interesting character. At first, I thought she was another of Hood's victims under some sort of spell. That may have been just misinterpretation on my part because later on it becomes clear that she does actually care about him and stays with him by choice. On the one hand, this did make the character feel a bit inconsistent, but on the other hand I quite liked reading about her (I won't go so far as to say I liked her as a person...). It's unclear whether she will appear in the next book (my guess is not, but who knows), but I certainly wouldn't object if she did make an appearance.

Until the end, I was expecting Hood and Sparks to be the antagonists in subsequent books, but it looks like their storyline has been resolved. That's part of what makes me say that I see Bound as an origin story for Alex. The other things is... I feel silly for not noticing until the very end that Hood and Sparks were named for certain friends of the author's. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or headdesk (or headiPad, as the case may have been), when I realised.

Bound was an action-packed and fast-paced read with elements of moral ambiguity and horror. You could also call it a dark urban fantasy, if you were so inclined. If you are looking for a darkish and violent read, then Bound is the book for you. It's also self-contained if sequels aren't your thing. Mind you, I think I remember reading that books 2 and 3 will be out soon (like months, rather than years, apart), so there won't be a long wait until we get more of Alex and Silhouette's story, if long waits aren't your thing. I have no idea where the story might go next, but I want to find out.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: July 2014, Voyager AU
Series: Alex Cain book 1 of 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Horror Reading Challenge

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