The Big Idea: Benedict Jacka

William Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead; it isn’t even past.” This is a concept that comes into play with Chosen, the latest Alex Verus novel by Benedict Jacka. He’s here now to explain how.

BENEDICT JACKA:

It was early 2012, and I was thinking over ideas for a fourth Alex Verus novel.  At the time I didn’t know for sure that my publishers would want a fourth Alex Verus novel – due to the weirdness of publishing schedules I was planning the fourth book before the first one, Fated, had even been released, and publishers generally like to see sales figures before they commit to sequels – but if you can’t take a little uncertainty, you shouldn’t be in the writing business in the first place.  Which was how I found myself turning over plans for Alex Verus #4.

One thing I’d decided early on was that this time I wanted to present Alex as a bit more morally ambiguous.  In book #3, Taken, the main adversary had been a life-draining monster that fed off children, and when your villain’s that far down the morality scale it tends to make your protagonist’s ethical issues look pretty minor by comparison.  I thought I should change things up a bit, and it struck me that a good contrast to Taken would be to use something closer to a hero antagonist.

Now, hero antagonists aren’t anything new, but in most stories which use them, the “antagonist” part has a short shelf life.  When both guys in a fight are sympathetic, then once the initial conflict’s over the writer usually has them work out their differences somehow.  Either the antagonist finds out that the hero is in the right, and switches to the hero’s side (The Fugitive) the hero finds out that the antagonist is in the right, and switches to the antagonist’s side (Oblivion) or the whole thing is just a big misunderstanding and a prelude to the heroes teaming up against the real villain (pretty much every comic book crossover ever).

In all these stories the protagonist and the antagonist eventually realise that they should be on the same side.  But what if there wasn’t any misunderstanding?  What if the two characters’ goals were just fundamentally incompatible with each other?

Right from the start, a key element of Alex Verus’ backstory had been that his first teacher had been a particularly notorious mage named Richard Drakh.  I’d already established in the previous books that while working for Richard, Alex had done some things he wasn’t proud of, and it made sense that some of the survivors of those things might one day come looking for payback.  And since Richard had disappeared long before the events of Fated, the most visible target for them would be . . . Alex.

That opened up a whole bunch of interesting questions.  In FatedCursed, and Taken, Alex had gotten into quite a few fights, but not because he wanted to – it had usually been a case of self-defence.  But what would he do if someone was coming after him for a justified reason?  He’d try to compromise . . . but what if they weren’t interested in compromise?  What if they wanted him dead (not penalised, dead) for something that really was his fault?

Well, that struck me as a pretty interesting story hook.  Alex wouldn’t want to use lethal force against someone like that, but he wouldn’t just step in front of a bullet either.  His instinct would be to find out more, looking for a third option, which would mean going back over the parts of his own history that he really didn’t want to face.

Would it work?  The answer to that would depend on what kind of world I was writing.  In a idealistic setting, Alex would eventually (after a lot of soul-searching) be able to find some sort of peaceful solution.  In a more cynical setting, there’d be no peaceful solution, no happy ending:  one side or the other would end up dead.  I already had a feeling which of those it was going to turn out to be, but I didn’t know the details.  So I started writing the book to find out.

As for what my publishers thought . . . well, Chosen’s coming out today, so it seems they liked it.  Hope you do too!

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Chosen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

18 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Benedict Jacka

  1. Not to judge a book by its cover… but I will buy this book based solely on its cover.
    I still don’t judge books by their covers, though. This is just an exception.

  2. I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this novel, and, like the previous books in the series, it’s a super fun-read, with just enough humor not to be grim, more than enough action to keep your attention riveted, great characters with actual depth, and a tight plot.

    Buy them all.

  3. I’m happy to see this. I’ve been a long time fan of Jim Butcher’s novels, so when I first saw “Fated” with Jim’s cover blurb, I knew I had to give it a shot. I have not been disappointed!

  4. I actually almost had a hissy fit this morning because my pre-order of this wasn’t downloaded. Then I realized I’m an idiot and turned off my wi-fi :)

  5. Loved the first two of these — must have lost track if there’s already a number four! Thanks. Off to the bookshop…

  6. A story with peaceful conflict resolution is plausible. But when the way a story is written reflects an authorial conception of a world where all conflict can be peaceably resolved and thus any failure to achieve that end is a character flaw, such a story is a fundamentally dishonest fairy tale. It denies that all interpersonal conflict is rooted in the choices of multiple actors and therefor no single actor can achieve peace without the cooperation the other(s) are free to withhold. It denies that different people value different things and so have different priorities of which peace is not always one. It denies that people can choose violence even if they have all the facts. Most of all, it denies that any values and priorities other than the author’s own can be valid, i.e. it depicts the other’s values as objective natural truth independent of human valuation. The real world doesn’t work like that. The universe has no moral stake.

  7. The Jim Butcher endorsement was probably enough for me, but I have to say that this is a well written description and it has me intrigued by how you worked it out.

  8. We are doing “Fated” for our book club in September so I am a new fan. I can’t wait to buy all of them. Thanks for the Big Idea.

  9. Based on this description, I now have to read the -entire series-. Thank you for using up the last bits of my free time and then some, putting me back in the category of kids who read novels tucked into their math books.
    *headdesk*

  10. In all these stories the protagonist and the antagonist eventually realise that they should be on the same side. But what if there wasn’t any misunderstanding? What if the two characters’ goals were just fundamentally incompatible with each other?

    This reminded me of _The Lions of al-Rassan_, which I thought was excellent. Although in that case neither of the combatants is the protagonist, and it’s the larger forces each of them are aligned with that make them unable to settle their differences other than on the battlefield.

    It’s harder to understand how someone could be unable to abandon their personal vengeance when they realized the target was merely mistaken, or had reformed in the interim, and if they’re able but unwilling to do so, then they become less sympathetic. So I’m curious how you could pull off this kind of setup if the primary driving force of the conflict is personal rather than political.

    Guess I might just have to read and find out…

  11. I liked the first three, pre-ordered this. read it last night. I want more. This series could have legs. thanks

  12. Reblogged this on Sleepy Book Dragon and commented:
    A great article on the ideas behind the latest Alex Verus book, Chosen, by Benedict Jacka. It certainly makes me want to keep reading the book.
    Reviews of Skulduggery Pleasant: LSODM and Chosen (when I finish it) are on their way.

  13. I know this is an old listing, but I just read “The Chosen” and I need people to discuss it with!!! I loved this book! It was messy and chaotic and everyone made bad choices. It was so realistic it made me stay up wayyyy too late to finish it. Thank you for writing it and now, you should release the next one tomorrow. No, seriously, I need to know what happens next.

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