Fated by Benedict Jacka
Fated (An Alex Verus Novel)
I have my husband to thank for my first real introduction to the paranormal mystery genre. It was because of him that I started reading Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and I’ve discovered and enjoyed many examples of this kind of tale since then. In fact, I’ve gotten quite attached to a new author on the market with a series endorsed by Butcher: Benedict Jacka, whose first book, Fated, introduces readers to a diviner mage who gets embroiled in some pretty fantastic mysteries.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Alex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future—allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success.
But when Alex is approached by multiple factions to crack open a relic from a long-ago mage war, he knows that whatever’s inside must be beyond powerful. And thanks to his abilities, Alex can predict that by taking the job, his odds of survival are about to go from slim to none…”
I really like how Jacka portrays Alex. He’s slightly snarky, with a lot of the wit that I’ve come to enjoy. His wit is confined to moments when there isn’t a huge amount of action, though, which saves it from becoming too heavy-handed. Alex also has an interesting personality, one that lies somewhere between laid-back and paranoid. Given that his gift allows him to see all the ways in which he could dramatically die, I think that this portrayal is pretty accurate. Alex has to be able to handle all the bad things that he sees, but he also has to be on guard so that those things don’t happen.
Alex’s gift actually allows readers to get some vicarious thrills from seeing what would have happened if he’d done something different. It’s kind of like watching someone go through a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book by peeking at the consequences on the page that you don’t want to end up on. The author wisely limits this power, though; for example, human free will is the wild card that makes it impossible for Alex to know everything. If someone hasn’t made a choice yet, he can’t see any of the outcomes.
While Jacka has built a world that allows for magical/inhuman creatures, he makes it clear that they are few and far between. In this book, the only one that we really see is Arachne, a giant spider who is Alex’s friend. Much more common are elemental spirits who can be bound to service or asked for favors. This isn’t a world where vampire councils secretly rule Parliament, or one where werewolf packs roam the night. In this setting, mages mostly thrive or fail based on their own cunning and power, and this prevents it from become an over-amped slugfest.
I really enjoyed this book. Alex is smart and funny and resourceful, calling to mind the antics of Harry Dresden without being a copy of him. Fated is an entertaining and original debut, and I’ll definitely be picking up Alex’s next adventure to see what happens next.
Also by this author: Cursed
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on August 20, 2012.