Fated by Benedict Jacka
Hidden in the lanes and byways of Camden London sits a shop, just a little shop, but if you know where to find it and have need of something a little magical, then the Arcana Emporium is the place for you. The owner already knows you are on the way; being able to see into the future helps with that.
Alex Verus has hidden from the world for many years, but old wounds scar the longest and one-time friends and new enemies will come knocking.
The forces of Dark and Light want Alex and his unique abilities and neither side is taking no as an answer.
Alex will need quick wits, luck and good friends to come out of this one. I guess Alex didn’t see this one coming.
The best way to do something that is painful is to do it quickly, so as the quote goes; time to rip the plaster off (band aid for the Americans) in one go…
No disrespect is meant Benedict Jacka but Fated is Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden but set in the UK. The writing, culture and magic are incredibly similar to the Dresden Files that the first time I read the blurb I thought I was reading a spin-off series. While you may be warranted in thinking this is bad thing, it’s not, so keep reading…
Jacka has brought a world of Magic with its own flavour to the story of Alex Verus. The similarities in the writing style between Jacka and Butcher allow you to feel like you know the people and world laid out before you, there is even a nice one liner about Dresden in the first chapter; I won’t spoil that for you.
The best way I can describe this congruence is I remember watching an interview with Patrick Stewart once. He was saying he had just finished his first season of Star Trek and was at home watching TV when the first episode of Red Dwarf came on. After watching he was going to call his agent as he felt it was copying Next Generation. However, after thinking about it, he could see while they had similar themes and concepts they were very different. It’s in this tone that Jacka and Alex Verus sits.
Jacka has written a story that is smooth and easy to read with enough differences that you don’t feel like you are reading Jim Butcher.
The strengths for me in how Jacka has written Alex Verus, is the characters personality. He has portrayed Verus as a survivor, a man who knows his own weakness and can overcome them or make use of them as desired. Verus is not a man who is afraid to defend himself, even to the death, or a man afraid to run when faced with odds greater than he can handle.
Jacka has based the Alex Verus books is Camden London and has written the scenery in such a way he makes it feel real and true. It’s in this aspect I think Jacka surpasses Butcher. In Dresden’s Chicago you don’t get that feeling of reality (which isn’t a bad thing), its feels more like Metropolis or Gotham City – the world of everyday people is veiled and the magic world sits on top.
The story has a good introduction to the world of Mages and Magic and is nicely detailed in the nuances of this universe. The different evolution of Mage powers is quite nice, there is an Elemental quality to each Mages ability and how it is used.
I did find Verus’s power of divination magic a little contrite. While I can see the attempt at practical application I found it a little bit of a stretch. For example when Verus is “cracking” a pin code. Starting with a standard number pad and not repeating digits, for a 6 digit pin code, Verus would need to look into 150,000 futures (as that how many different sequences are available) for the correct sequence. Practically this would take a very long time, which is not portrayed, and yes I can see I am being little picky. In the end I just gave myself over to the story and accepted the magic.
In any good story you want the bad guys to give you goose bumps and I just didn’t get that feeling – there is a good goosebump bad guy in book three but you have to wait until the final chapters. However, there are several questionable individuals Verus comes up against you wouldn’t to meet down a dark alley. The introduction of Mage Politics, Dark and Light Mages adds to the depth of story. I do feel we are still in the waiting period for the ghosts of Verus past to give us a truly goosebump bad guy.
I love the Dresden Files and I feel I have come across a story that can give me the same feeling. I picked up this book on a Thursday, started reading it on Friday and was finished it by Sunday. The books are not long, but there a great little read.
Fergus McCartan, 8/10
It’s pretty clear, I’m a whore for well-written urban-fantasy, specifically if it’s set in London. I love it. There is nothing I enjoy more than sitting down with a book to read about a fantastical version of a city I’ve never visited, but love nonetheless.
So when I heard about Benedict Jacka’s series of Alex Verus novels, I jumped at the chance to read them.
Alex Verus is a diviner, able to see the future. This is impressive to most people but less so to other mages, who can do things like throw fire, disintegrate things, and fly. Right now Alex has a problem – a site’s been discovered containing an ancient and powerful relic, and lots of people are looking for a diviner to open it, including a trio of dark mages, a faction of the Council with an agenda of their own, and a shadowy figure out of Alex’s past, all of whom are looking to recruit, press-gang, or kill Alex, not necessarily in that order.
As if that’s not enough, Alex has to take care of his would-be apprentice, who has some connection to the relic which is making her a target as well . . . and who also just happens to carry a curse that’ll kill anyone who gets too close, assuming the mages hunting her don’t do it first. His allies are an air elemental with the memory of a goldfish and a creature living under Hampstead Heath that would make most people run screaming.
Sometimes seeing the future isn’t as fun as it sounds.
‘Fated’ is not on the same level as Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift novels, but rather more in line with Ben Aaronovitch’s books about Constable Peter Grant. They’ve got a really great taste to them, but without Griffin’s beautiful tour of London, something I’m beginning to suspect she is the master of. Jacka writes a great story; quick, gripping, and really fun!
Jacka’s characters are really fantastic. Alex starts out feeling a little like the stereotypical “hero who doesn’t choose a side”, very similar to the TV series Lost Girl. But thankfully, over the length of this admittedly short read, he evolves into a character who is more than his role started out as; he’s smart, restricted by his power set and remains restricted, and ends up playing both sides for a beneficial outcome for all, not just for himself.
The remaining characters really helped build up the overall intensity of the story, making actions count and lives matter. No one was there just to walk on and off stage, so to speak. Even smaller bit-parts were very important to the overall evolution of the story and Alex’s character.
All in all, if you have a weekend spare, grab these books because you will not be disappointed.
Joshus S Hill, 7/10
Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and the canal. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals, where tourists and moody teenagers mingle, and where you can get your ears pierced and your shoulder tattooed while eating sushi washed down with a can of super strength beer. In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won’t sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you’re looking for, he might just be able to help. That’s if he’s not too busy avoiding his apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light, and investigating a highly toxic Relic that has just turned up at the British Museum.
The latest addition to the 2012 urban fantasy scene comes in the form of Benedict Jacka’s debut adult novel, Fated. Set in North London and fronted by Alex Verus, a talented diviner with a mottled history, Fated is the first in a series of books following its protagonist’s magical escapades.
Somewhat of a rogue, Alex Verus is a man aligned neither to the Light mages nor the Dark, sharing a history with both that has led him to preferable isolation. His only real friend is Luna, a girl with a curse that prevents any kind of intimacy, and his day job consists of running a magic shop that most people assume is a joke. But a peaceful existence isn’t likely to last in Jacka’s Camden, and Verus soon stumbles into a highly dangerous situation that not even his seer skills can extricate him from.
On opening, Fated walks a fine line between something all too familiar and a story that promises something substantially more involving. Thankfully after about a quarter of the way through, the novel takes the more exciting route, suddenly speeding up and pulling you headlong into one of the fastest reads you’re likely to experience. Key players are quickly introduced and the requisite doubts and suspicions are laid out. After that, it’s an involving mix of action and intrigue that make the pages blur.
The author’s protagonist Verus frequently threatens to sink into one of those all too familiar clichés that are the confident, cocksure, always-has-an-answer-for-everything characters that serve only to irritate the reader. But each time Verus reaches the brink Jacka pulls him back, ensuring that his cool confidence is broken up by more grounded moments of surprise and emotion that aren’t to be assumed in a character with future telling abilities.
That’s not to say there aren’t one or two cringe inducing moments (cheeky one-liners such as ‘You’re nuttier than a bowl of Alpen’ will invite a wince), but Verus manages to stave off the stereotype with the right mix of character and charisma.
An obvious concern with a protagonist who can predict the future lies essentially in the point of the story, but Jacka handles this well with regular, detailed accounts of how Verus’ sightseeing ability works, allowing the reader a greater insight into his character and lending the story credibility. The overall plot avoids being too predictable, managing to stay away from the obvious and keeping the reader guessing.
Verus’ sidekick Luna is a great member of the ensemble cast, though it’s less her personality and more her magical attributes that stand out. Possessed of a curse that transfers bad luck away from her onto anybody close by, it means that in addition to a rather distressing childhood she can’t be close to another person for any length of time without putting them in considerable danger. It’s an interesting feature that plays out well within the context of the story, though its function in the final pages is somewhat questionable.
Sadly, what lets the novel down is the finale. Though comprised of an involving action-heavy sequence that keeps you on edge, Alex’s escape from his final fix feels rather tenuous. The ending in general is also weak, as the overall situation resets itself to almost how it was at the start, rendering the whole adventure somewhat inconsequential. In addition, despite possessing a large amount of sensitive information that many characters wouldn’t like divulged, Alex’s continued survival after the event feels more than a little unbelievable.
Comparisons to Jim Butcher’s Dresden files are inevitable, and though Fated is very clearly in the same vein, it’s a book with some great ideas of its own that deserves to be read as such. An exciting, involving and enjoyable read, Fated presents a great new voice in fantasy fiction.
Alice Wybrew, 7.6/10
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