Fated, by Benedict Jacka (Probability Mage/Alex Verus #1)

  • TITLE: Fated (Probability Mage /Alex Verus #1)
  • AUTHOR: Benedict Jacka
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)
  • RELEASE DATE: March 1st 2012

Fated by Benedict Jacka is set to be one of my favourite books of 2012. I heard about this from the usual source—the Twitterverse—and have been eagerly anticipating reviewing it since. Before this, despite having been published before, I’d never heard of Benedict Jacka, but I guarantee that after Fated starts to do the rounds, the whole urban fantasy scene will be talking about Alex Verus, and his author.

The thing about being an urban fantasy fan—though I take the title lightly, as I’ve really only read select titles—is that a great volume of the really good stuff, the stuff that’s not borderline paranormal romance, or borderline this, or that, is set in the States, or in another gritty metropolis. Nine books into the Dresden Files and, unable to envisage such a city as Chicago, the setting is difficult to manage. It’s part and parcel of being in the UK, I suppose, and a symptom of being used to a single locale. I love the Dresden Files, but I can tell you now: I love Alex Verus.

Set in the heart of London, Alex Verus is part of another world, a world scarcely even glimpsed by the normal people who go about the daily grind in one of the oldest cities in the world. Verus is a mage, and although he tries to keep himself to himself, well out of the politicking of the mage world and well away from the dangers of his past, he can’t seem to stay off radar for very long—as he fast begins to realise in the first instalment of this new trilogy.

Verus runs a shop in Camden—the Arcana Emporium—and whether you’re in the market for herbs, a focus, or a crystal ball, Alex is the man for you. Fans of Harry Dresden might grumble at an “advertising wizard”, but really, it’s Verus’ attitude that already sets him apart from Harry Dresden. If you were worried about a copy of Harry, simply set in London and remade in his image, then think again: Verus is about as far removed from Dresden as chalk from cheese. And that is precisely what makes this work.

In a world where magic exists alongside the normal world, Alex Verus exists in the void between. As a diviner, a seer, a probability mage, there’s little he can do to deny his true place in the magic world, but given what he’s seen, from both sides—the politicking Light mages and the scheming, sadistic Dark mages—he’s happy enough to just to run the Arcana Emporium and try to figure out whether he’s got an apprentice, or whether she’s just a friend. A friend he can’t touch

When Verus isn’t busy trying to figure out—or avoid doing so—just what direction his life is going in after having been in hiding for so many years, he’s trying to get by and make the most of his powers, generally just using them to stay safe. Safety is his priority after a very damaging past at the hands of his former master, Richard Drakh, a Dark mage who didn’t play fair. But Verus is about to be reminded that Light mages don’t play fair, either. When it seems all other diviners have skipped town and every power-slinging mage of note wants Verus batting for their team—Light mages scheming behind the Council’s back; Dark mages vying for power and Council integration—he comes to realise that the only way to get out of this trouble, is to get into it.

A relic that everyone’s talking about needs a diviner to unlock it and Verus is suddenly top of everyone’s list. Like it or not, he’s about to be dragged back into the world he’s been avoiding for so long, and before he knows it, he’ll be knee deep and drowning. The only way to survive, is to stay ahead of the game—not too tricky for someone who can see into the future, right?

Jacka creates a seamless world with magic that works perfectly—especially in relation to Verus’ clairvoyance. There are obvious problems with this, but they are never an issue and the practicality of the magic is handled so well, you never think whilst reading about what issues there could have been. It just works. All the magic just works. The characters are dynamic and multi-layered, and Verus is a charming, charismatic protagonist who draws you in from the very beginning. The cast is relatively small for now, with Verus calling only a trio of friends to his team, all of whom are either well-developed guest roles, or solidly-layered and complex characters. Of the three, only Luna is human and only she really plays a detailed part.

Fated is simply excellent, and it’s nothing at all like the Dresden Files: this book stands on its own and stands apart from the wizard PI styling of Jim Butcher’s work. Instead, Fated is an expertly woven tale of magic merging seamlessly with the mundane world, and of a man trying to find a path down which to walk.

This book is engrossing and delightful, and you should definitely read it.

5/5

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3 thoughts on “Fated, by Benedict Jacka (Probability Mage/Alex Verus #1)

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