"It was a slow day, so I was reading a book at my desk and seeing into the future."
Ah. A fine first sentence told me this was going to be my kind of book. Alex Verus, the first-person protagonist, owns the London magic shop in which he works. This isn’t the kind of magic shop where you can buy interlocking rings or a box for sawing your assistant in half; think more New Age, with crystal balls and herbs. And Alex isn’t the kind of mage who concocts potions and waves a wand around. He’s a diviner, a man who can see into the future. But it’s not a matter of just taking a look ahead and seeing what’s going to happen, because the future doesn’t work that way. Every choice he or someone in his future makes changes things, possibly even everything, so what he really sees is probabilities. That means that he can do “research” by imagining the result of his opening this door instead of that door, or leaving now instead of five minutes later.
It’s a nice magic system, and author Benedict Jacka manipulates it to good advantage in Fated, his first urban fantasy. Jacka introduces a number of good characters, including Luna, a young woman who carries a curse that operates against anyone who touches her; Starbreeze, an air elemental who cannot keep a thought in her head for more than 30 seconds; and Arachne, who spins beautiful silks and creates wondrous garments from them. These three form the core of Alex’s support system. Jacka also skillfully weaves in bits and pieces of Alex’s back story, which involves an incomplete apprenticeship to a Dark mage along with three other children and a subsequent rethinking of whether good and bad are mere conventions.
The plot turns on a Precursor artifact, which gives Jacka a chance to tell us a bit about the history of magic in a world that looks exactly like ours, as well as a picture of the politics and how power is distributed between Dark and Light mages. A statue being housed at the British Museum encloses the artifact, and no one can figure out how to get to it without being zapped by the statue’s defenses. It’s clear that a diviner is needed, but every one of them except Alex has gone into hiding. Alex finds himself surprisingly popular among some formidable mages who are willing to give him no room to say no to their requests to figure out how to retrieve a very powerful piece of magical equipment from an earlier age.
Fated is Jacka’s first adult novel, and the first in his ALEX VERUS urban fantasy series that now extends to seven books — and I’m looking forward to reading all of them after finding myself happily lost in the pages of this one. Jacka’s plotting is sharp, with puzzle pieces all fitting neatly together. His prose is smooth and easy to read, even when explaining how his magic system works or venturing into the philosophy of free will or good versus evil. (Those who read for nothing but plot will miss Jacka’s insights into the philosophical underpinnings of this universe. That might not be a big problem in this novel, but I suspect one would be lost in future books in this series.) The characters are likable when they should be, despicable when they should be, and, best of all, fully as mysterious and changeable as they should be. It’s a very promising start to a series; so much so that I’ve already purchased the next book, Cursed, and plan to read it as soon as I’m finished writing this review. By which I mean to say … NOW.
Originally published at Fantasy Literature blog on October 5, 2016.