Fated: An Alex Verus Novel – Benedict Jacka (Mild Spoilers)

Slightly guilty admission now: I’m not sure I really understand what “urban fantasy” is meant to be, or why it’s different from any other sort of fantasy. Obviously, it’s set in a town… but is that really enough to distinguish it from the rest of the genre? Or is it just a handy label because we need some way to sort it all out?

In any case, Fated /is/ an urban fantasy novel, set in modern day London, only with wizards. Thankfully, it is written by someone who clearly knows at least a little bit about London so, to the informed laywoman like me, it passes for convincing. Apparently it’s the author’s first novel for adults, and, had I not read the interview at the end of the book, I wouldn’t have known from his writing that he normally writes young adult fiction. You can generally tell, so I take this as a positive sign.

The setting is nothing special. There are mages, they have various powers, some are good and some are bad, they live secretly in the UK, making their own rules apart from us normals… blah blah blah. Jacka isn’t winning any prizes for unusual magical worlds here. In truth, he doesn’t really explore the magic of his world beyond that of the main character, the eponymous Alex Verus.

Ok, mild spoiler tags here. I am going to tell you a little bit about Verus. Not much, and nothing you don’t learn early on, but eyes away now if that would be a problem.

Ok, Alex is a “diviner”, and he can tell the future. As I think is actually a legal requirement for characters in fantasy novels who can see the future, he feels the need to tell us that it’s not like reading a book, it’s all branches of probability… you have heard this all before, I’ve no doubt. What /is/ interesting is the extent to which he uses his power. It comes up /all the time/. And that’s nice. Sometimes, the character with the prophetic-style powers is really underused, when one might think they’d be really useful. But Alex basically relies on his abilities non-stop. Refreshing. And he uses them cleverly, consistently and believably. Also pleasing. The author has taken a trope of fantasy and, while not using it in any new and exciting way, he has taken it to the logical conclusion sometimes lacking in fantasy (or perhaps I just read really trashy, badly written fantasy… this is entirely possible).

Unfortunately, the character of Alex Verus is not nearly so exciting. He’s the broody outsider with a dark past who hates the establishment for what they’ve done to him. And to be honest, that’s about it. He’s not really very deep. A couple of moral dilemmas crop up, and they are dealt with swiftly and without much depth. Not that the other characters are much better. It’s very much a book about occurrences, not about people.

But for all that, it’s not half bad. The story is compelling enough that I was kept hanging on, and I very much wanted to find out what happened. Some of the twists are pretty obvious, but Verus (stepping into the role of narrator for moment) admits when he sees the outcome of one of them that he’s been an idiot to miss it, which isn’t /quite/ as good as there being a completely surprising twist, but the author is at least aware that we’re not idiots. I can live with that. There’s nothing worse than spending two hours mentally shouting at a character to spot the damn obvious, only for him to make a big show and tell of how surprising and unexpected it was when he figures it out.

As I said, most of the characters fall short of any real depth. Luna has her moments of interest, but that’s really all they are. But there are enough characters in play that this feels not so much an oversight as a by-product of having so many people to think about. It’s no Game of Thrones, but there are a few people with silly names to remember. And they do have some silly names.

I’m not selling it well, but it’s one of those books that you can’t find anything very good to say about, but you still recommend someone read it. It’s enjoyable. And it’d probably make an excellent film (only it wouldn’t, because they’d muck it up, like all film adaptations of books… but it’d make a good film /hypothetically/) as it’s a very visual, fight-sceney sort of book. The only really convincing thing I can say is that I liked it enough to buy the sequel. I would suggest people read it, but I wouldn’t advise anyone to go to it with hopes of literary excellence.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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