Fated (An Alex Verus Novel)
by Benedict Jacka
Review by Gayle Surrette
Ace Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781937007294
Date: 28 February 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
"Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendously -- and be a little nervous around himů."I mean who could resist finding out why Dresden would like this guy? Not me. I just had to read this new -- to me -- writer.
Alex Verus, who tells us that is not the name he was born with, but it is the one he uses, is a mage -- a seer. He owns and operates the Arcana Emporium in London's Camden Town. Of course the real magic items aren't in the front of the store -- mainly because Verus would rather no one who could recognize or use those items actually came to his shop. But he likes to collect magical items, to take them out of circulation because he doesn't trust the Council, or other mages for that matter.
Luna freelances for Verus. If she finds an item that she believes would interest him, she brings it to him. Well, she found an interesting red cube that just might be magical. When she picked it up, it lit up for a moment. Luna is not a mage. She's somewhere between a sensitive and an adept, but totally untrained. Luna stays away from people because she's under a curse that causes those around her to have accidents. She keeps everyone at a distance to keep them safe, which makes for a very lonely life.
At the shop, Verus is visited by a Council mage who wants him to do some work for him -- off the Council's radar. Verus doesn't like the Council and the feeling is mutual. Verus refuses to get involved, but he does learn that they've got an artifact that they need to get into. It's believed this artifact may have been instrumental in ending the last war between the mages. Verus is a very rare type of mage -- a seer -- and all the other seers have refused to work with the artifact or have disappeared. This just makes Verus even less inclined to help out -- especially since he doesn't want either side to have the power this artifact may contain.
Luna shows up later in the day with her find -- the cube. Verus barely gets a chance to quickly look it over before another mage shows up with a request for help with the same artifact. When Verus checks the future lines there's not many ways to say no, and yet live; in fact, you might not survive even saying yes.
The first couple of chapters set up the world, the characters of Verus and Luna, and some history of magic and how it works here. There's a quick aside about magicians and an allusion to a wizard most of us will recognize in a throw away line.
It doesn't take long before Verus is just trying to keep Luna and himself alive, and to keep the bad guys from getting anything that would give them more power than they already have -- upsetting the balance in the Council.
The magical world operates along side our world somewhat hidden, but mostly ignored. Normals just don't notice what's there because they filter it out if it doesn't fit their view of what's possible. Verus, as we see him operate, has a very strong core of integrity, sense of justice, and fair play. He also has his own backstory and it's one that informs how he lives his life. He cares about people -- it would be easier if he didn't, but then it wouldn't make him as interesting a character either.
Jacka has created an interesting world with a number of issues that complicate the plot and add a lot of twists. The characters are fully developed and have a lot of baggage from their pasts which adds depth and texture. From the very beginning, you get pulled in when Verus uses his seer abilities and knows what his customers are going to buy and that he needs them out of the shop before he gets a phone call and has a visitor he doesn't want anyone to see. By chapter two, the reader has people to care about and a story line that won't let go until the final page which is when you start checking to see if there isn't a hidden chapter or two somewhere that you missed between the last page and the back cover.
This is the first book in a new series and I'll certainly be looking forward to the next entry. This has all the elements of the same old urban fantasy with magical users and the perennial struggle between black magic and white and the right to control your own destiny. However, Jacka manages to make it seem fresh because the characters are witty, clever, and three-dimensional and they matter to us, the readers.