Fated — Benedict Jacka (Alex Verus #1)

Fated by Benedict Jacka caught my eye when I saw it advertised by someone giving away a handful of copies on their blog. Curious to spot another urban-fantasy book that starred a male protagonist, I checked out what the back of the book said. I was absolutely thrilled when I realised the book not only sported a male main, but also took place in London; a place I am rather familiar with and that would certainly be easier to envisage than Butcher’s Chicago in the Dresden series.

Now I’m going to put a disclaimer that I read this book a little while ago, but wasn’t able to review it straight away due to being buried under a gazillion other, more  pressing things to do (namely actually making sure I passed an exam and handed my assignment on time!). So I apologise in advance if this isn’t my most exciting and/or accurate review.

For this one I’m going to start with the bad, or more so, not so much the bad as those niggly things that are unfortunately going to stop this review from being five-star, despite the fact that the book made for an overall awesome read. These are the things that could have ruined the book for me, had the rest not been so good, which may explain why I’m going to rant so much about them.

Firstly, and probably the most massive problem I have with this book, is with one of its characters, or more so, should I say, her back story. Usually, in reviews I try to keep spoilers to a minimum but when it comes to this, a) it is revealed quite early on in the book, and b) it just wasn’t something I could let slip. The character in question is Luna. As a character in Fated, Luna is an amazing young woman; strong, and just as capable of looking after herself as she is of knowing when she needs help. Luna is quite frankly one of the best female characters I have read in a while, in a book not written by a female author. So all should have been good on this point, but, because apparently there had to be a ‘but’ to such an awesome character, Luna is affected by a curse.

Said curse was placed on Luna’s family by a powerful strega and was to affect every girl in her family from the daughter of the man cursed, then her own daughter, and so on and so forth. Okay, so until now everything is fine, then we find out what the curse does: it literally draws out the luck out of anybody Luna (or presumably any of the women before her) touch, or even come too physically close to. Luna herself has told Alex that the first boy she kissed ended up in a coma. And that was when I hit the snag in this bit of the plot: if kissing a boy sends him in a coma, how the hell did any of these women ever get to the stage of being close enough to a man to do the dirty and become pregnant? I mean, how? It seemed like a huge plot hole to me, and something that jarred awkwardly throughout the entire book every time it was mentioned. At times, it even felt like a convenient plot device to keep Luna and Alex apart. And there is little more I hate than bits of plot that are just here to make something happen, or stop it from happening, and seem to make no sense when taken on their own.

My second problem with the book was the depiction of Light and Dark mages. Now, my problem with light and dark as two utterly and completely separate entities isn’t new, it’s something that has bugged me for years. But the way it was presented in Fated seemed a perfect demonstration of why it is a concept that annoys me so much. Dark mages are, well, evil. All of them, without exception. They live in big mansions with torture chambers in the basement for the poor apprentices that don’t do what they were asked to do. They wage war with one another, and all but enslave those who work for them.

Then we have the Light mages who are… well, grey. They’re not knights in shining armour fighting for the forces of good as you’d expect, as they advertise themselves to be the opposite of Dark mages. They scheme, backstab, plot, and do a variety of irritatingly underhand things that would be so much easier to digest if not for their high and mighty act when faced with what the Dark mages do.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people being grey in their intentions and actions, hell, I think grey is lot more realistic than all white or all black most of the time. But Jacka puts forward two factions, paints them briefly as all white and all black and then keeps the mould for only one. Why is it that Light mages can be complete and utter bastards with no scruples, but Dark mages have to be cruel and twisted sadists (there is a really awkward scene when we look into a torture chamber that felt so out of place it hurt). There seems to be this rule (and Fated isn’t the first place I have encountered this), where the ‘good guys’ can be so easily tempted towards the dark side, but the ‘bad guys’ are set in their ways, cruel to the core, and nothing in the world can possibly change them. It’s so unrealistic and presents Dark mages as one dimensional characters with no hope of evolving as time passes (which, on a psychological level, unless they’re all psychopaths, is extremely unbelievable).

The only exception to the above rule is Alex. Despite being raised (magically so) by a Dark mage (although raised is perhaps not the best term to use), Alex has managed to turn around his life and become one of the good guys. But then, he’s the main character, and I find that main characters don’t really make for very good exception to a rule that seems to apply to the rest of the book.

Anyway, enough with what annoyed me, and onto the good, because there is a lot of it in this book (but it always seems to be easier to waffle about the bad than the good ><).

Alex Verus is the protagonist, he owns a magic shop in Camden and is a probability mage—which means he gets to see the thousands of things that could happen, and has to use that to his advantage as, when it comes to offensive magic, Alex is more defenceless than a kitten. The way Jacka handles that part of the book is flawless. Being able to tell the future doesn’t make Alex invincible, or extra efficient, but it does make him bloody cool at times. Jacka manages to write Alex looking into several different possible futures without ever slowing the pace too much, or losing the flow of the action.

Luna, as mentioned above, is one of my favourite female characters in a book (especially urban fantasy), and I hope that she doesn’t get lost in the rest of the series. She has everything a good, strong, realistic female character needs to have and she makes for a good partner to Alex, despite the obvious awkwardness of the aforementioned curse.

The rest of the cast appears otherwise to be made of scheming Light mages (apart from Sonder, who could actually turn out to be pretty cool if developed further in the next instalments), and back stabbing Dark mages who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and who have on their side someone straight out of Alex’s past and nightmares, who is very capable of putting our hero on edge. Oh and let’s not forget a very different member of Fated cast, a giant spider-seamstress straight out of mythology, named Arachne. She was one of the great highlights of the book and I very much so enjoyed meeting her (even though I am terrified of spiders!).

Apart from that the book was well written, with sharp prose well suited to urban fantasy, and the action was well paced, with tension where it belonged, and a constant feeling that although Alex can see the future, it doesn’t mean that everything was going to be easy. It was also amazingly fun to be going around London for a change and it felt like being at home as Alex went about his business. Jacka managed to paint a vivid representation of the city, whilst managing to add his own, magic, touch to it, bringing it all to life very efficiently.

Overall, Fated was a very good book, but the two points that annoyed me kept popping up here and there and took some of the enjoyment out of an otherwise thrilling read.

4/5

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2 thoughts on “Fated — Benedict Jacka (Alex Verus #1)

  1. The way Luna’s curse works is that it can potentially affect any female descendant of the man who was originally cursed. So it doesn’t just travel down the family tree, it can also go “sideways” from one branch to another. When the current host dies, the youngest female descendant of the original target gets picked to be the new host.

    As you’ve spotted, this creates some problems for the continuation of the family line. Hosts of the curse almost invariably die childless. The reason the family line hasn’t died out is that a) the original target of the curse had lots of children and b) the curse also ensures that the hosts have a long and healthy lifespan – they’re practically invulnerable to accident or disease, so pretty much the only way they can die is by extreme old age or by deliberate violence of some form or another.

    As long as someone is carrying the curse, though, it can’t reach the rest of the family, so if the current host finds a way to live with their condition then it’s theoretically possible for the rest of the family to go a full 100+ years without anyone new being hit by it. This is also long enough for everyone else in the family to forget the stories of the crazy old great-aunt who lives alone in a hut somewhere . . . until she eventually dies, at which point the whole cycle starts again.

    Come to think of it, I ought to write this up somewhere. It’s the kind of question someone’s always going to ask!

    • Ah that makes a lot more sense now! I think I got blinkered by the book saying that it would affect the man’s daughter, and her daughter after that. I saw it as something that just, literally went down that line of the family of didn’t travel from one branch to another. Thanks for the explanation!

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