Benedict Jacka

Alex Verus, book 1

Orbit (2012)

ISBN: 9780356500249

Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn

Fated is the first book in the urban fantasy Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka.

In this series, magic is real, with the mages of the world divided into Light and Dark. Alex Verus, the protagonist of the series, is affiliated with neither side. Instead, he looks after his own interests.  Alex owns and runs a magic store in Camden, North London, the Arcana Emporium. He is a diviner – what he calls a probability mage – able to see all possible branchings of the future due to choices made. He has a friend who sees herself as his potential apprentice, Luna, who is the recipient of a family curse which reflects bad luck onto everyone around her. The events of this book are set into motion when Luna brings Alex a strange magical cube, which thrusts them both into conflict with the Light and Dark mages.

Alex has the potential to be an interesting protagonist – he stands outside of the magic world in a way, and has experience with Dark magic in particular, having once been the apprentice of a Dark Mage. Unfortunately, a lot of the time he feels like a cardboard cutout of a character. His past is merely hinted at, and the reader never gets much of an impression of what Alex thinks about events of other characters, for all that the book is written in first person.

Luna is a slightly more interesting character as she deals with the impact the curse she carries has on those surrounding her. Like Alex though, she often feels like a cipher, with little depth or emotion.

The strength of this book lies in the worldbuilding – to the point where it almost feels like this whole book exists as little more than an introduction to the elaborate world Jacka has created. However, readers of urban fantasy won’t be surprised by many elements of the world – the magic falls back on many standard tropes, with a few interesting characters thrown in – the spider Arachne is notable here.

Overall, this is a perfectly serviceable introduction to a series that will no doubt interest many readers of urban fantasy, especially fans of Jim Butcher. The writing is plain but easy to consume, and the action is fast-paced. It’s a shame that the characters thus far aren’t tremendously interesting or well-defined; hopefully the rest of the series will begin to flesh them out.

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