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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Fated by Benedict Jacka (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read the first chapter HERE
Order the book HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Benedict Jacka first thought of becoming a writer when at the age of eighteen he started writing a story in his school library. Since then he's graduated with a B.A. in philosophy from Cambridge, lived in China, and worked in various different occupations such as civil servant, bouncer and teacher before returning to London to study law. He’s also taken part in competitive ballroom dancing and martial arts. He currently lives in London.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Alex Verus is a diviner, able to see the future. This is impressive to most people but less so to other mages, who can do things like throw fire, disintegrate things, and fly. Right now Alex has a problem – a site’s been discovered containing an ancient and powerful relic, and lots of people are looking for a diviner to open it, including a trio of dark mages, a faction of the Council with an agenda of their own, and a shadowy figure out of Alex’s past, all of whom are looking to recruit, press-gang, or kill Alex, not necessarily in that order.

As if that’s not enough, Alex has to take care of his would-be apprentice, who has some connection to the relic which is making her a target as well . . . and who also just happens to carry a curse that’ll kill anyone who gets too close, assuming the mages hunting her don’t do it first. His allies are an air elemental with the memory of a goldfish and a creature living under Hampstead Heath that would make most people run screaming.

Sometimes seeing the future isn’t as fun as it sounds...

FORMAT/INFO: Fated is 295 pages long, divided over fifteen chapters. Narration is in the first-person solely via Alex Verus. Fated is the first book in the Alex Verus series.

February 28, 2012 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of Fated via ACE books. The UK version was released in both paperback and e-book format on March 1, 2012 via Orbit.

ANALYSIS: Benedict Jacka’s debut has received quite some hype before its release and a blurb from Jim Butcher (coming from JB, this was something special as he currently blurbs biennially). All things considered this results in tremendous expectation to arise for a debut book. Anne Sowards also had mentioned Fated as one of the books to look out for in 2012 in her FBC interview. All things considered, I was very curious to see how the book would turn out to be.

Fated begins us with Alex Verus who is sitting in his magic charms shop called “Arcana Emporium” and divining the near future as that is his power. He receives a phone call from Luna who requests his help and after a quick divination, he decides to meet her. On his way however an old acquaintance comes to meet him to offer him a job of sorts wherein his divining powers are a requirement. The job offer pisses Alex off and he soon continues on his way to meet Luna. That’s when things start getting hairier as readers are given a clue about Luna’s unique problem and the thing she’s carrying. The actual plot begins and the readers are immersed into the world of Alex Verus wherein fate might not play that strong a role as it usually does.

The good part about this debut is that the story does its best to entrance the reader, beginning from its strong prose to the narrator’s distinct voice. The author unveils the story nicely and then doles out the world details very conveniently. The story is a straight forward one which though like most urban fantasies has a central mystery plot which slowly unfolds over the course of the book. The mystery aspect is a decent one and deals with a recovery of a certain object which requires the aid of divination magic. The overall prose is something which truly is the silver lining aspect of this story, here’s an example:
In my little corner of the city, things aren’t so bad. So if there’s something you need help with, drop by the Arcana Emporium. Its easy enough to find of you try. You probably won’t take it seriously at first, but that’s okay. Seeing is believing, after all!”

The author very admirably showcases the world of the protagonist and his reticence to return to the world of magic of which he was a part of. The protagonist’s thoughts and views are nicely laid about for the reader to empathize with and with the first person narrative, the reader is thoroughly immersed in the character’s mind. The author in his lackadaisical way does conveys the protagonist’s weariness, the main character does have a sordid past which is only hinted at and has lead to certain situation in his present life. One of the many mysteries of this series is that the main character’s name is not his true one and that certainly adds an extra veneer of mystery to this tale. The action sequences are also decently paced through out the story and the climax of the story has quite a thriller feel to it and kudos to the author for delivering such a strong, action-packed finale.

Of the many things that were good about this book, there were a few which worked against it. On reading it, I'm a bit perplexed. On one hand this is a good debut with definite series potential however comparisons to Dresden files and expectations might sour the read for many a fan. I found quite a few similarities with the Dresden files namely:
(1) A solo protagonist who has a troubled and secretive past
(2) The presence of a magical organization from which the protagonist is estranged
(3) The protagonist’s dogged persistence which happens to save the day
(4) The protagonist’s magical ability which isn’t on par with the bad guy’s power but yet he never gives up
(5) The protagonist has his side character cast which goes on to help in many a way

These similarities while being common with many a book, are quite evident in this story, while in the Dresden files the humor quotient is significantly present. That is not the case with this book as the humor level is quite shallow. I felt that while I was reading a good story, it really didn’t do much to differentiate itself as a spectacular one. The story and settings are developed just to an appropriate level however it isn’t done to a level which will make it stand out. Thus overall the debut does a good job but it will have to do a lot more to separate itself from the UF gold standard series that is the Dresden Files. I'll definitely be picking up the next two books in the series Taken and Cursed to see where the author takes the story & protagonist.

CONCLUSION: Benedict Jacka’s debut is a good one and it remains to be seen how the series will progress. Most veteran urban fantasy readers will not find anything new over here and the author will have to do a lot more to differentiate himself and his work amidst the crowded sub-genre. Fated is a debut which will have its fans and detractors alike and now its up to the author to increase the former numbers by curbing the deficiencies in his debut.


Anonymous said...

I was always under the impression Harry Dresden was one of the strongest, pure power potential/brute force, wizard in the Dresden universe. Probably not on par with some of the council, Merlin namely, but very much on par with most of what he has to face. This could easily be wrong since it has been a good bit since I read through the books.

Mihir said...

Hi Anon.

That's true but that's Harry in the latter half of the series, when Harry begins he's often fighting against forces ten times more powerful than him.



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