Review: Fated (Alex Verus #1) by Benedict Jacka

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(tentative) Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date Read: September 19 to 23, 2015
Read Count: 1
Recommended by: Gergana
Recommended for: people who’ve never read Harry Dresden
(not) Recommended for: fans of Harry Dresden

In many ways this book is what I wanted from the Dresden Files: Dresden’s world and magic minus Dresden himself. I’m sure if I’d read it before Storm Front, I would’ve liked it more because it’s urban fantasy in the traditional sense with a mystery and a reluctant protagonist with magical abilities caught in the middle of a magical war between two opposing sides.

I’m conflicted though…because I actually kind of like this book and I kind of hated Storm Front. The problem is I’ve never liked a–plagiarized? carbon-copy? fan fiction?–inspired work more than the original before, so I’m very conflicted.

Alex Verus is a mage living in London who dabbles in magic and does his best to avoid other mages. He’s currently not attached to any magical factions and would like to stay that way, but that doesn’t stop trouble from finding him. Fated opens with Lyle, an old acquaintance and aid to a respected but shady light mage, requesting his help with a mysterious artifact. The light mages can’t open this thing and would like to know if Alex knows a way to crack it. He turns Lyle down at first since he’d rather keep his distance from mages in general. However, Lyle seeking him out means the light mages are out of options, and he owes it to them to help. At first he is reluctant, but is soon pulled into the job when his close friend’s life (Luna) is threatened because of her connection to the artifact. What starts out as a simple job turns into a race to keep the artifact out of the wrong hands.

It’s hard to judge this book on its own merits because there are echoes of Dresden all over the place. Benedict Jacka borrows quite a lot from Jim Butcher–too much, in my opinion; an embarrassing amount, in my honest opinion–but I do prefer his writing style over Butcher’s because I sort of like Alex Verus. Not enough to continue the series, but a whole lot more than Dresden. Let’s compare the two, shall we.

Alex Verus is a diviner (pre-cog; clairvoyant), otherwise he is very much like Harry Dresden, almost in every way except he has a more toned-down personality and his casual chauvinism isn’t flaunted about like a hockey stick. And Alex Verus’ world, though set in London, is very much inspired by Harry Dresden’s Chicago, from the urban magic to the magical politics to the magical factions–light mages vs. dark mages. Just like Harry, mages from both sides seek out Alex’s services. Just like Harry, he is a reluctant player/pawn in their games. Just like Harry, he has a dark mysterious past. Just like Harry, the light side avoids dealing with him because of his past. Just like Harry, he leans more toward dark than light. Just like Harry, he suffered for years under the tutelage of an abusive mentor, and just like Harry, he overcame the abuse to pave his own way in the magical world. What he did to his mentor is not quite the same thing Harry did to his, though the result is the same. Oh, and the light mages have a council called the light council. Of course they do.

When you lay it all out like that, it’s hard to ignore the overlap, and the overlap is strong in this one. Of course there are differences between the characters too, but they seem rather inconsequential in light of all these “similarities.” However, Jim Butcher isn’t bothered, so I suppose I shouldn’t be either. I mean, it’s not like I’m a fan of the Dresden books or anything. It makes no difference to me how much this book is “inspired by” Dresden; it’s just too hard to ignore these things.

So if you like the Dresden Files, there’s a good chance you’ll like this series. If you’re a big fan of Dresden, you might be offended on Butcher’s behalf. Or you might not. Who knows. If you’ve never read Dresden, even better. Overall though, this book is not a terrible read.

 

People point to this line as the tip of the hat to Butcher:

“I’ve heard of a guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under “Wizard”,though that’s probably a urban legend.”

But I think it’s actually this line that’s the true homage:

Luna didn’t look up and I rolled my eyes heavenwards, just barely stopping myself from saying something that I knew would make things worse. First I had to drag her here, now she was refusing to leave. I can see the freaking future and women still don’t make sense. 

Oh, Alex. So close, so damn close. You almost had me until this part. Just like Storm Front, casual chauvinism is thrown in as part of characterization, but here in Fated, it happens less frequently and is more toned-down when it surfaces. For much of the book, I was willing to overlook stilted prose, long expositions, awkward dialogue, cartoonish villains, several plot holes (especially the multiple-futures one), and even plagiarism because I knew this was a first book and first books are often not good, but I can’t overlook casual chauvinism as part of characterization. It grates on me like nails on a chalkboard. So lifting so much from the Dresden books without adding anything new to it, while keeping Dresden’s obnoxious chauvinism seems, like a missed opportunity.

 

So enough of that. Now that my reading slump has lifted, I’m gonna stop dawdling and really get down to business.

UF series I’m looking forward to explore next are (in no certain order):

  • The Others by Anne Bishop
  • Agent of Hel by Jacqueline Carey
  • California Bones by Greg van Eekhout
  • Fated Blades by Steve Bein
  • Caeli-Amur by Rjurik Davidson
  • Chronicles of Elantra by Michelle Sagara (West)

These have been on my mind for some time now and I have a feeling they’re all amazing, but I’ve been putting them off with the excuse of “saving” them for a better time. But there’s no time like the present, and it’s unlikely that I will get any time off in the near future to really enjoy these books, so onward already to amazing UF’s. What I get to first will depend on what’s available at the library.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Fated (Alex Verus #1) by Benedict Jacka

  1. thebookgator September 24, 2015 / 10:24 am

    First, hilarious review. *snickers* all the way through. I particularly liked the ‘opinion’ sentence.
    I agree, casual chauvinism turns me off as a reader–really, casual any -ism. Time to modernize authors, and not be lazy with characterization. If not, it’s totally fair to call it out when we note it.
    I understand on the ‘saving’ books. I do it too, and I’m not really sure why. I think for some of them, it’s wanting to maximize the experience–to be able to dive in and finish at an organic pace and not be interrupted by life. I’m trying to be better about it–there really are a lot of fabulous books. Still, it seems sad to settle for a tired, read-in-bits experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mimi September 24, 2015 / 2:53 pm

      Thank you! Totally with you on the -isms and lazy characterization. If writers want to stay relevant, they should be more aware of these tropes and how they don’t age well. They should pay attention to social movements happening all around us.

      As for saving books, that’s exactly it–maximize the reading experience. I’m always trying to do that when it comes to books I think I might enjoy. And also, I’m trying to stay optimistic by hoarding these books for when I get a true vacation, but that vacation will never happen heh. Well, it might, but not any time soon. So why not read in the meantime.

      Liked by 1 person

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