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‘Fated’ a fine urban fantasy

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Urban fantasy is a genre whose star has been on the rise over the past decade or so. More and more authors are trying their hand at bringing the magic of sword-and-sorcery to a modern cityscape. Some are successful, but many more are not – it’s hard to write urban fantasy without coming off as derivative or clichéd. I’ve read a lot of mediocre stuff over the years.

That’s why it’s exciting when a new book arrives that seems to have potential. “Fated” (ACE, $7.99), the first book in a new series by Benedict Jacka, is one of those books.

It’s modern-day London, just like ours save one small detail – there is magic among us. Alex Verus is a diviner; a mage who can see the future. He operates a magic shop in London – and not the card-trick, rabbit-hat kind of magic. He’s also a bit of a pariah among the magical elite due to some unpleasantness in the past, so he tries his best to just keep his head down and stay out of magic’s way.

However, when a number of different magical factions seek out Alex’s help in unlocking an ancient artifact, he knows that he’s being thrust into the middle of something much bigger than he is prepared to handle. And since he can see the future, he’s the only one who might be able to solve the mystery.

Of course, he can also see what will happen if he should fail.

In Alex Verus, Jacka has managed to create a hero who is both extremely powerful and extremely vulnerable. His magical ability is incredible, but the ghosts of his past and the circumstances of his present combine to lend him an air of sympathy; his sadness is even greater than his talent. And the characters that surround Alex are richly realized as well – it’s a supporting cast with whom readers will look forward to spending more time.

Jacka’s London is a meticulously rendered place, filled with the sort of interesting, yet unobtrusive details that breathe life into the background. The world through which Alex walks is made real through that attention.

And of course, there’s the storytelling. Jacka’s voice is polished and warm; we’re let inside Alex Verus’s head. His style is high-energy in all the best ways, bringing forth the richness of his descriptions and the reality of his world. And despite the fact that our hero can see the future, we’re still carried along by mystery; undeniably impressive.

“Fated” looks like the beginning of something special. This is a wonderful addition to the urban fantasy canon and something that any fan of the genre would do well to check out. And with the second book “Cursed” set to come out in June, there won’t be long to wait to find out what happens next.

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