Oct 25

Book Review: Fated

Fated (Alex Verus, #1)Fated by Benedict Jacka

This fantasy novel has a great premise. Alex Verus is a mage whose main power is that he can see the future. He can’t throw fireballs, he can’t make wards, he can’t turn people into stone, but with divination, he can hold his own among people who do. He runs a magic shop in London and generally lives a quiet life until two things happen: his friend Luna brings him a magic cube of unknown use, and someone tries to hire him to help recover a “fate weaver” a magic item of huge power.

This world is divided into two kinds of mages, the dark mages and the light mages. The dark mages believe that there’s no such thing as morality, only power, and that if you are stronger than another person it’s okay to torture or kill them because it’s their fault for being weak. The light mages believe in morality, so they know they’re doing something evil when they torture or kill you (but will generally do it anyway.)

Alex Verus has three friends. Starshine is an air-headed air elemental who has the power to transport him swiftly to anywhere he might like to go, but she takes a while to show up and has to be kept on task because she gets distracted. Arachne is a giant spider (which isn’t really a spoiler, since her name is Arachne) who can keep him safe and make him clothes. Luna brings him any magic items she finds. Luna is his closest thing to a friend. She’s in her twenties, frail and delicate and timid and obedient. She has a curse that will keep her safe at the cost of everyone around her, so she finds it hard to make friends too.

Soon Alex is pursued by three different groups of people, all vying for control of the fateweaver. There are other diviners out there, but they’re all too sensible to get involved in this mess. Not Alex, for some reason. Maybe that reason is Luna. Because people are after her as well, somehow figuring out that she’s connected to the cube, which has a role to play in recovering the fateweaver.

The plot is like an action movie. Tense scenes of bad guys chasing the good guys, Alex saving the day by making the right choices based on what he sees in the future, tense, fragile alliances, a few setbacks all leading up the the final conflict. The final scene has mazes and magic battles and tense showdowns and victory and a few moral conflicts we all pretty much predicted. So, plot-wise, it’s very satisfying.

I can’t really say I liked the characters very much. I kept getting the bad guys confused because they were pretty similar to one another. There was “head bad guy” (two or three people fit this) and “henchman” (five or six people fit this) and “pretty girl who has bad things happen to her” (two people fit this). Starshine had a personality, but it was pretty one-note. Sander was pretty one-note. Arachne was pretty simple too. None of these people felt like they had a life beyond their scene.

Luna, I would say, had no personality at all. Alex comments early on how much he likes that she’s obedient. He doesn’t say “obedient” he says “she does what I tell her to do without asking questions about it.” To be sure, a little of this trait would have saved Sulu a lot of grief in The Wrath of Khan, so I’m not completely knocking the “act first, question later” trait. But it gets old. She does what Alex tells her, no more, no less. At one point he asks her opinion, and there’s this jarring disconnect as I recognized how out-of-step that scene was with the rest of the novel. Luna has no life outside of Alex. She has no desires outside of him. She has no motivation to do or not do anything, except what Alex says to do. We don’t know where she comes from, what she likes or dislikes, what she’s afraid of, nothing. She’s an empty shell. If she were just there for one scene to hand Alex his dry cleaning, that would be fine, but she’s the second-most-important person in the novel.

So, this was a fun novel, but I don’t think I’m fired up to read the rest of it. The plotting was tight and the worldbuilding interesting, but the characters cardboard and forgettable. Even Alex doesn’t have much to remember him by.

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