Thursday, 5 April 2012

Review | Fated - Benedict Jacka

But first, a quick announcement - I'll be away for a while in the second half of May, so I'm looking for anyone interested in guest posting here. If anybody is, just drop me an email and we can sort something out!

Anyway - the review. I will admit that I first picked up Fated for the Jim Butcher recommendation, and immediately one can discern similarities between the two series - indeed, Fated even references The Dresden Files in its first few pages. However, since the novel introduces an abstructive Council immediately afterwards, I did feel that this reference stuck me into mentally setting Fated in the Dresden Files world for longer than it should! Perhaps because of how early it came.

But that's a minor quibble. As a whole, Fated has a distinct setting - and very distinct characters. Our protagonist, Alex Verus, is a London shopowner: but a purveyor of rather more arcane goods than the usual. In fact, he's a probability mage. Called by some a diviner or oracle, Alex is able to see and explore the possible futures which result from his actions - allowing him (with a little time) to bypass almost anything. Which is why he's now in demand by both Light and Dark mages, along with his assistant, Luna - there's an artefact both sides are looking for, but there's a problem: any attempt to open the way to said artefact has resulted in unfortunate consequences. Both sides want a diviner, and Alex looks like the only choice in town...

If you've read the Night Watch series, you may be able to detect some Lukyanenko influence in Fated. I certainly could - particularly in the Light/Dark relationship, with 'light is not good' being heavily used. Light mages can be just as nasty as their counterparts, and Jacka does a great job in making what could have been a simplistic divide become a little less so. After all, knowing your antagonists removes some of that tension...

...And in a fast-paced novel like Fated, that tension is necessary. Indeed, the novel relies on it: Alex's narration is light and wisecracking (if not quite so quirky as -say- Harry Dresden), the use of his talent is imaginative and avoids deus-ex-machina status with regularity - but the real driving force is the winding plot. It's unpredictable - and that provides much of the fun.

Initially, I was doubtful about Alex's probability-seeing ability - after all, where's the struggle if your protagonist can see everybody's actions? Thankfully, these doubts were unfounded. As anyone who's ever read one of my magic-related rants- sorry, posts - knows, my belief is that limits on fantasy magic systems such as this are essential. Jacka adds plenty: for one, Alex can't see past major choices people have yet to make. For another, he has to be actively looking - and for a third, the probability needs to be part of a viable future. If Alex hasn't rsolved to try a particular thing, it's generally not a probability - so he can't see its possible effects.

Naturally, this makes things more interesting. And with no other magical abilities aside from his artefacts, Alex's action sequences are more evely balanced than you might think - so generally, it's a matter of using magically acquired knowledge to outwit his foes. A rarety in itself, and one that's remarkably fun to read!

The resolution had a predictable element, however (which I won't spoil), and while less simplistic than immediately apparent, the Dark/Light divide was still fairly obvious. The slaving tendancy of the Dark mages made that fairly clear... That, and the came-too-early Dresden reference do introduce some minor flaws to Fated - but on the whole, it's what I call 'fun fantasy': a read which, while not perfect, is perfectly enjoyable. If you enjoy either Butcher's or Lukyanenko's work, Fated is highly recommended: an engagingly fast-paced read with refreshingly sympathetic characters.

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