I’m going to start with a rather puerile confession: I tend to do word association, similarities, spoonerisms and silly things like that in my head just to pass the time. Whenever I look at the cover of Fated by Benedict Jacka, or if I write #fated on Twitter or anything like that; my eyes read farted instead of fated. This is stupid and childish and, well, quite funny. Now that you have an insight into how my brain works, lets get on with the actual review of the actual book…
I liked this book from the moment that I started reading it. It’s not often that this happens, but Fated really does have a wonderful feel to it. This comes, at least in part, from its setting in a hidden backwater of central London; a safe haven that for me evokes a mixture of a Black Books style magic shop with easy like Sunday morning city life (This Halifax advert has aged, but the end part is what I remember). A coffee and a good view somewhere safe. Even as the story unfolds and some peril is introduced, there is still a comfy feeling, it really is a nice place to be.
The book is the first in a series of Alex Verus stories. Alex is a strong lead character who is a modern day mage with the ability to see the future (I will come back to that later.) Even Alex contributes to the comfortable feeling I got from the book. No matter what situation he finds himself in there are ways and means to get out of it; options to evaluate. The suspense is firmly directed towards how we will get out of the current predicament. I suppose that you could say this is true of most fiction books because you ultimately know that lead characters are the heroes who will survive. The subtle difference is that in most cases our protagonist doesn’t know they are going to survive, so suspense is built as we empathise with them. Alex is pretty sure he is going to survive, and it is only when the options get a bit thin on the ground that things get fun.
Alex is joined by a selection of other very well realised characters. There isn’t a cast of thousands, which keeps the story nice and tight, but there were quite a few characters who I would like to know more about. I suppose that also goes double for the hidden magical world. You are never going to find it easy to create a magical world that exists alongside the one we live in when creating in the shadow of J.K.Rowling, but Benedict’s world is realistic, well described and all his own.
Benedict has created a very clever way to describe Alex’s precognition. It feels extremely natural to be able to evaluate your options in the way that Alex does. It’s a shame that this isn’t the way that life actually works 🙁 There were a few times when I though Alex should have been able to use his ability to see the future when he didn’t. I usually find that plot issues and plot holes really get under my skin, but in this case they were relatively minor and could easily have been a realistic part of the situation. They didn’t really bother me as much as it should have because:-
- When the ability was used, it was very good, well integrated and well written, so I might have been wanting Alex to see the future options a bit too much?
- I knew that Benedict had constructed the plot for a good reason; I trusted the author
- I liked the book enough to allow the story to out weigh the occasional teeny tiny “could have used it there” plot issue
- No one is perfect; Alex is a believable character
To conclude the description of a book well liked, I have a final reason why the book felt as comfortable and well realised as it did. Benedict has topped off a brilliantly imagined world with an equally agreeable modern, conversational writing style. We (the reader) are sitting in a comfy chair being told a story. The style, and Benedict’s control of his prose, allows the book to easily encompass tension and comedy in close quarters. I feel like I could quite happily read Benedict’s writing even if it was describing how to make custard and I would remain engaged and satisfied (bad example there, I really like custard, but you get what I mean?) I would love to write a book like this, but I think that if I tried Benedict’s style, my story would revert to my blog style and I would end up cracking too many jokes and putting too many side note (like this.) I suppose I will just have to try it if I get a chance…
To conclude some more! I think what I’m driving at is that this book ticks two boxes. It is a really really enjoyable book to read, and the story is brilliant too. If I wasn’t on my quest I would be seeking out more books by Benedict Jacka.