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by Benedict Jacka
Ace Books, 2012, $7.99, 278pp
Release Date: February 28, 2011

This is cracker-jack urban fantasy, set in London , along the lines of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – there’s even a clever and funny nod to Harry Dresden in the first chapter. Besides having a well-designed plot and vivid characters, it is well-written to boot.

Alex has a fairly rare variety of magical talent – he can foresee possible futures. He can’t throw fireballs or lightning bolts, he can’t cast charms or spells of persuasion or protection; his offensive skills and defensive skills are, magically, non-existent. He can, however, scan futures and choose from his options for optimal results. He lives quietly by himself; to pay the bills he runs a small shop called Arcana Emporium that sells supplies to the magically gifted and to the wannabees.

Diviners like Alex are occasionally consulted to assist with serious magical doings: if you know what could go spectacularly wrong, you can do something else instead. So while diviners are regarded with a kind of pitying contempt by most mages, every now and then a diviner gets courted by the Council that regulates magical activities.

Alex himself has nothing to do with most magic users or the Council. Bad memories and a hard won independence from a master of Dark magic have rendered Alex Verus very much a loner. But when an artifact is found that every major magician wants to get his hands on, and ALL the other diviners refuse to have ANYTHING to do with it, Alex gets forcibly recruited by two opposing factions to a way to activate the artifact without dying in the process. That is to say, his employers don’t mind if Alex or any other flunkies die, so long as they get the power of the artifact for themselves.

Alex’s quiet life spins out of control as he dodges the ire of murderous mages, hostile apprentices, treacherous associates, and the booby traps that surround the artifact itself. Most difficult of all, he has to confront his memories and the shade of a former friend.

Like other interesting protagonists, (Corwin, Vlad, and Miles come to mind,) Alex has great allies. There’s the giant spider; there’s Starbreeze, an air elemental; Luna, a young woman living under an inherited curse that deflects bad luck from her to others with deadly results; even his enemies include the coolly ambiguous Cinder, a onetime fellow apprentice to the Dark mage who trained Alex.

Because he is used to seeing alternatives, Alex never takes anything as given; he knows that motives, alliances, options and consequences shift from moment to moment. As a result, Alex is ten times more awake than most of us are, living more in the world of assumptions we have constructed than in the world of realities. Alex, while sifting through potentialities, is keenly alert to realities.

Superbly crafted, this story glitters with details that activate your imagination and engage your emotions. Fated definitely makes it to my list of Best Books of 2012. Strongly recommended. – Chris R. Paige

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