Sunday, 29 June 2014

Review: Fated by Benedikt Jacka

Urban fantasy is a genre that has grown up to its full strength over the past couple of decades; even though its roots lie back in the distant past. Today with authors like Mike Carey, Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong and others writing books based in urban environments, all using the idea that just around the corner there may be something out of the ordinary; it is safe to say that the genre has arrived and is as distinctive as other forms of fantasy fiction.

Fated fits well into the line of 'wizard as protagonist' novels that have been published in recent years, and carries a nod in the first few pages to Butcher's Dresden novels; mentioning a mage in Chicago who advertises under 'wizard' in the phone directory. This element of awareness is pleasing if only because it suggests the Jacka acknowledges his novel is part of a young tradition.

In practice Fated fits a little too well into the conventions it plays with. Once the nod to other work is out of the way the world feels entirely too familiar. There are light wizards, dark wizards, a council to rule both and a world that's tucked away from human eyes, a little too conveniently. The structure he uses brings with it the usual squabbling politics and elitism that feels like the sort of thing that both J.K. Rowling and Jonathan Stroud put into their worlds with more vim and vigour. Part of this problem is that we, as readers, are so locked into the perspective of the protagonist, Alex that we get to learn very little about the world in a true sense. Everything is marred by the attitude towards his fellow mages: that he wants as little to do with anyone else as he possibly can.

In Jacka's defence, the novel is well written and well paced; there is little waiting around for things to happen, and the twists towards the end of the book are unexpected and satisfying. The supporting cast is rather more interesting than the protagonist, the curse that affects Alex's assistant Luna is both intriguing and unique; whilst the air elemental he interacts with breaks the pattern of a great many of these books simply because she's not very bright and has the attention span of a cat. Perhaps the saving grace as far as Alex's character comes late in the novel when an extensive sequence delves into his past, providing details of his apprenticeship to a dark mage (who he later betrayed). It at least provides a stronger context for his antipathy to the idea of interacting with mages, albeit in a fashion that suggests that he is suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress disorder.

All in all I feel I can only recommend this to readers who know they enjoy this sort of novel. It has a good pace and the writing is good. It is a shame that more has not been done to push it away from the safe haven of other urban fantasy novels to encourage it to stand on its own.

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