I dig magic a lot. It is a main player in about 75% of the fiction I read. It actually took me a long time to even branch out into non fantasy fiction literature, and then enjoy it at that. Needless to say I adore reading a character that throws magic like a baseball or can conjure flames and electricity to smite his enemies, even if it’s just spell casting that requires the use of a wand. I like pretty colors smashing into another person/being and causing them pain. I enjoy the idea of an unseen energy being tapped and it allowing you to do fantastic things. I am that old guy who could watch the same western, seeing Clint Eastwood or Gene Autry gun slinging the bad guy, only I’m not old and I generally don’t care for guns.
Of all of these character types Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is one of my favorites. So, when I stumbled across a book with Jim Butcher praising it by saying “Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendously-and be a little nervous around him,” I was not only impressed and intrigued but chomping at the bit to read this novel.
Benedict Jacka creates a premise that like most urban fantasies creates a behind-the-scenes world that relies on secrecy and redirection. Unlike Dresden who can wield most magic with the right preparation, Jacka structures his world to be more divided. Alex Verus, the main character, for instance can see the future. This was my first spot of trouble with the novel. Verus’ narrative makes it very clear that while his gift is incredibly special and he is good at what he does, it’s about all he can do. As I said earlier, I like magic slinging awesomeness; this left me fearful for this novel. He even states that as a seer he is cut off from preforming even the most basic of mage skills, like creating a portal and casting a tracking spell. However, other mages have elemental specialties. Everything from fire to death energy. Their unique powers were cool, albeit they themselves were usually jerks. Why must mages be outcasts to be amiable?
Next we deal with the fact Verus can see the future. This, in the beginning, makes him supremely annoying. I don’t know if the novel had to roll out with the tropes to get his magic style across, but there are only so many times the seer can say ‘but I knew that’ or some other variant before you’d like to punch him. In his defense, he addresses the know-it-all issue and describes several problems with his powers. One being, he usually has at very least a couple of hundred futures to search through, and that not only splinters when dealing with other people’s indecisive moments but becomes much more imprecise. However, most often, minutes may be all you need to save your own ass, which he needs to do frequently.
The book is an interesting take on a magical community, and a new but not necessarily refreshing take on a protagonist mage. I liked Verus quite a bit, but found myself hoping he fell into more ability somewhere in the novel. The story telling is well worth the read and the characters are fun, so if you don’t mind lack of showy slightly sadistic magic, have at it!