Continuing on my theme of magical crime novels (I reread Rivers of London and White Cat a few days ago, because I was on an urban fantasy kick), we’ve got a London-based urban fantasy novel today. I came across the Alex Verus series in the library once, but they didn’t have book one and so I never pursued it. The first book, Fated, was inexpensive on Kindle, so I finally decided to read it.
This hit some of the spots that Storm Front missed — it combined the witty narration that I love from the Peter Grant series with the high-stakes excitement of the Dresden Files, and the familiar London landscape meant I could relate to and understand events as they were happening, rather than relying solely on description to understand what was happening.
Alex Verus runs a magic shop and is trying to keep out of the way of the Dark mages (and some of the Light ones, too). Traumatised by his apprenticeship with a Dark mage, trying not to get involved in politics because the Council who run the magical world aren’t his biggest fans, and generally keeping himself to himself, he’s not expecting to be asked to help the Council.
But of course it happens, because every story needs an inciting incident, and what we get from there is an exciting story with two compelling main characters. Alex himself, of course; he’s a diviner, and can see a short way into the future — he uses this in fights to great effect. And then there’s Luna, his apprentice. She’s cursed: while she’s under some kind of magical protection, all accidents and misfortune will be deflected onto those around her, making it hard for her to get close to anyone.
Luna’s not the big bold heroine that every female reader will want to be, but she’s getting there by the end of the book. There’s some serious character development happening. While she’s timid and dependent on Alex at first, that’s to do with circumstance, and she does change and grow.
Some reviewers have criticised the fact that she needs to be looked after, but I don’t think every female character needs to be badass, and Luna is in a less knowledgeable position, by virtue of her role as apprentice. Yes, it would have been nice to have more female characters in main roles, but I didn’t particularly notice the lack of them until I was glancing over other reviews while writing this.
Alex himself is a witty narrator, with a few throwaway lines that made me laugh. The Dresden Files homage is obvious from a line near the beginning:
“I’ve heard of a guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under “Wizard”, though that’s probably a urban legend.”
But while some Goodreads reviewers chewed this book out for its similarities, in an exceedingly thorough manner, I enjoyed it more than Storm Front, probably because it had more human and was set in a familiar landscape.
That said, I felt like the writing needed a bit more polish in places, as Alex tended to overexplain things — often breaking the fourth wall to do so, and with quite a lot of telling rather than showing. I’m hoping that this won’t be an issue in the later books in the series, which I look forward to reading.
It doesn’t go as far into the mechanics and workings of magic as I’d have liked, because as the book opens, Alex already knows what he’s doing and so the reader doesn’t get as much of an insight into it. That said, his particular gift has plenty of rules and limitations, which is good.
It hasn’t ousted the Peter Grant series from its spot of ‘favourite London-based magical crime novel’ (a short list) — there’s not quite enough worldbuilding for that, and the writing could do with a once-over. But it’s still a pretty good book. I’m torn between giving it three stars and four stars; by virtue of it greatly improving my train journey to Cardiff last week and keeping me entertained the whole way, it’s getting four.
With any luck, book two will have more of the things I liked and less of the things I didn’t — I’ve already downloaded it, and am looking forward to sitting down with it soon.