I have a soft spot for contemporary urban fantasies, especially ones set in London, so when I read in Interzone a review of one of Jacka's Alex Verus novels I was immediately hooked and sent off for the first volume, Fated.
Alex Verus is a young man who runs a present-day magic shop near Camden Market (which will surprise no-one who knows Camden!). The difference is that while most of the shop's contents are mundane and sold to passing tourists, some are not – because unknown to those tourists and to the overwhelming majority of the population, a world of magic coexists with our own. Verus is a diviner, whose skill is the ability to see the consequences of future choices so he can pick the best course of action to obtain the outcome he wants. This is highly useful in a world in which he has to contend with formidable Light and Dark mages, some with lethal powers. Fortunately he has some magical non-human friends, plus his assistant, a young woman called Luna who suffers from a strange hereditary curse.
Verus needs all of his ability coupled with very sharp wits when rival factions among the mages try to recruit him to assist in discovering the secrets of an ancient but dangerous artifact which appears to have a magical potential far beyond that of modern mages. What follows is a tense, exciting story with many twists, turns and unexpected developments. The setting may seem similar to Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, with well-known London landmarks being used for decidedly unconventional activities, but the mood is more of a mystery thriller with Verus being a resourceful and likeable hero. The story is told in the first person by Verus and the style is laconic, very reminiscent of a classic private eye novel, and perfectly suited to the story.
These days I rarely read a new novel that I enjoy as much as Fated, which I read in just two sessions, late into the night. I have immediately sent off for the next two Alex Verus volumes, Cursed and Taken.