This review contains some spoilers for Fated and Cursed. Please read with caution.

Fated (UK cover)Fated, the first novel in the Alex Verus series from Benedict Jacka is, in my opinion, one of the finest debuts of 2012. With this in mind, I was both excited and apprehensive to pick up Cursed, the second book in the series. I was expecting great things and with that expectation can sometimes come crushing disappointment.

For those who haven’t read Fated (seriously, go read it and thank me later), you can read my review here , and can expect some small spoilers in this review.

Just to catch you up, Alex Verus is a probability mage, a seer who can peer in to the future see all the different results of his actions before he’s made them. He can do this over and over until he knows the exact actions to take to achieve his goal. This means that to anyone watching, they could see Alex effortlessly walk through traffic without getting hit or catch a fly in chop sticks on his first attempt (Miyagi would be proud). As Fated proved, the powers of a probability mage make him incredibly dangerous and very valuable to both sides of the magical world, neither of which are particularly good groups of people.

Cursed (cover UK)Cursed starts with Alex in a rut. Since gaining some kind of infamy from the events of Fated, Alex is in full demand and what follows is a twisting story involving an evil monkey paw, badass mages and a mystery surrounding magical creatures who are being found dead and drained of their magic.

Within a few pages of Cursed, I was rolling my eyes in anticipation of major disappointment. We’re quickly presented with typical tropes like the bumbling ‘new guy’ who conveniently creates an awkward love triangle and then there’s the classic damsel in distress who turns up pages later. I genuinely sighed and thought “oh I know where this is going…” However, Fated started in a similar way and I loved it so I said to myself: In Jacka I trust.

And I’m glad I did because in many ways, Cursed is a near perfect sequel; the T2 to Fated’s Terminator if you will. It follows on from Fated with a meticulous eye for all the tiny points that made the first Alex Verus novel a real winner. Things move forward in a natural and logical progression, for example, the introduction of Martin as the third wheel to the Alex/Luna relationship is actually very clever given the way Fated ends. Yes, perhaps Luna is a bit reckless but given the situation, I would expect her to be. In fact, there are so many meticulously observed points like this in Cursed that I was left very satisfied. A similar thing goes for the introduction of guns. GUNS! They have no place in a fantasy novel you cry! Well they do, and Jacka handles the reasoning excellently.

Which leads me to once again say, that Benedict Jacka is a master storyteller. He has a wonderful way of taking familiar ideas and polishing them until they glow, then intertwining them with something new.

Benedict Jacka InterviewWhere Fated was a non-stop action film of a novel, Cursed is filled with imagination blowing scenes and this time around there are monsters. I’m a sucker for monsters. One of my favourite scenes was in Luna’s version of Elsewhere which was vivid, aggressive and a brilliantly twisted joy to read. Oh, and the bit when Verus ventures into Arachne’s hollow left a big, stupid smear of a grin all over my big, stupid face. (In the next novel Taken, I reckon we might see the World Tree in the Heath. Just sayin’.)

I found myself constantly wanting more of this greater fantasy world that lives around Verus and more of these monsters and magical creatures. I don’t mean that negatively, it’s just that the way Jacka metes out the spoonfuls of wonder is irritatingly perfect.

The most accomplished element of Cursed is in the character development. Luna’s personal troubles are dealt with delicately and at times Cinder steals the show, which I was pleasantly surprised with. In Fated, I felt he was a weak antagonist, but in Cursed, Cinder is a truly devastating monster of a man, with his flame magic totally annihilating everything. He is also Jacka’s best device to once again blur those lines of Dark and Light not necessarily meaning good and evil. Where Verus and the reader initially believes that Cinder is the bad guy, Jacka then asks the question of just how different they really are. I hope we get to see Verus fight more with this notion in the future.

Cursed (cover US)One of the victims of this excellently observed progression of characters is unfortunately our protagonist Alex Verus. In Fated, Verus had a Spiderman wit and kept me smiling even in the tensest moments. But in Cursed, Verus is less fun. It makes sense, since in Cursed he has the world weighing down on him, but I really did miss those flashes of cheeky hilarity that lightened up otherwise anxious scenes in the first outing. I can’t complain though as in almost every other way Verus is a brilliant protagonist; like the love child of Indiana Jones and Sandman Slim.

My biggest gripe? I really wanted to see more about the monkey paw. As an idea, it was elegantly handled with Alex’s early nonchalance on the matter nicely explained. I’m not totally sure as to why it would choose Martin given the wider circumstances, but what concerned me more was that the monkey paw loomed over the whole novel and yet barely featured in it. For something so powerful to be underused seems a huge waste. And on that, I REALLY wanted to see more of the third monkey paw wish. I really, really did, as it is a brilliant twist on Verus. I understand why it was used so briefly but at the same time it really exposed Alex, making him truly vulnerable for possibly the first time ever and for me it was a missed opportunity to show just how good Verus is as a character in his own right.

So, to sum this up.

Like with Fated, you shouldn’t expect to have your mind bent by brand new ideas, but what you can expect is a brilliant urban fantasy that is so professionally polished and paced that you barely remember to come up for air. Cursed takes everything that was great about Fated and then puts it on a diet of steroids. It is fun and action packed but now bigger, angrier and absolutely nuts. I loved it.


By Paul Wiseall

One day, Paul Wiseall intends on growing up and getting a real job as a superhero or a dinosaur but for the moment, he is quite happy with this writing malarkey as it is far too much fun. He does have a degree in History but please don’t judge him too harshly as he really isn’t that boring. Honest. For those who are interested, he is a film buff, a chronic comic collector and inhales anything written by Neil Gaiman, China Mieville and Terry Pratchett. Paul tends to live in his head more than anywhere else but his tangible self can often be found frequenting coffee shops or living behind a laptop somewhere in Italy.

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