Benedict Jacka’s Fated, Cursed, and Taken set up a maze of political intrigue and magical mayhem for Alex Verus, a London mage with the gift of seeing all possible futures.
The blurb from Jim Butcher says that “Harry Dresden would like Alex Verus tremendously—and be a little nervous around him.” Why would he be nervous?
Diviners in the Alex Verus setting are physically weak, but they’re very good with information. A diviner can see the probabilities of future events, and their consequences—he can look around a corner, skip ahead in a conversation, and sense things before they happen. It makes diviners really good at finding out secrets, and since Harry Dresden’s done enough extralegal stuff to make the White Council sign his death warrant three times over... well, the nervous thing’s understandable. On the other hand, a diviner will pretty much always lose a straight fight with another spellcaster, so anyone who gets too worried about the secrets a diviner knows can just take measures to shut him up directly. This is the reason diviners tend to keep their distance from other mages.
You’ve got quite an elaborate magical system. Did you create it first of all for fun?
I’ve used it for fun and gaming, but mostly it stems from the books... just not these books. Fated isn’t the first book I’ve written in that particular setting—it’s actually the fifth. The previous four novels in that world haven’t been published and probably never will be, but as part of writing them I spent a vast amount of time sketching out world-building information and details about spells and magical society.
What were those unpublished books like, and how did you get from there to here?
I started working on the first iteration of what would become Alex’s world 11 years ago, but back then it was planned as a YA series. The main characters were elemental mages just learning how to use their powers, and they were around 15 or 16. I tried out several different stories, but never quite got them to work. One problem that I kept running into was how to make conflicts interesting when the main character’s primary ability was elemental magic. The trouble was that there’s no real-world baseline for how powerful magic should be, so any power level I set for it was basically arbitrary. On the other hand, I found that I didn’t have the same problem with magic that gave information, because that didn’t fix all the character’s problems on its own—the character still had to make use of the information with real-world tools. So somewhere along the line I got the idea of a mage whose magic only worked for information. Alex Verus grew out of that.
What’s the worst advice you’ve received as a writer? And the best?
I’ve had mountains of bad writing advice, but I make a conscious effort not to remember it. On the good side, I think the best bit of advice I ever got was deceptively simple: “A writer is someone who writes.” You’re not a writer because of publication or publicity or sales, you’re a writer because that’s what you are. If you want to be it, you do it.