Scribbler’s Saga #1 – (Coverage)

Posted: October 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

Analyst: G.N. Jacobs © 2015

Title: Fated

Written by: Benedict Jacka

Format: Book____x Screenplay_____ Play_____ Article_____ Movie_____ Verbal Pitch_____ Short Story_________________

Grade:   Recommend_____ Maybe/Rewrite____x Pass_____

Logline: A mage specializing in divination magic must undergo a quest to secure an ancient magical artifact in the hopes of quelling conflict brewing between Britain’s Light and Dark Mages.

Summary:

Alex Verus runs his shop, Arcana Emporeum, in the Camden Town section of north London. A refugee from a troubled past filled with people from very deep and black places in the human psyche, he likes the quiet that comes from selling tarot decks to the tourists and…specialty items to the few customers who know what they’re getting when they walk in the door. Alex sells Magic of the kind legends are built around (no one thought to ask if there might be a certain ring in the back intended “to rule them all”).

One day, Alex reads a book and uses his future telling divination for such prosaic things as shooing customers who are taking too long buying a crystal ball out of the store before said customer’s bicycle gets ticketed by the cops. And then a lot of unwelcome people and one welcome person pop by or otherwise insert themselves into Alex’s life.

It begins with Lyle, a former friend dropping by to hire Alex on the QT for a magical archeology gig that needs a diviner. Or trouble could come from Luna, the current holder of an ancient Sicilian curse that causes bad luck for those around her who has found yet another interesting bit of magic for Alex’s store. And we haven’t even gotten to the Dark Mages, yet.

Thus, begins a mostly breakneck journey through nighttime London where Alex and Luna stay ahead of the Dark Mages intent on opening an ancient statue of a long dead Light Mage to get at weapons no one, Light or Dark, knows how to make these days. Even the Light Mages want the fateweaver, the plutonium McGuffin of this magical tale, and aren’t too shy about hurting inconvenient people that get in their way.

Fueled by Alex’s ability to see the right course of action most of the time, Luna and he run around London and other nearby hotspots in the gloom of modern Britain where most people don’t believe in Magic. The other diviners took a powder seeing this conflict coming, while Alex hadn’t bothered to look thinking himself safe from both the Light Council and the temporary association of Dark Mages.

The highlights of this chase, include a visit to Arachne the Giant Spider for clothes to help out at a wizard party held on the closed off top floor of the tallest building in Britain. The wizard party and a whole lot of flying trips courtesy of Alex’s friend Starbreeze, an air elemental. Naturally, the roadshow visits the British Museum several times and manages to blow up key pieces in the collection. All leading to a conclusion that forces Alex to come to terms with his past as a former apprentice to a particularly nasty Dark Mage…

Evaluation:

As is, I really don’t feel any burning need to see ‘Fated’ as a movie. But, I want to make it clear that there is enough here that the right screenwriter will be able to turn this book into a passable movie adventure. Similarly, I never thought ‘Casino Royale’ would turn out as well as it did based on my least favorite Bond book. If the rest of the books in the Alex Verus series prove better for the movies, then the entity buying the rights may want to pick them up in a package deal for the whole series.

Mr. Jacka does a workman-like job building a world just beneath the surface. Yes, I would like to visit Hempstead Heath to see if Arachne might fit me for a new suit. And I’m rarely opposed to the occasional literary pipe bomb in a museum. However, I found the book to be mostly predictable in terms of plot.

For instance, at nearly the exact center of the book Alex makes a decision to stand up for himself according to the storytelling dicta detailed in many screenwriting manuals. And very little of what I liked about this book serves to disguise the plot formula that is readily apparent in the stripped down (300-ish page) version of the story.

Believe it or not, I’m actually advocating for a longer book in this case possibly to the tune of 100 pages or so. One way to disguise the formula laid bare by gutting this book to the bone is to add in more scenes that reveal Alex’s character and his interaction with Luna. The Midpoint Decision, the Inciting Incident and so forth will still happen in the same places because storytelling theory says these concepts are psychologically immutable. But, the extra character moments would serve to disguise the formula with the illusion of the lumpiness of real life that in just the right doses makes good plots seem real.

I wanted these nonexistent 100 pages because when you have someone as interesting and human as Alex Verus, take the Ferrari out for a spin, Man! First off at the level of plot, stretch out the second act with more ambushes in deep dark woods where Alex hides with Luna and whispers a joke to her to get her mind off her fear. Maybe these extra second act scenes needed an anti-divination Mage who when he’s in line of sight clouds Alex’s ability to see and he has to improvise. Maybe, in a slow moment, Alex should get the mostly unrevealed Luna talking about herself over coffee. Any of these tricks would do the most important thing for the benefit of the screenwriter, director and actors assigned to adapt this book…give more clues to these characters.

As is I feel sorry for the actress who would have to play Luna, because other than her one-note of – “keep away, I hurt people who get too close!” – I don’t see what kind of hooks exist in the book to inform any sort of performance. The screenwriter will have to build them and hope the actress and later the audience will come.

As a book, I didn’t waste my time with ‘Fated’, but I feel the story was gutted too close to the bone by, I hope, the editor. From the point of view of a reader, the longer book costs the same as a shorter book until the page count gets way up in the phone book range. From the point of view of a potential moviegoer, we don’t know enough about the world and any characters not named Alex Verus to enjoy ourselves. So let’s hope somebody good gets this franchise and builds in these apparently extraneous character moments only to trim them out for the movie.

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