“The super-rich control everything—including magic—in this thrilling and brilliant, contemporary fantasy from the author of the Alex Verus novels.”
An Inheritance of Magic by Benedict Jacka was a wonderful surprise, as his “Alex Verus” series is a tough act to follow. But An Inheritance of Magic has the base to be a fascinating world with a magic system that can expand as the books continue to be released.
On top of the struggle and toil of the average working-class person lay a glittering, secretive world of magic and magical families. Empires rise and fall at the behest of heads of family. It is cutthroat, and unforgiving, and if you do not have the right blood or relations, you will be swept under the rug like errant dust. Our protagonist, Stephen Oakwood, is the embodiment of dust to these people.
Stephen Oakwood, 22, works and lives paycheck to paycheck in London. It wasn’t always like this. A few years ago, Stephen’s Father had to disappear in a hurry with the promise of returning, but young Stephen struggled to keep a roof over his head and food in his mouth. At this point in the story, I appreciated and enjoyed how Jacka addressed the economic divide between classes, seen not just in food eaten and clothes worn but in the ability to have spare time. If you are constantly hustling, with one accident, doctor’s appointment, or unexpected repair away from debt and financial ruin, you do not have time to lift yourself from your current situation. The time you do have is when you attempt to create a buffer. “He has talent and potential, but turning that potential into magical power takes money, opportunity, and training. All Stephen has is a minimum-wage job and a cat.” It is unnerving and wholly accurate. And as someone who has had to use government assistance to keep themselves fed at one point, I get it. I not only get it, but while reading this section of the story, I felt low thrumming anxiety wash over me like a cicada buzzing in my ear. It is an exceptionally clever piece of writing.
Right away, Stephen has one strike against him in this upper-crust world of magic: he is poor. The second thing he has is that he is formally untrained. Stephen is, for lack of a better word, “plucky.” He has much pluck. While his friends are dating, drinking beer, and doing what most men his age do, Stephen works harder and longer than anyone. This world of magic is closed to him; his father is gone, and there is very little info on the internet. If he learns anything about this incredible spark of “something” called Drucraft, it will be by the grit of his mind and the blood of his hands.
Suffice it to say that Stephen is driven by both practicalities, being able to support himself enough to have time to study and passion. This story is the epitome of the underdog trope. You want him to succeed if for no other reason than Hobbes, Stephen’s cat who acts as Stephen’s constant companion. But the world seems to be against Stephen with insurmountable odds from mighty people. Watching everyone who has wronged Stephen fall to their ruin as the books continue will be fun.
Weakness-wise, the first story of an extensive series like this with a large world has a lot to cover. It needs to drop the information about Stephen’s living environment, the rules of magic, who is the story’s antagonist, and lead us to the next book. Because of this, some parts felt wordy, with a lot of information dumped on the reader at once. I understand the necessity of this and tend to look past that entirely when reading. But it may be a factor for some readers that could take them out of the story.
When I heard that there was a new urban fantasy series from Jacka, I was elated. I adored his previous one and was a long-time fan, and his second foray into urban fantasy is no “sophomore slump,” quite the contrary I think. Inheritance of Magic takes some of the best aspects of the urban fantasy genre and mixes them with Jacka’s well-honed craft, and we are left with excitement now and hopefully for years to come.