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Penguin, 2012 - Fiction - 295 pages
41 Reviews
Alex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex's own powers aren't as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future--allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success.

But when Alex is approached by multiple factions to crack open a relic from a long-ago mage war, he knows that whatever's inside must be beyond powerful. And thanks to his abilities, Alex can predict that by taking the job, his odds of survival are about to go from slim to none...

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User Review  - AHS-Wolfy - LibraryThing

Alex Verus runs a magic shop and also happens to be a diviner which means he's able to see all possible future's for any action he takes. So when an acquaintance, Luna, brings him a crystal she has ... Read full review

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User Review  - kmajort - LibraryThing

Read to p 195... probably will finish someday, but while Alex Verus is in the same family as Harry Dresden & Atticus O'Sullivan, I have too many other books I'd rather spend my time on. Read full review

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Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 10
Section 11
Section 12
Section 13
Section 14
Section 15
Section 16

Section 9

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About the author (2012)

Chapter 1

It was a slow day, so I was reading a book at my desk and seeing into the future.

There were only two customers in the shop. One was a student with scraggly hair and a nervous way of glancing over his shoulder. He was standing by the herb and powder rack and had decided what to buy ten minutes ago but was still working up the nerve to ask me about it. The other customer was a kid wearing a Linkin Park T-shirt who''d picked out a crystal ball but wasn''t going to bring it to the counter until the other guy had left.

The kid had come on a bicycle, and in fifteen minutes a traffic warden was going to come by and ticket him for locking his bike to the railings. After that I was going to get a call I didn''t want to be disturbed for, so I set my paperback down on my desk and looked at the student. "Anything I can help you with?"

He started and came over, glancing back at the kid and dropping his voice slightly. "Um, hey. Do you--"

"No. I don''t sell spellbooks."

"Not even--?"


"Is there, um, any way I could check?"

"The spell you''re thinking of isn''t going to do any harm. Just try it and then go talk to the girl and see what happens."

The student stared at me. "You knew that just from these?"

I hadn''t even been paying attention to the herbs in his hand, but that was as good an explanation as any. "Want a bag?"

He put verbena, myrrh, and incense into the bag I gave him and paid for it while still giving me an awestruck look, then left. As soon as the door swung shut, the other kid came over and asked me the price for the second-biggest crystal ball, trying to sound casual. I didn''t bother checking to see what he was going to use it for--about the only way you can hurt yourself with a crystal ball is by hitting yourself over the head with it, which is more than I can say for some of the things I sell. Once the kid had let himself out, hefting his paper bag, I got up, walked over, and flipped the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED. Through the window, I saw the kid unlock his bike and ride off. About thirty seconds later a traffic warden walked by.

My shop''s in a district in the north centre of London called Camden Town. There''s a spot where the canal, three bridges, and two railway lines all meet and tangle together in a kind of urban reef knot, and my street is right in the middle. The bridges and the canal do a good job of fencing the area in, making it into a kind of oasis in the middle of the city. Apart from the trains, it''s surprisingly quiet. I like to go up onto the roof sometimes and look around over the canal and the funny-shaped rooftops. Sometimes in the evenings and early mornings, when the traffic''s muted and the light''s faded, it feels almost like a gateway to another world.

The sign above my door says Arcana Emporium. Underneath is a smaller sign with some of the things I sell--implements, reagents, focus items, that sort of thing. You''d think it would be easier to just say magic shop, but I got sick of the endless stream of people asking for breakaway hoops and marked cards. Finally I worked out a deal with a stage magic store a half a mile away, and now I keep a box of their business cards on the counter to hand out to anyone who comes in asking for the latest book by David Blaine. The kids go away happy, and I get some peace and quiet.

My name''s Alex Verus. It''s not the name I was born with, but that''s another story. I''m a ma≥ a diviner. Some people call mages like me oracles, or seers, or probability mages if they want to be really wordy, and that''s fine too, just as long as they don''t call me a "fortune-teller." I''m not the only mage in the country, but as far as I know I''m the only one who runs a shop.

Mages like me aren''t common, but we aren''t as rare as you might think either. We look the same as anyone else, and if you passed one of us on the street, odds are you''d never know it. Only if you were very observant would you notice something a little off, a little strange, and by the time you took another look, we''d be gone. It''s another world, hidden within your own, and most of those who live in it don''t like visitors.

Those of us who do like visitors have to advertise, and it''s tricky to find a way of doing it that doesn''t make you sound crazy. The majority rely on word of mouth, though younger mages use the Internet. I''ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under "Wizard," though that''s probably an urban legend. Me, I have my shop. Wiccans and pagans and New Agers are common enough nowadays that people accept the idea of a magic shop, or at least they understand that the weirdos have to buy their stuff from somewhere. Of course, they take for granted that it''s all a con and that the stuff in my shop is no more magical than an old pair of socks, and for the most part they''re right. But the stuff in my shop that isn''t magical is good camouflage for the stuff that is, like the thing sitting upstairs in a little blue lacquered cylinder that can grant any five wishes you ask. If that ever got out, I''d have much worse problems than the occasional snigger.

The futures had settled and the phone was going to ring in about thirty seconds. I settled down comfortably and, when the phone rang, let it go twice before picking up. "Hey."

"Hi, Alex," Luna''s voice said into my ear. "Are you busy?"

"Not even a little. How''s it going?"

"Can I ask a favour? I was going through a place in Clapham and found something. Can I bring it over?"

"Right now?"

"That''s not a problem, is it?"

"Not really. Is there a rush?"

"No. Well . . ." Luna hesitated. "This thing makes me a bit nervous. I''d feel better if it was with you."

I didn''t even have to think about it. Like I said, it was a slow day. "You remember the way to the park?"

"The one near your shop?"

"I''ll meet you there. Where are you?"

"Still in Clapham. I''m just about to get on my bike."

"So one and a half hours. You can make it before sunset if you hurry."

"I think I am going to hurry. I''m not sure . . ." Luna''s voice trailed off, then firmed. "Okay. See you soon."

She broke the connection. I held the phone in my hand, looking at the display. Luna works for me on a part-time basis, finding items for me to sell, though I don''t think she does it for the money. Either way, I couldn''t remember her being this nervous about one. It made me wonder exactly what she was carrying.

You can think of magical talent as a pyramid. Making up the lowest and biggest layer are the normals. If magic is colours, these are the people born colourblind: they don''t know anything about magic and they don''t want to, thank you very much. They''ve got plenty of things to deal with already, and if they do see anything that might shake the way they look at things, they convince themselves they didn''t see it double quick. This is maybe ninety percent of the adult civilised world.

Next up on the pyramid are the sensitives, the ones who aren''t colour-blind. Sensitives are blessed (or cursed, depending how you look at it) with a wider spectrum of vision than normals. They can feel the presence of magic, the distant power in the sun and the earth and the stars, the warmth and stability of an old family home, the lingering wisps of death and horror at a Dark ritual site. Most often they don''t have the words to describe what they feel, but two sensitives can recognise each other by a kind of empathy, and it makes a powerful bond. Have you ever felt a connection to someone, as though you shared something even though you didn''t know what it was? It''s like that.

Above the sensitives on the magical pecking order are the adepts. These guys are only one percent or so, but unlike sensitives they can actually channel magic in a subtle way. Often it''s so subtle they don''t even know they''re doing it; they might be "lucky" at cards, or very good at "guessing" what''s on another person''s mind, but it''s mild enough that they just think they''re born lucky or perceptive. But sometimes they figure out what they''re doing and start developing it, and some of these guys can get pretty impressive within their specific field.

And then there are the mages.

Luna''s somewhere between sensitive and adept. It''s hard even for me to know which, as she has some . . . unique characteristics that make her difficult to categorise, not to mention dangerous. But she''s also one of my very few friends, and I was looking forward to seeing her. Her tone of voice had left me concerned so I looked into the future and was glad to see she was going to arrive in an hour and a half, right on time.

In the process, though, I noticed something that annoyed me: someone else was going to come through the door in a couple of minutes, despite the fact I''d just flipped my sign to say CLOSED. Camden gets a lot of tourists, and there''s always the one guy who figures opening hours don''t apply to him. I didn''t want to walk all the way over and lock the door, so I just sat watching the street grumpily until a figure appeared outside the door and pushed it open. It was a man wearing pressed trousers and a shirt with a tie. The bell above the door rang musically as he stepped inside and raised his eyebrows. "Hello, Alex."

As soon as he spoke I recognised who it was. A rush of adrenaline went through me as I spread my senses out to cover the shop and the street outside. My right hand shifted down a few inches to rest on the shelf under my desk. I couldn''t sense any attack, but that didn''t necessarily mean anything.

Lyle just stood there, looking at me. "Well?" he said. "Aren''t you going to invite me in?"

It had been more than four years since I''d seen Lyl

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