(This is part 1 of a 12-part series of author commentaries on the Alex Verus books. The master post with links to all the parts is here.)
At the end of the last part of this series, we were up to late 2009, and I’d taken on the task of rewriting Fated.
Rewriting is hard work. Since I was changing the setting of Fated, the knock-on effects meant I had to change a lot of the story, which meant changing many of the scenes, which meant changing the characters. And in the course of that I noticed all kinds of things that I thought could have been done better, which made me want to change THOSE things too. The result was, at least to my eyes, a mess. It was sort of like taking apart an old car, throwing away half the bits, using what was left to build a new car, making a bunch of different parts to fill in all the gaps, and then putting a fresh coat of paint on the whole thing and hoping it’d work.
Amazingly, it did. It still surprises me that out of the thousands of reviews I’ve read of Fated, virtually no-one took issue with how bolted-together the whole thing was. They were far more likely to comment on the voice, or the characters, or how similar Alex was/wasn’t to Harry Dresden. Either I did a better job than I realised, or I’m just much pickier about this kind of thing than the average reader.
As an example of what I’m talking about: almost none of the major scenes in Fated were originally set in London. They were all in the setting’s fantasy otherworld. When I did the rewrite I took the events and the dialogue, deleted all the references to location, and plonked them down in arbitrarily chosen spots around London or the UK. Often this meant completely rewriting the scenes. But no-one complained – and in fact, when they did mention the new locations, it was to say that they liked them – so I guess it worked.
So if you ever find yourself wondering where those weirder, slightly jarring details in Fated came from . . . now you know.
About the only thing that didn’t change much in the rewrite was Alex himself. I’d always been quite happy with his personality and the way his divination worked, and so while I was rewriting everything else, Alex became the stable centre that everything else oriented around. Luna was another story. I’d struggled with her character in the first draft – I liked the idea of her curse, but her personality always felt a bit incomplete and empty. I ended up rewriting many of her scenes, trying different things and looking for something that worked. In the end what made the character click for me was realising that at the start of the novel, Luna was badly depressed. She was trying to put a brave face on it, but her curse was driving her to despair and by the events of Fated she was willing to take what were (by normal standards) insane risks because she felt she had nothing to lose. Luna in Fated is at her absolute lowest point and even at her worst moments in the later books, things are never as bad for her as they are at the start of the series. In any case, the rewrite improved her character a lot, and laid the foundations for what she would eventually turn into in book 3 onwards.
But when you’re dealing with that many moving parts, there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. And while I think I did a pretty good job with the rewrite, it wasn’t perfect.
On something like the third editing pass, I was reworking the final confrontation where Alex gets possessed by the mind mage Abithriax. I wanted some way to show at the end that Abithriax really was gone, and thought that it could work for Alex to have some very characteristic (and slightly annoying) thing he could say that would confirm to Luna that he was himself again. So I had Alex call her “good girl”, and then went back to previous chapters and had him do it a couple of times earlier, too, to establish the pattern (and to show Luna’s irritated reaction). I wasn’t all that satisfied with the line – it felt a bit clumsy – and if I’d had a fourth editing pass I probably would have taken it out again, but as it turned out three editing passes were enough to make my editors happy, and I was way too busy with my law work to go over the book yet again just for the sake of it. I sent off the manuscript and quickly forgot about it amongst the 1000s of other changes I’d made.
Until Fated came out in 2012. At which point I got reminded of it. Repeatedly.
I got SO MUCH hate for that line. If you go to Fated’s Goodreads page you can find literally hundreds of reviews bringing it up. The “nicer” ones just called it sexist and patronising. The less nice ones went into detail about the homicidal rage that they were feeling towards Alex, the book in general, and me for writing it, along with some comments about how I clearly hated women. I’d been around the Internet long enough to have some experience with how inflamed people could get about fiction, but this was the first time I’d been on the receiving end of it, and it took me aback. Still, I learned my lesson.
Aside from that, reviews were generally positive, with readers praising the concept of the divination magic in particular. The most common criticism was that there was too much info-dumping . . . however, the second most common criticism was that the reader didn’t feel that they understood how the setting worked and what was possible. At the time, I didn’t see how I could fix either of those issues without making the other one worse. Now that I’m more experienced I think I can see some ways, but it’s not an easy problem.
But back then, reviews were nothing but a far-off dream. I finished Fated’s rewrite in March 2010, sent it off to my agent, and went back to studying law.