“Hide something behind smoke and mirrors and make people work to find it, and they’ll tear the place down looking for what’s there. Put up a sign saying ‘magic shop’, and no one believes you.”
Alex Verus is the main character in British author Benedict Jacka's urban fantasy Alex Verus series.
In a world full of Light and Dark mages who can rain down fire, disintegrate people with a thought, manipulate time and the minds of those around them, and even use the freaking touch of death, Alex Verus has no offensive magic. Or defensive magic, really. Instead, Alex has the unique ability to see the future(s).
Alex is a Diviner, one of very few living Diviners (as they tend to go insane and die young from the sheer mental load), and he can see the spread of immediate potential futures. In the span of a few minutes, he can sort through thousands of futures at the speed of thought and determine which ones have the least short term risks-- which often gets him into long-term troubles.
The series takes place in London ten years after the mysterious disappearance of Alex's evil mentor, Richard Drakh. Before he vanished, Richard and Alex had a falling out, and Alex was on the run for his life. But when Drakh never showed up to finish the job, and then vanished from magical society completely, Alex settled down and put up shop-- a magic shop, to be precise. He sells magic ingredients that amuse tourists and help out the low-rung magic folk who are down on their luck enough to need to buy from him. (Any actual magical artifacts he keeps for himself. Those things are rare!)
Trouble starts in the first book, Fated, when several different factions of wizards, both Light and Dark, want Alex to help them uncover a powerful magic artifact that was, until recently, lost. Shenanigans ensue.
From then on, Alex, who had been living mostly the quiet life, suddenly finds himself at the increasingly-uncomfortable center of Mage society's attention. His only reliable friends are Luna, an adept (someone not quite up to Mage snuff, but still has some power in their own right) with a curse that protects her from bad luck by draining (sometimes fatally) the luck of those around her, and Arachne, who is a giant magical spider and pretty much the most genuinely compassionate character in the series. She loves to make clothes and her home is the safest place on the planet. She is essentially the team mom.
Along the way he meets others-- Sonder, a Light mage with a knack for time magic, Anne, a life mage with a dark past, and Variam, a fire (well, heat) mage who starts off filling the role of Anne's over protective brother, but eventually becomes the most well-balanced human character in the series-- but Luna and Arachne are the two who are there from the start, and are frankly the most reliable allies he has.
These books are fun, light reads. They are oddly easy to read-- I killed all five of them in a weekend-- and they are highly enjoyable. Alex is a nice guy, but highly pragmatic, which puts him at odds with the Light mages on more than one occasion, the bunch of hypocrites. The Light Council (the organization of Light Mages) and the Dark mages (who are not organized at all save for a general "might makes right" attitude) are both equally despicable, and so you're happy when Alex sticks it to them. It's less "good versus evil" and more "organized oppression versus disorganized."
The world here is supposed to be a typical "secret magic society behind the curtain" schtick, but we never see the mundane world or much effort by mages to hide themselves. After reading other urban fantasy series that bend over backwards trying to explain why nobody in the city is noticing a giant wizard duel in the streets and the like, it's actually kind of refreshing. Like the books are saying, "yeah, normal people don't know about magic. You know it, I know it, you've seen that before, so forget them and concentrate on the big freaking dragon."
The first three books were published in 2012, with the others coming out each year after that. There are currently five books in the series with more on the way.
Books in the series are:
The author, Benedict Jacka, is surprisingly open about his progress and process, and you can find updates fairly frequently posted on his blog. He also has a little segment called "ask Luna" where people can ask characters questions. Seriously, this dude is sort of adorkable.