“You like Christopher Moore,” the bookstore clerk said, pushing a book into my hand. “You’ll like this.” I do like Christopher Moore, and I think S.G. Browne does too, but Fated fell short of the wry Moore-like comedies it tries to emulate.
Fate, who uses the name Fabio, is a world-weary immortal Personification. When the book opens, he is bored with his work and disdainful of the human race. Fabio is only one of many — dozens, scores, I don’t know, maybe hundreds — of anthropomorphized states. He has a rival, Destiny, who gets all the glamor assignments. He used to be best friends with Death, who goes by Dennis (wouldn’t you?), but they had a fight and now they don’t speak. The Personifications are ruled by God. He used to be called Jehovah, but now he goes by Jerry. Jerry alternates between being a harried CEO God and a stern-but-loving Pop Walton God, depending on the situation.
Because, apparently, Fabio can’t know his own fate, he doesn’t realize that he is about to break one of the rules of heaven, and fall in love with a human.
Fated has a lot of fun things to recommend it. For the most part the writing is funny. There is lots of sex and a lot of it is funny, too. The voice of Fabio is well done. Some descriptions are snarky and hilarious, like the one of the mega-mall that has turned into a church and church store:
Most of the action figures come from the Old Testament, which makes sense when you think about it… I mean, what churchgoing preadolescent boy really wants to play Last Supper or Forty Days in the Desert when he can play Exterminate the Canaanites or the Ten Plagues of Egypt?
Unfortunately, the magical system of the immortal beings made no sense to me. Mainly, there are just too many of them. Browne can’t resist the urge to go for a joke, so rather than a real system, he turned practically everything into a Personification. With the familiar names and faces, like Lady Luck, Destiny, Fate, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Graces and so on, I felt pretty comfortable. I was even willing to play along with characters like Truth and Wisdom. When we got to Rumor, Sycophantry and Pageantry, I was struggling to keep from yawning. In an attempt for even more humor, Browne gives each of the immortals a surprising characteristic that Fabio shares with us using a sentence that begins; “The thing about so-and-so is…” The thing about Justice is, he’s a sociopath. The thing about Honesty is, she’s passive-aggressive, and so on. Beyond the quirky traits, every joke got used more than once, and some were worn out by the end of the story.
Destiny points Fabio in the direction of a human woman named Sara, who is on Destiny’s Path. This means she has a Destiny instead of merely a fate like everyone else. Fabio runs into her randomly two or three places and then begins following her, and soon realizes that there is something strange about Sara; wherever she goes, people who interact with her feel better. They feel happy, they feel hopeful. Sara sells multi-million-dollar lofts to New York’s one-percenters and buys sandwiches for homeless people when she jogs in the park. They finally meet when Fabio is sunbathing nude on the roof of the apartment building they both live in. He has “forgotten” to turn on his invisibility. Sara immediately initiates sex with him. See, she makes everyone feel better.
Soon Fabio is in love. At the same time, he begins to lecture people whose fates aren’t going well, and almost instantly he sees their fates improve. Of course, nobody’s forgotten that Sara has a Destiny, that immortals and humans can’t fall in love, and that immortals must not interfere directly with human lives, so we know those good times aren’t going to last. Jerry, meanwhile, has begun e-mailing about an upcoming Big Event.
The plot was pretty obvious, so when Jerry sternly points out to Fabio that many of the people whose fates he had improved were suddenly, dramatically dead, I had a pretty good idea who was responsible. Suffice it to say that while the deaths are arranged to look as if Fabio’s changes caused them, they are more direct than that. My deduction on the perpetrator was correct, but there is no good reason ever given, and when Fabio is called to account and punished, it is not for causing deaths, but for meddling. Like most demi-deities, Fabio has a dark night of the soul before coming to a clever, if telegraphed, resolution.
I think there are some holes in the plot. I don’t understand exactly why Destiny points Fabio at Sara… or maybe she doesn’t and that contrived first glance is supposed to be a coincidence. Mainly, since Destiny is never developed as a character (she sleeps around and wears red; that’s her character) I never completely understood, or bought into, her fairly important role in the plot.
She’s not the only problem character. Sara is the fantasy girlfriend. For example, when Fabio tells her, “Uh, I’m immortal, and I can disappear and reappear at will, and, oh, yeah, I’m Fate,” good sport Sara is unfazed, not even chagrined about all the bad things she’s said about Fate throughout the book.
As a stern fatherly God, Jerry is good. As the Old Fogey who doesn’t understand the internet, he is an epic fail. Why wouldn’t God understand the internet? Characterization is often sacrificed for the sake of a one-liner, sometimes a weak one. The lengths gone to for a gay pride joke — Pride is gay, get it? — distracts from the dialogue between Jerry and Fabio. There is too much of that.
Browne has a great eye for detail and writes a good disaffected hipster voice, but other writers have worked this territory thoroughly. Fated is not in a class with I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan, or Good Omens, by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman, or Lamb, by Christopher Moore, but that’s the club door Browne is knocking on. I do like how his minds works, even though this book didn’t work for me. He’s definitely a gifted writer. I can’t recommend Fated but I will be interested to try something else Browne has to offer.