Jim Butcher – “Codex Alera” series, #1 – #4

18 Sep

I picked up the first book in this series by chance. I was looking for something fantasy to take with me on my vacation. I’d never heard of this series but I’d heard of Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” series and knew that many readers love it. So I thought “Why not?”

It was a good decision. Jim Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series looks to become one of my favorite fantasy series.

The Story

The story that connects the separate books in this series is that of an older (and weaker) getting High Lord (~ king) without an heir. A war of succession is looming and this situation causes two Lords in particular to think they should take a shot at establishing themselves as the next High Lord, preferable by not waiting for the High Lord to die of a natural cause.

That’s the background, and a boy, his uncle and aunt (they are brother and sister) are unwillingly drawn into this whole mess by the arrival of Amara, one of the High Lord’s agents who are called cursor, in their remote valley. Events are set in motion, other races, like the Marat and the Canim (I picture the Canims like this, a creature I first encountered in the PC game Baldur’s Gate) show up, and the series follows the boy and his uncle and his aunt as they have to leave their valley and struggle to do the right thing in a world that goes crazier and more dangerous with each year that passes.

All this is staged in a world with armies modeled after Roman Legions and a society that’s based partly on slavery, mostly in the south (rings any bells?). The magic in this world comes from furies, some kind of elemental beings. As people grow up, they show an affinity for certain elemental furies, usually one or maybe two, and kind of bond with one of those furies. Lords and Ladies can bond with stronger (and more) furies and the High Lord is overall the strongest fury crafter. Amara has a strong wind fury for example, and the aunt is a strong water crafter and the uncle strong in earth and flora crafting. Some crafters give names to their furies, and the kind of fury you bond with determines what you can do. A water crafter is a healer for example. A lot of things in this world rely on the ability to direct furies and a person without any furies at all is unheard of.

But one such person exists. It’s the young boy in the valley who’s fifteen at the start of the series and who’s called Tavi.

Furies of Calderon, Codex Alera #1

I actually wrote a short comment about this novel here so what follows is nothing new. This book sets the stage and introduces the characters. It’s also the book where the Marat first show up, a people similar in looks to the people who live in Alera except that they bond with animals and know nothing of fury crafting in the way the Alerans do. Plus the first hints at slavery and its problems show up.

I was really surprised by how much I liked this book. I went and bought the next in the series right away. The only “complaint” I had was that I thought the pace a bit too relentless: the characters stumble from one bad situation to a worse situation all the time.

Acedem’s Fury, Codex Alera #2

It’s about two years later. Tavi is in the capital at the Academy (think a bit Harry Potter), his uncle Bernard is heading the Garrison in the valley that’s guarding the way into Marat land, and Tavi’s aunt Isana is now a Steadholder in her own right, the only woman in that position in all Alera (a fact that makes her an important play ball in political matters).

At the start of the novel Bernard receives a warning from the Marat that an old enemy of the Marat has shown up, the Vord. The Vord come in different forms and sizes and are headed by a queen (think bees). There are spider-like creatures and there are small entities that can infiltrate another being and take over, making the infiltrated being a zombie-like creature (there are quite a few horror films based on that premise). And for some reason I picture some of the Vord creatures as looking like the aliens in the movie Alien.

So, the Vord are threatening Alera. They multiply at a rapid pace so time is of the essence, especially because fighting against them means HEAVY losses. The Marat took out one queen already but there are two queens remaining. Bernard sets out to destroy the one that hunkered down in the valley while Isana races to the capital to give warning, especially because it looks like the third queen is beelining for the capital itself.
So in Academ’s Fury, there’s the series’s ongoing political backstabbing for the position of the High Lord and there’s the thread of the Vord. Tavi, Isana and Bernard are drawn ever deeper into all this and on top of that all, the Canim come into play. They, of course, also pose a thread against the stability of the realm and mix things up.

I thought this book better written than the first in terms of pacing and characters’ development but funny enough I enjoyed the first one a tiny bit more (probably because I was so happy to have found a new fantasy series I thought I could like).

Cursor’s Fury, Codex Alera #3

Again, it’s a few years later. Tavi is send to a newly formed Legion as a cursor together with his friend Max. One of the aspirants to the High Lord’s position makes his move, Bernard is on a mission together with Amara to rally support for the High Lord so that the High Lord can win against his opponent, Isana is drawn ever more into the political intrigues, the Canim attack and Tavi finds himself in the midst of that battle.

Of course, there’s again development on the personal level, this time mostly Tavi’s as this book mostly follows him. While interesting, that actually made the pacing a bit odd, IMO. Bernard’s story line for example is mentioned in the beginning and then again near the end. It made sense because it involved lots of traveling and why recount that in between? But it made the whole a bit less well-rounded. I think that’s what “bothering” me. But nevertheless, I enjoyed reading it quite a lot.

Captain’s Fury, Codex Alera, #4

Again, lots of things going on (the war against the Canim come to a head, for example) and of course it’s again a few years later. It’s also the first book I thought there wasn’t an ethical problem mixed into the story. Before, quite a lot of what happens and the actions of the characters could be viewed as part of an ethical problem. In this book it’s much more subtle although it’s nowhere near one of the main elements in the novels before either. But still, I missed it a bit. What this novel does have is a world-changing development for at least two characters and what was white now actually now longer looks quite so white for one of the characters.

Once more, I really liked the novel and I’m looking forward to reading the next.

What I like about this series

  • The premise of the series (High Lord without an heir) implies several ethical questions which I find quite interesting and which are more or less addressed in the novels. Questions like what are you willing to do for the good of the realm, for example.
  • The series itself feels like a potpourri of history and popular culture elements. While there is nothing original about the world, the story or the characters, I really like how Butcher manages to make the well-known elements his own and turn it into something interesting and new. Well, I find the mix rather enjoyable to read.
  • I like that the different races (Aleran, Marat, Canim) have different views of things, things like honor for example, and that these views are set against each other and question and illuminate each other.
  • I like that nearly nothing is mentioned without a reason. Something you find odd can be resolved a few paragraphs later (like Isana reminiscence about her past in the middle of an action sequence). Something you think fell down by the wayside can get picked up later in the novel/series again. And then there are the little details that add up to a larger picture in the end (like the meaning of rings in a certain context, for example).
  • Last, but certainly not least, I really enjoy the way Butcher handles political intrigue and battles. I think that’s something the series is really good at.
  • Oh, and I like the things Kitai, a Marat girl, says, especially when she wonders about the differences between her people and Alerans and think the Alerans act stupid.

What kept me reading

The Codex Alera series is clearly an action-driven story. Characters do change and develop, world views are shattered and there are probably no completely black and white characters, but overall it’s the action that sets the pacing and character development. So what kept me reading when I usually prefer character-driven stories?

  • Isana’s story. I wanted to find out about her past and I hope for a good future for her
  • the ethical questions
  • I plain think that the author is good at what he does

~ * * * ~

And OMG I just realized that my copies don’t look the same even though they are by the same publisher. I’d always thought the books felt different but I’d also thought I’d imagined things (“it’s the same publisher!”). But oh, their size is different…

Me don’t like.

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5 Responses to “Jim Butcher – “Codex Alera” series, #1 – #4”

  1. Jace Sunday, September 19, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Hey, great summary of the series – you make me want to read them. πŸ˜€ And I probably should, since I have all the books already! πŸ˜‰ I’m glad you’ve discovered a new favourite series.

    The only β€œcomplaint” I had was that I thought the pace a bit too relentless: the characters stumble from one bad situation to a worse situation all the time.
    This happens in the Dresden Files. I’ve read only Book 1, Storm Front, and the action sequences were rather overwhelming for me. It was like Harry (Dresden) was thrown into one life-threatening situation after another without even a chance to breathe in between. While I truly liked Harry, the action sequences were just too relentless and they’re the reason why I haven’t continued reading (I have all the books in the series too).

  2. nath Monday, September 20, 2010 at 12:38 am #

    What do you mean they don’t look the same? That some are bigger? Cos the two last ones are different size if I’m not wrong, even though they’re paperbacks.

    I’ve decided to give this series another chance πŸ˜› I’ve re-read Furies of Calderon. I don’t enjoy it as much as you, but it’s okay πŸ˜‰ I’m looking forward to see Tavi grow πŸ˜› Of course, I totally spoiled myself, but that’s okay.

    One thing that I’m having difficulties with though is age. How long do the Aleran – and everyone else for that matter – live? My favorite character for now is probably Kitai πŸ˜›

    Oh and I know why you would enjoy this series so much – it’s very heavy on fantasy πŸ˜› by the way, when I went to RT in April, the author said that there are talks in making a Codex Alera computer games πŸ˜› Bet you would like that πŸ˜›

  3. Taja Monday, September 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm #

    Jace – thanks. I tried not to spoil it and therefore worried a bit that the summaries sounded boring. I’m glad they worked for you. Mission accomplished. πŸ˜‰

    I’ve thought abour reading the Dresden Files series because I know many like it. Hmm. All the books? That’s quite a lot, I think. Bummer. 😦

    nath – yes, I mean some are bigger. The paper feels different, too (book #2 + #4).

    LOL on spoiling yourself (not that it’s much of a surprise what will happen). I guess that means my trouble to keep the summaries general enough was for naught. πŸ˜›

    Age – I think just like humans, even the water crafters. They just don’t look their age thanks to their craft. (That’s how I view it). Kitai’s probably my favorite character, too, though Isana’s story is my favorite. πŸ™‚

    Heavy on fantasy, yes, but there are romances in it, minor as they might be. πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the info on the game! Interesting news. I actually think the series and the world could work for a game though of course, how it will turn out is another matter. πŸ™‚

  4. badazz Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    @jace

    i agree wit you on your observation.. that on the first few dresden novels he was just being beaten up almost all the time.. you may also abserved that sometimes he will be into different fights without even a little sleep or rest in between.. almost like a jack bauer episode only lasting for a couple of days..
    However.. i’ve read all the dresden books and butcher kind of mellowed in the last few books.. although dresden still fights a lot but not as much as the first few books.. and he doesnt end up being beaten almost to death anymore.. please continue reading

  5. Jace Saturday, September 25, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    Badazz, thanks for your comments. It’s good to know that Butcher did mellow down a little a few books down the line. πŸ™‚ Poor Harry needs a break from being beaten to a pulp all the time! πŸ™‚

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