Tag Archives: fantasy

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.

Peter V. Brett – “The Painted Man”

9 Sep

Brett, Peter V - The Painted Man[US title: The Warded Man]

GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Harper Voyager, 2009

SERIES: Demon Trilogy, #1

WHY THIS NOVEL: liked the cover, the blurb sounded good, and then I read positive comments

Sometimes, there is very good reason to be afraid of the dark…

Arlen lives with his parents on their small farmstead, half a day’s ride from the isolated hamlet of Tibbet’s Brook. As dusk falls each evening, a mist rises from the ground promising death to any foolish enough to brave the coming darkness. For hungry demons materialize from the vapors to feed, and as the shadows lenghthen, humanity is forced to take shelter behind magical wards and pray that their protection holds until the dawn.

But when Arlen’s world is shattered by the demon plague, he realizes that it is fear, rather than the monsters, which truly cripples humanity. Only by conquering their own terror can they ever hope to defeat the demons. Now Arlen must risk leaving the safety of his wards to discover a different path, and offer humanity a last, fleeting chance of survival.

The world in The Painted Man is ruled by fear, by fear of demons that rise in the night and feed on any living being they find. The only protection the people in this world have are wards. Wards get painted and scratched on everything – and they should surround the place someone stays the night. So one ward on the door won’t help but if done right, the wards form a magical barrier that keeps the demons from breaking through even when they try all night to do just that. Which they do, in fact. They smash themselves again and again against the wards to find a weakness or to maybe weaken the wards. The dwindling population of this world is testament to their success and the bad place humans are in in this story.

In this world, three children grow up who struggle against expectations and their lot in life. They don’t start out that way. It’s a slow development, and along the way, they are tested several times before they arrive at their conviction to fight the demons instead of cower in fear.

There’s Arlen, a farm boy with a knack for warding; Leesha, a village girl who can’t wait to marry her betrothed to escape her mother and accidentally discovers her knack for healing; and there’s Rojer, who lost two fingers in a demon attack and still works wonders with his fiddle. Out of the three, Rojer is the youngest (he’s three at the outset). He also doesn’t exactly fit the mold of growing up in a rural, backwater kind of place like Arlen and Leesha do, because he’s orphaned at three, taken in by a Jongleur and then goes to live in a city.

But all the same, the world these children grow up in is a narrow, petty, and greedy world inhabited more often than not by nasty, narrow-minded and sometimes hypocritical people. From the time you’re born, your place in the world is set and people who don’t fit in or want something different are viewed with suspicion. Nearly everyone looks out only for himself. Knowledge is fractured (someone dies because the local herb gatherer didn’t know the cure, a plant regarded as weed in that part of the world) and huge parts of knowledge are lost altogether.

The isolation of the villages and hamlets doesn’t help and furthers ignorance and unethical behavior. Most people stay where they are born. Traveling for several days is very dangerous because with the villages far-flung, it usually means spending the night outside with just a small warding circle as protection against the demons. Nearly the sole exception are Messengers who travel from village to village, bringing goods and news.

In such a fractured world and society, taking up the fight against the demons isn’t easy. In fact, it’s not something even thought about (much). Too great is the fear of the demons. The Painted Man looks at what fear does to society. At the end of of the novel, Arlen, Leesha and Rojer are planning to no longer cower in fear. The Painted Man tells the story of how against all odds they arrive at that place.

Arlen’s story is the main focus of the novel. It’s the part that concerns itself mostly with the question of fear:

Ever since the night he had seen Jeph watch his wife be cored from the safety of his porch wards, Arlen had known that the corelings’ greatest weapon was fear. What he hadn’t understood was that fear took many forms. For all his attempts to prove otherwise, Arlen was terrified of being alone. He wanted someone, anyone, to believe in what he was doing. Someone to fight with, and for.
But there was no one. He saw that now. If he wanted companionship, he would have to slink back to the cities and accept it on their terms. If he wanted to fight, he had to do it alone. (400)

Overall, The Painted Man treads well-known paths for fantasy novels with its cast of main characters (fighter, healer, bard) and the way the story unfolds (country bumpkin, lost knowledge, evil to fight). The evil in the form of demons probably adds a slightly different element to the mix. It also made me interested in the answer to the following questions:

  • Why do demons exist?
  • Will the characters face other demons, demons unknown for now but depicted on paintings in old ruins?
  • Is there a uniting force/will behind the demons?
  • Will character(s) be able to go to the core, the place demons stay during the day?
  • Will there be an explanation of how and why wards work?

But sadly, the execution of it all didn’t quite work for me. I was never really pulled in.

I like to read fantasy novels but I still read only a few each year. I would guess no more than ten. So that might explain why I’m a bit puzzled about comments that praise the way this novel is written. The writing serves its purpose – tell the story – but it’s only sometimes that the writing really flowed and felt rich IMO. Most of the time, it gives just the basics without any extra textures and connections which makes the writing often more plodding and clipped than I like in reading.

Equally distancing, there are several POV characters and even in their POV scenes, there are still other characters who get their POV paragraphs. There is character development – Arlen, Leesha, Rojer sure end the story in a different place than they began – but because of several jumps of time (the story covers nearly 15 years) I sometimes thought I missed relevant developments. Instead, other things are repeated and some of the things told are not all that interesting. In addition, there are sudden changes in characters’ behavior, women are either a whore or a virgin, and basically, a character is either good or bad. And despite the frequent demon attacks, this novel seemed slow-paced in that I thought: when does the real story begin?

This might be in part because The Painted Man is the first novel in a trilogy. But even then, and with the questions above and a hunch that political problems are coming, I’m actually not sure about getting the next novel. It’s not the so far fairly formulaic story per se. I can enjoy those but I then prefer “more” in terms of writing and characterization.

Verdict: An okay read. (3/5)

Vacation Reads

7 Jul

After sorting out some internet connection trouble over the weekend – what fun after coming back from a vacation – I’ve finally time for posting some short comments about my vacation reads. Although I have to say, the books were truly vacation reads: my memories are hazy and the comments are rudimentary.

Kelley Armstrong – Stolen

Armstrong, Kelley - Stolen

urban fantasy; “Women of the Otherworld” series, #2

“In Bitten, thirty-year-old Elena Michaels came to terms with her feral appetites and claimed the proud identity of a beautiful, successful woman–and the only living female werewolf.

In Stolen, on a mission for her own elite pack, she is lured into the net of ruthless Internet billionaire Tyrone Winsloe, who has funded a bogus scientific investigation of the “other races” and their supernatural powers. Kidnapped and studied in his underground lab deep in the Maine woods, these paranormals–witches, vampires, shamans, werewolves–are then released and hunted to the death in a real-world video game. But when Winsloe captures Elena, he finally meets his match.”

I had my problems with Elena for much of the first novel in this series, Bitten, though I appreciated Elena as a different heroine. I’m glad to say that my problems were much reduced in this novel. I enjoyed Stolen and I like Armstrong’s way to write. Stolen is a very straightforward story – Elena is captured, has to figure out how to escape and then comes back. Because I never doubted that she would escape, I didn’t find the story all that interesting. Still, Stolen gives a great introduction to all the other supernatural beings in this world. I think I’m going to continue with this series.

Verdict: 4/5

Madeline Hunter – The Rules of Seduction

Hunter, Madeline - Rules of Seduction

historical romance; “Rothwell Brothers” series, #1

“Dangerous. Sensual. Handsome as sin. Meet Hayden Rothwell, the shamelessly erotic hero of The Rules of Seduction and author Madeline Hunter’s most irresistible alpha male yet: a man of extraordinary passion and power, a man who can bring out the seductress in any woman….

He enters her home without warning or invitation–a stranger of shadowy motives and commanding sensuality. Within hours, Alexia Welbourne is penniless, without any hope of marriage. Until Hayden Rothwell takes her to bed. When one impulsive act of passion forces Alexia to marry the very man who has ruined her, Hayden’s seduction of Alexia is nearly complete. What Alexia doesn’t know is that her irresistible new husband is driven by a secret purpose–and a debt of honor he will risk everything to repay. Alexia is the wild card. Reluctant to give up their nightly pleasures, Hayden must find a way to keep Alexia by his side…only to be utterly, thoroughly seduced by a woman who is now playing by her own rules.”

I really liked The Rules of Seduction. It’s a character-driven story and I especially enjoyed that Alexia and Hayden seemed to be mature characters. Alexia knows she has to be practical but nevertheless, she also resents giving up some of her romantic dreams. And Hayden, the way love creeps up on his analytical and logical self…

Verdict: 4,5/5

Dorothy Koomson – My Best Friend’s Girl

Koomson, Dorothy - My Best Friend's Girl

fiction (chick-lit)

“How far would you go for the best friend who broke your heart?

From the moment they met in college, best friends Adele and Kamryn thought nothing could come between them–until Adele did the unthinkable and slept with Kamryn’s fiance, Nate. Now, after years of silence, the two women are reuniting, and Adele has a stunning request for her old friend: she wants Kamryn to adopt her five-year-old daughter, Tegan.

But Kamryn is wholly unprepared to take care of anyone–especially someone who reminds her so much of Nate. With crises brewing at work and her love life in shambles, can Kamryn somehow become the mother a little girl needs her to be?

It wasn’t a good decision to read this on my vacation. Reading at the pool and wanting to have a good cry? Not ideal, let me tell you. Especially the beginning had me teary-eyed quite a bit. Bonus: I didn’t know with whom Kamryn would end up with right up to the end although that question is not what this novel is about. Finished in one day.

Verdict: 4/5

Karen Marie Moning – Darkfever (audio book)

Moning, Karen Marie - Darkfever (audio book)

urban fantasy; “Fever” series, #1

from the author’s website:

“MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that breaks down only every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman. Or so she thinks…until something extraordinary happens.

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death–a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed–a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae….

As Mac delves deeper into the mystery of her sister’s death, her every move is shadowed by the dark, mysterious Jericho, a man with no past and only mockery for a future. As she begins to close in on the truth, the ruthless Vlane–an alpha Fae who makes sex an addiction for human women–closes in on her. And as the boundary between worlds begins to crumble, Mac’s true mission becomes clear: find the elusive Sinsar Dubh before someone else claims the all-powerful Dark Book–because whoever gets to it first holds nothing less than complete control of the very fabric of both worlds in their hands. . . .”

Darkfever is the first audio book I’ve listened to. I really liked the experience and I think it changes the impression of a novel somewhat. I didn’t like the voice the narrator used for Jericho at all. I had images of reptiles dancing before my eyes whenever he talked. Not good.

LOL: I thought Mac’s name was Michaela! Good thing I didn’t see the way it is written before. I would have thought it too cutesy, enforcing my impression that Mac is an incarnation of Reese Witherspoon’s character Elle Woods in Legally Blond.

link to podcast of Darkfever

Susan Squires – Body Electric


science fiction romance

(It says paranormal romance on the book spine, I use SF romance because it's set in the (near) future and technology is involved, nothing supernatural)

“Victoria Barnhardt set out to create something brilliant; she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. With one keystroke her program spiraled out of control…and something was born that defied possibility: a being who called to her.

He spoke from within a prison, seeking escape, seeking her. He was a miracle that Vic had never intended. More than a scientific discovery, or a brilliant coup by an infamous hacker, he was life. He was beauty. And he needed to be released, just as Victoria did. Though the shadows of the past might rise against them, on one starry Los Angeles night, in each other’s arms, the pair would find a way to have each other and freedom both.”

This is the most interesting novel I read in terms of story. I thought it rather original. Sure, you have to believe and there were parts that I didn’t like all that much – the way Victoria’s creation got a body, for example – but overall, I enjoyed reading it. Also, Body Electric has a virgin hero. But with that kind of story it couldn’t be any other way.


not finished:

Brandon Sanderson – The Hero of Ages


fantasy; “Mistborn” trilogy, #3

half of the blurb (to avoid spoilers of the first two books in this trilogy):

“The conclusion of the Mistborn trilogy fulfills all the promise of the first two books. Revelations abound, connections rooted in early chapters of the series click into place, and surprises, as satisfying as they are stunning, blossom like fireworks to dazzle and delight. It all leads up to a finale unmatched for originality and audacity that will leave you rubbing your eyes in wonder, as if awaking from an amazing dream.

I only got halfway through this book on my vacation (I read ~ 400 pages) so no grade. But based on my experience with the first two books in this trilogy (really liked the first, thought the second one good), I fully expect some more story surprises on the way to the ending. So far, I enjoyed reading it.

Problems: It’s more than six months since I’ve finished the second book in this trilogy and that might be a bit too long to remember all revelations and how they fit in with what is happening now.

Brandon Sanderson – “The Well Of Ascension”

12 Nov

GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: Tor 2008 (2007)

SERIES: “Mistborn” trilogy, part 2

WHY THIS NOVEL: I liked the first part in this trilogy a lot.

The back blurb:
“Evil has been defeated.
The was has just begun.

They did the impossible, deposing the godlike being whose brutal rule had lasted a thousand years. Now Vin, the street urchin who has grown into the most powerful Mistborn in the land, and Elend, Venture, the idealistic young nobleman who loves her, must build a healthy new society in the ashes of an empire.

They have barely begun when three separate armies attack. As the siege thightens, an ancient legend seems to offer a glimmer of hope. But even if it really exists, no one knows where to find the Well of Ascension or what manner of power it bestows.

It may just be that killing the Lord Ruler was the easy part. Surviving the aftermath of his fall is going to be the real challenge.”

The Well of Ascension begins a few months after the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire. Like Mistborn, it’s divided into parts (six this time) and begins each chapter with an account-like paragraph of what have happened one thousand years before. This time, it’s not the hero himself who writes. This time, it’s the scholar who discovered him, the Hero of Ages prophesied for so long in their religion, and this scholar tells his side of the story in these sentences. He begins his account with the words: “I write these words in steel, for anything not set in metal cannot be trusted” (3).

The Well of Ascension is a look at what happens when the good guys win. Most of it deals with the threat of the three armies laying siege to Luthadel, the “capital” of the Final Empire. Elend Venture is the new king and the former thieves are his advisers. The main story line in this novel is Elend’s struggle with himself and the question of what makes a good leader.

Who was he? A man who had haphazardly ended up on the throne? A poor replacement for their brilliant leader? An idealist who hadn’t considered the dangers his philosophies would bring? A fool? A child? An imposter?

His idealism clashes with the reality of what it takes to lead people, especially since he faces the harsh reality in a besieged city. Elend has a lot to learn about leading. It’s only when another “Keeper,” a secret organization of scholars, arrives that he realizes that ideals and good intentions are maybe not enough.

There are two secondary story lines (in terms of page count) and then some even smaller ones. At the end of Mistborn, Vin had a tenuous understanding of herself and thought she could be both Mistborn (and assassin) and the woman Elend needs as king. In The Well of Ascension, this is threatened as she is revisited by her old fears: to be betrayed and to be left alone. Her insecurities about herself are made worse when she meets another Mistborn and starts to question her relationship with Elend. She can’t reconcile her love for Elend with being Elend’s knife at the throat of his enemies and her aversion to being used as an assassin and a means of threat by him. On top of that, she can no longer see the mist as her means to be free because the mist has changed. She sees a figure in it watching her and she can’t shake the feeling that it all has to do with the Lord Ruler’s death.

This is were the Sazed’s story line comes in. He’s a Keeper and at the start of the story, he’s out in the country to teach the people what he knows. He discovers the scholar’s account “set in steel” and also disturbing things about the mist and so decides to go back to Luthadel. Together with the other Keeper there, he tries to understand the account in light of what they know and to find the answer to the question of what the Well of Ascension is and what the Deepness, the thing the Lord Ruler defeated one thousand years before, was. There are discrepancies in books and the accounts, especially about the Hero of Ages, and then somehow it looks like history is repeating itself. The answer to all this makes for a powerful ending that changes a lot.

On the whole, The Well of Ascension seems less focused than Mistborn, probably because there are several POV characters and several plot lines to juggle. Some of the subplots sometimes appear to be dropped because it seems that several weeks passed by between each mention of it, like for example the spy subplot. Then there’s the character who vanishes early in the story without nobody wondering about it. There is also not much action in this story, something that gets particularly clear when you look back on what happened: the big battle for Luthadel and the realization about the Well of Ascension. Both things happen at the end. Most of the story reads like the quiet before the storm and concerns itself with the exploration of leadership. While I thought this interesting on a philosophical level, the writing there wasn’t tight and focused enough to gather it’s own momentum, making the first parts of the novel a somewhat slow read because the balance didn’t quite work. What kept me reading then was mostly Vin’s and Sazed’s story line.

The last parts of the novel made up for the slower first half/two thirds of the novel and overall, there is much to like in this novel, like Vin’s struggle with her identity, her insecurities and her fears. I also thought the exploration of themes of leadership and religion in this story interesting. And I liked the answer Sazed finds and the twist it puts on religion and prophecies, especially since it also offers a comment on the end of Mistborn and its question of heroism. But I’m not sure if it was such a good idea to read this book so soon after Mistborn. It probably made it suffer more in comparison than necessary.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes (not as a stand-alone).

Would I read this novel again? Yes.

Grade: 4 – / 5