Tag Archives: Jim Butcher

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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July 2010 Reads

1 Aug

Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon is the first in the fantasy series Codex Alera and I really liked it. It tells the familiar story of an aging king without an heir and a looming war of succession, placed in a world where people bond with elemental furies. The story is told by several characters and it looks like Butcher has some interesting things in store for what’s to come. And while the characters mights be a bit too one/two-dimensional, some at least are capable of being gray (such as a woman on the “bad” side helps a woman on the “good” side). At the moment, I’m most interested in Isana, the aunt of the main protagonist Tavi. It seems she had an interesting and tragic past so I’m looking forward to finding out more.
If there’s one thing I found a bit off-putting, then it’s that Furies of Calderon is a very action-driven novel and the characters always seem to end up in a place even worse than they are at the start of a chapter, following the “what can go wrong, will go wrong” line of thought. It made for a relentless pace for much of the story and that felt a bit exhausting at times.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow

YA, set in the world of multiplayer online games. For the Win looks at the economic system of these games and focuses on the lives of “gold farmers,” who work under appalling conditions to get virtual items which their employers then sell for real money. I found this premise interesting, especially because I played such a game for nearly a year until last month.
The story and the characters’ behavior in For the Win are guided by an idea/vision and “lectures” on economy interrupt the novel several times. There’s nearly no character development and because of the many POV characters, I didn’t get a very strong sense of continuity until very late in the book when all the different story lines start converging. So, interesting read in terms of idea/vision/lectures on economy but at times it felt more like a documentary than a novel. Also, I’m not exactly sure why it’s labeled YA. The premise is a big draw probably but the lectures don’t seem to fit.

This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James

I really enjoyed reading this novel. It was witty and fun and where else do you find a heroine that goads another woman into seducing the heroine’s husband? Really, I like James’s novels mostly for the interesting, non-cardboard characters and I don’t care if I would find them nice or likable in real life. So, I had fun reading this novel. But I’m not sure there is much story underneath all that sparkle.
Jemma and Elijah are married and after years of living apart, it’s time to produce an heir. Good thing they also realized in the previous books of the series that they also want to jump each others bones. So where’s the story eh problem?
Jemma realizes that she doesn’t know what Elijah likes and she thinks she’s only second (third?) best to Elijah’s governmental work and his rivalry with Villiers. Elijah thinks of Jemma as “MINE!” and his honor is very important to him. Hmm…I’m still not sure how all this translated into the coy flirtation and dancing around each other that takes up more than half of the story, especially because they agreed about the need for an heir and time is running short with Elijah illness, but it was fun to read nevertheless. The later part of the novel concerns itself with Elijah’s illness and oh, there are also some interesting developments for Villiers in the story. And that’s what happens.
So, fun to read; looking forward to reading Villiers story next.

Her Sister’s Baby by Janice Kay Johnson

This was a surprise book for two reasons. First, I didn’t know I had this book. It was a bonus book in my edition of Spencer’s Sweet Memories. Second, the story features a baby and I enjoyed reading the novel quite a lot.
The story: “Colleen will do anything for her sister Sheila, including having her baby. Sheila’s husband, Michael, wants a baby, too. When Colleen offers to be a surrogate for his wife, he’s deeply grateful. Then an accident takes Sheila’s life, and Colleen and Michael turn to each other in their sorrow only to discover an unacknowledged attraction.” (quote: Goodreads)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Smooth Talking Stranger started off great but halfway through it lost the main obstacle for a relationship between Ella and Jack: Ella’s boyfriend left the field.
I say main obstacle because Ella’s insistence that she will never marry and her relationship problems didn’t seem to play too much of a role in the second half of the novel IMO. They came up from time to time then, I even believed them, but I not once had the impression that they would stand in the way of the couple’s HEA. So in my view, Ella’s boyfriend was the main obstacle and I was left with no real tension in the second part of the novel. In addition, Ella’s light bulb re how much Jack means to her comes in the way this so often does in Kleypas’s novels…
I also asked myself: 1) where did Ella get all her fabulous clothes? I thought she left with only a few to look what was the matter with her sister. 2) For two reasons I’m left with the slightly weird impression that Jack is second-best to Luke, Ella’s nephew. 3) It seems to me that Ella is a vegan only because her boyfriend is one, one who has strong views about it. From this I gather: Ella tries to please other people. A lot. And I’m left wondering: what does this say about her relationship with Jack? Jack, he who is of the tribe “MINE!”
Okay, it seems I didn’t like this novel, but that’s actually not true. I thought the way it delineated and constructed gender (roles) very interesting. Just look at that vegan business, for example. And there are things I liked: Kleypas’s contemporary voice, the beginning, Jack’s willingness to do everything for HIS woman (very nice fantasy!) Or how the novel looked at how damaging parents can be to their children. There’s good stuff but I missed something in the second half.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I read the German edition of this novel. Different from other editions I know, it doesn’t reference a character in the title. The German edition is called “Verblendung” (~ delusion). Somehow I thought I would get something along the line of La Femme Nikita (the original, not the US remake) with this novel. Not so. There is a female character, Lisbeth Salander, and she’s not your usual female character, but she’s not the main character (maybe that changes in the other books?). That honor belongs to Mikael Blomkvist, the author stand-in who is in love with brand names and himself and so naturally have all the women fall at his feet; that is jump into bed with him right away.
There are two stories in this novel. The mystery of the missing Harriet (what attracted me to the novel) is solved way before the end and it wasn’t all that difficult to get an idea why Harriet disappeared (helpful little statistics fronting each part of the story) or what happened. The last hundred or so pages are spend on solving Mikael’s problem, the one that made him lose his position at his newspaper and so enabled him take up Harriet’s case in the first place. (You go, Mikael!)
I actually enjoyed the novel in the beginning. It was a bit slow, yes, but I was willing. Then the brand names started to bother me. I swear each time a laptop was mentioned, its brand name was mentioned, too. Same with other things. I was reading that novel on my vacation at the pool (spotted three readers with the same book!) and because the brand names annoyed me, I told my boyfriend each time I encountered one. It was like a game. (Later he knew just by my huff and lowering of the book that I’d found another one.)
Anyway, besides in brand names, the story is bogged down in exposition, unnecessary details and bland characters IMO. Admittedly, Lisbeth is a cool character but she goes the way of the big boobs later in the story, thinking how she likes to have that option or something like that (Who thinks that? Is it really the cool and not-giving-a-damn Lisbeth?) And of course, Lisbeth also realizes she’s in love with Mikael (yeah Mikael!). So no, while Lisbeth is easily the most interesting thing about this novel, she didn’t save it for me.
There is a decent mystery buried underneath that all but it was hard to find. And I think I missed the social criticism completely. The abuse of women was presented too sensational and over-the-top. I couldn’t view that as criticism.

The Shy Bride by Lucy Monroe

I don’t remember much about this one. The heroine is a pianist and a recluse, the hero’s a self-made millionaire. Oh wait, that’s probably billionaire. Anyway, I thought the heroine’s anxiety attacks were done quite well and I liked Monroe’s voice. So I’m actually tempted to read the book that features the hero’s best friend.

Slave to Sensation, Visions of Heat, Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh (re-reads)

I read a review for another novel in this series and I was interested in reading it. But because I’d tried the first three novels in the Psy/Changeling series and we didn’t click, I didn’t. This set me to thinking about why I didn’t enjoy this series as much as most other readers and so I read the three novels I already had again.
I came away with a clearer grasp of why they don’t fit me completely. It’s the characters. They seem too much an illustration of their race traits to be complete individuals to me, with the conflict centered around the Psy/Changeling differences and what kind of Psy is part of the pairing. It makes characters and conflict look like part of the world building which makes the world building and the way it’s done more interesting but it also makes the characters (and story) less so for me. Yeah, I think that’s it.
So, maybe I’ll buy the next one in the series one day to see how the world building goes. After all, I liked Visions of Heat better than the first time so there is hope.

Sweet Memories by LaVyrle Spencer

I found Sweet Memories to be a nice and sweet story about a woman who’s wary of men because if they show interest, they show interest in her big rack. The novel’s a bit dated (not that I minded) and at times it felt slightly too sweet for my taste. Also, the story seemed a bit thin, concerning itself for the most part with Theresa’s anxiety and worry about her big breasts. But at the end Theresa’s made some changes to her life and seemed more grown up, so altogether I was fine and enjoyed reading it.