Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Furies of Calderon

Jim Butcher is best known for his urban fantasy series about wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden.  I tried a Dresden book a few years ago and just couldn't get in to it.  I'm not an urban fantasy kind of guy.  Don't know why exactly.  Too many vampires and tattooed chicks with wrenches maybe?  Luckily, Butcher has also written an epic fantasy--the Codex Alera series.

Codex Alera came about in an interesting way.  If you're an aspiring writer, chances are you've heard the story.  It seems to be told a lot at cons.  Anyway, thanks to copy and paste you can get it from old grandpa Wiki:  The inspiration for the series came from a bet Jim was challenged to while a member of the Delray Online Writer’s Workshop. The challenger bet that Jim could not write a good story based on a lame idea, and Jim countered that he could do it using two lame ideas of the challenger’s choosing. The “lame” ideas given were “Lost Roman Legion", and “Pokemon”.

So, Romans and dumb Japanese fighting animals.  Sound fun?  I've never been all that interested in Rome and I was too old for the Pokemon craze (thank heaven), but Butcher does a great job mashing the two ideas together to create an interesting and original world.

Alera is a nation surrounded by barbarians, monsters, and a deadly world.  Every person in Alera can bond to furies of earth, air, fire, water, or metal.  Everyone besides Tavi, anyway.  Tavi is a fifteen-year-old boy who has lived his entire life in the rural Calderon valley, far from anything important.  As you would expect, however, all this changes as Tavi's home becomes the focus of the kingdom.

I really liked several things about this book.  The furies were cool, the politics and setting right up my alley.  Some of the characters were intriguing.  The problem--what is keeping me from really loving this book--is that the story is way too traditional.  For some readers, this won't be a problem.  And I don't think it would have been for me either, had I started this series ten years ago.  I think that fans of Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson will really like the Codex Alera series.  I'm a fan of those authors too, but they aren't my favorite.  Far from it.  I'd much rather read Martin, Abercrombie, or Lynch, and so FoC didn't quite do it for me.  I've had enough of the farm boy destined for greatness, the hard-nosed country folk he grew up with.  And I cannot buy into a Roman-based (and yes, they are actual descendants from the lost Legion, so they are as Romanesque as you get in fantasy) civilization being so up-tight about showing skin.  The Romans were some of the most immodest people to walk the Earth.  I'm not asking for Martin levels of sex and nudity--we don't need anymore books out there like that.  But if I want to read about men blushing left and right from seeing a woman's legs, I'll go read The Wheel of Time.  Also, there was too much action.  The pacing got in the way of character development.  I would have enjoyed a few slower chapters.

Okay.  You might be thinking I didn't like the book all that much after the bit of ranting.  That isn't the case.  I liked it, and intend to continue with the series.  I've heard it only gets better.  I just can't like it as much as I want to.  Make sense?

If you haven't checked the Codex Alera series out, you should.  Especially if you've heard good things about Jim Butcher but can't enjoy urban fantasy like me.  It isn't going to be the greatest series you've ever read, but Alera is a fun world to visit, and Butcher's writing is precise and expertly crafted.  He's definitely a great writer worth reading.  Furies of Calderon gets 3 out of 5 stars.  

That's all.

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