A very good friend of mine recently sent me the entire 6-book series Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. I had recently read Butcher’s newest book The Aeronaut’s Windlass and really enjoyed it, and I’m a long-time fan of his Dresden Files series. Hell, I even follow him on twitter.
I say all of that to be up front about the fact that I’m predisposed to liking Butcher’s work. It’s a bit odd that I hadn’t gotten around to reading the Codex Alera series before, actually. A function of too many good books by too many good authors and not enough time, but still - I felt a bit bad.
So how did I like it? Well… I’m a bit disappointed. The first book, Furies of Calderon pulled me along rather nicely. It has an intriguing magic system, the culture is a mixture of Roman and feudalism instead of the normal-for-fantasy idealized late Middle Ages European monarchy, and the humanoid race that serves as a stand-in for Native Americans had a few nice twists on the standard tropes (their skin and hair is lighter than normal instead of darker! They’re, uh, cannibals!) That plus a good villian - I’m a sucker for a bad guy that think’s he is doing the right thing - and I blew through the book in a few days. Not to say everything about the book is perfect. One of the main characters is very clearly an ugly duckling - he has no ability to use the “furies”, but he’s obviously being setup to come into his powers later, and then he will undoubtably be One Of The Most Powerful People Around. The only suspense left is when, exactly, he will have the inciting event that reveals him to be The Chosen One. And props for not having it in the first book, I guess?
The second book, though… Academ’s Fury starts out with Tavi (the ugly duckling) attending school at the capital and he’s having a rough go of it. He’s being picked on by (stop me if you’ve heard this before) A Handsome Rich Boy that Doesn’t Like MudbloodsFreaks Without Magical Abilities Who Also Has Two Friends That Follow His Every Command And Are Big, Fat, and Dumb. And HarryTavi also has some friends - The Nerdy One Who Follows The Rules, The Spunky Girl (seriously - I’m over halfway through the book and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about her besides that), and The Ladies Man. Oh, and more hints are dropped that he is not only an Ugly Duckling, but he’s The Chosen One with Mysterious Parents.
And I pushed through it, but boy did that shake my faith. The problem is the rest of the book isn’t much better. One of the characters is having the traditional Superhero’s Love Life Dilemma that we’ve all seen play out many, many times in comic books, novels, tv shows, and movies: “I love person <X> but my job <Y> is very important and I might have to choose between them at some point. Ergo, I should unilaterally and without talking to them decide to dump them. Surely that’s the best way forwards!” To call it a cliche is an insult to a good cliche. The villian this time around is your basic “Bwuahahah, I’m a bad person!” that would twirl her mustache if she had one.
So I’m taking a break. I’m gonna read another Bujold book (The Warrior’s Apprentice, if you care) to reset. Maybe I’ll pick Academ’s Fury back up to see if it gets better. There are four more books, and I can power through some dreck if I know it’s going to be worth it (see: the first season of Buffy). But on the other hand, there’s a lot of good books out there by good authors, and only so much time in the day…