Because all of life is stories.
Today I may be cheating a little, as The Codex Alera is not one book, but six. Suffice it to say though, it is one of the best high fantasy series I have read in over a decade. I really, really hope he decides to revisit this series one day. So let me tell you about it, that you may commence reading and geeking out about the series as I have.
This series really has something for every crowd. You want underdogs? We got em. Massive epic battles? Yep. Duels, spies, magic, monsters, love, sex, betrayal, secrets, travel, it’s got ALL OF THOSE THINGS. And not a single one of them feels like it was crammed in at the expense of more story. Everything moves the grandiose plot froward from the first chapter of Furies of Calderon until the earth shatteringly awesome climax of the sixth book, First Lord’s Fury.
And on the subject of everything moving the plot forward, what I love about this series is it is completely lacking in Middle Child Syndrome. What do I mean by that? Some series, and especially trilogies, fall victim to this. The first book tells the origin story. The last book has the resolution and the payoff the series has been promising. But what about the middle? It usually spends too much time reacquainting us with the first book and setting up the third while forgetting that it too needs to tell its own story. And that my friends, is sad. Catching Fire, Xenocide, The Daylight War, they all fall into this trap to varying degrees. The really great writers manage to make sure that every book manages to both advance the story and still have one of their own. Series like The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Old Man’s War manage to dodge this trap brilliantly so you never finish a book going “Hmm…did anything really happen in that one?”
Now that I’ve ranted on what MCS actually is let me tell you why Butcher is so brilliant. There isn’t a single book of the six that makes me think I was just reading filler until the big battle begins. Each one begins and resolves a conflict unique to that novel, while still moving along the overreaching story being told by the works as a whole. It’s masterful. And unlike some writers who will open up five or six multi-novel plot lines at a time and forget about one or two for the space of several hundred pages (see Jordan, Robert) Butcher keeps us abreast of all the deliciously wonderful intrigue both on the most current battlefield, what’s happening in the next kingdom over, and all of the maneuverings that take place in the dark alleys and hushed personal chambers of Alera.
His characters are lovely. For the most part they are all made up of an actual character with wants and needs and feelings and dreams. There is only one I can think of that is truly despicable and lacks redeeming value of any kind. Or at least some human element in them that makes you want to pity them, or identify with them. And that is what the best villains are: interesting. After awhile it gets annoying and honestly kind of infuriating to read about villains whose only reason for being evil is that they were born that way or they just seemed bored on a rainy Tuesday. Strike that, even the boredom angle is more interesting that “I’m evil because I was written that way.” Butcher’s characters all have an underlying motive for why they are set up as the enemy. They becomes fully fleshed out and at least somewhat relatable antagonists. As someone who thinks the villain’s story is usually more interesting than the hero’s, I love Butcher for that quality.
So let’s talk about the Codex for a bit. Early on we meet a young cursor (Spy) by the name of Amara and her mentor Fidelias. Through a series of spoileriffic events (which I won’t tell you about) we see Amara set on the run to warn the Lord’s of Calderon of imminent danger. Along the way she meets Tavi, a young boy who saves her from a vicious furystorm. You see in Alera, and Calderon especially, wild creatures named Furies roam the land. They each take on an aspect of a particular element, namely fire, water, air, and earth with derivations in each category. They are intelligent, and they are deadly. But every citizen of Alera (and no other kingdom we discover) has control over a fury of their own. Two of them if they are very powerful. Tavi finds himself as the only one who cannot, and it is a constant source of anger and embarrassment for him.
Throughout the series Tavi and Amara are thrown into more and more impossible situations. Holding forts, making alliances with eternal enemies, thwarting assassination attempts, and holding the line against enemies both foreign and domestic. All the while Tavi must come to terms with his heritage and the truth about who he is, and who he is destined to become. He must fight enemies ranging from treacherous fury-wielding Lords and their armies, to the Canim; a race of lupine bipeds who view Alera’s existence as a travesty, to the all consuming and ever expanding insect-like Vord and their horrifying queen. Times are changing in Alera. One day all who inhabit the world will look to the most unlikely of people, a small and fury-less boy from a backwoods corner of a mighty kingdom, to save them all.
Hello all of you in Internet Land! Well, all like six or seven of you anyways. Next week I will be switching the blog from Wednesday to Tuesday and Thursday, giving you twice as much serial goodness! And possibly even introducing a guest reviewer or two from around the blogosphere! Until then, stay literate my friends 😉