Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher

First Lord's Fury, the last entry in the Codex Alera series was recently released. I've completed it now, and here are my thoughts on the series. My first exposure to Jim Butcher's work was with the Dresden Files, a series of urban fantasy novels starring the titular Harry Dresden, Chicago's only wizard listed in the Yellow Pages.

In contrast, the Codex Alera series is a much more traditional fantasy world. The country of Alera exists on a fictional continent where humans are able to control the elements through what they call furycraft. Every human is able furycraft at at least some level, and it has shaped society, all lamps are fury lamps, and need to be lit through the use of a small amount of fire crafting, healing is all performed in tubs of water by watercrafters, messengers are all windcrafters, who fly through the skies. Blacksmith's are all metalcrafters who are able to sense just the right conditions for forging the metal.

Not all furycrafters are created equal however, most people are only adept in one or two elements, those who can control all of the elements to a great degree make up the aristocracy of Alera.

It's strongly hinted that the first humans of Alera were a Roman legion that somehow ended up on a mysterious new continent, along with their hangers on. I don't know enough of Roman history to identify many of the elements that are influenced by it, although clearly the arms and military structure is very similar.

Our hero for this story is a young boy named Tavi, who's father was lost in a recent war, and who is something of a freak in that he possesses not the slightest inkling of furycraft. Obviously he is the subject of much ridicule, pity, and bullying, but he's clever, and has managed to get by in spite of his disability.

The first two books in the series deal mostly with political scheming and backstabbing, which progresses slowly into a more traditionally fantastic overwhelming foreign invaders storyline. Over the many books, we get to see Tavi frequently strive in the face of impossible situations, and eventually become a beloved leader, and fearsome strategist.

One of my favorite things about this series was the ingenious ways that Tavi would think of to combat furycrafting with simple mechanical know how, and eventually be able to instruct others on how to combine furycrafting and more traditional engineering to create wondrous feats.

At first I found it hard to get into the series, just because I was expecting something more along the lines of the Dresden Files, but then I came to love the politics and scheming for what it was. I'd highly recommend checking this series out if you're interested in a fantasy story that approaches the genre from a slightly different angle.

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