BlackRabbit #CBR5 Review#10: The Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Last time I reviewed the first of Mr. Butcher’s Dresden Files series, so it seems only fair to look at the beginning of his other series. I only began this one because I enjoyed it, but it really grew on me. It examines very different ideas and dynamics than the Dresden books and shows more of Mr. Butcher’s talent. This first book, similarly to Storm Front, shows some roughness in plot and characters, though far less than the first Dresden novel.

It begins with the story of a young man named Tavi, who is the only one without the ability to call “furies” or elemental spirits of fire, water, earth, air, metal, or wood. These furies are central to the society of Alera, and a person’s strength in his or her furies goes a long way towards determining their station; a Lord will always have strong ones, while a peasant might have a few or only one weak fury to call. Tavi’s been the subject of prejudice and dislike his entire life, since he’s practically crippled in comparison with everyone else. Though living on the frontier, he and his family are nonetheless in danger from the nearby Marat, a savage barbarian race that has clashed with the Aleran Legions many times. And then powerful hidden forces begin to make themselves felt in the small town of Calderon, and Tavi’s life changes forever, and not for the better….

The stories in the Codex Alera is different from the Dresden series in many ways:  it moves from character to character instead of a single POV, which serves to deepen the story. When you have only one viewpoint, you can only get one version of events and one sense of the world around you without a lot of explanation from other characters. Secondly, Butcher is able to explore many different aspects not available in Dresden, such as family interaction, first-person female narration and in-depth military and political intrigue. Thirdly, he is given the chance to do much deeper job of world-building than before, which is likely more freeing while at the same time much more difficult.

Here’s the tough question: I’ve read both series as far as they go (Dresden is still going) and I still don’t know which I like better. They both bring such different ideas and worlds to the table that it seems odd to compare them, yet the feel and texture is so similar. I’d have to say that I enjoyed the Codex Alera more, just based on the wider variety of characters and situations offered. That’s only a slight advantage, and I reserve the right to change my mind.

Incidentally, I’m considering doing reviews of all of the Dresden/Alera novels. If that would be pleasing, leave a comment!

BlackRabbit #CBR5 Review#9: The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

I’m not as much of a writer as I’d like to be-it’s a work in process. Therefore I sometimes feel uncomfortable reviewing books by authors like Mr. King. He’s a household name, and icon, whether or not you like his books. However, I do feel I am a good enough reader; I know what I like and what works for me, and I try to review on that basis as much as I can in these posts.

I don’t like all of Kings’ books either. It was good, and the Shining, but Carrie didn’t grab me, for example, and The Stand was a mix of good and bad. The Eyes of the Dragon, however, is different, both in its genre and the style King uses to make the world.

It’s set in the kingdom of Delain, and revolves around King Roland, his two sons Peter and Thomas, the events of their lives and the impact of a terrible crime. Other characters include Sasha, the Queen; Peyna, the High Judge; and Flagg, the court magician.

The book is straight fantasy, with little or no horror influence. This makes it a pleasant break from his other work and a good recommendation to others, as well. The world and characters are simple and clean, enough so that I get the impression that King relished making his own world in this case instead of putting a story into ours as he does in his other work, though obviously that is how he has earned his well-deserved fame.

The story is also fairly clean and straightforward, though that doesn’t make it weak or without merit. It’s simple enough for a teenager (and in fact apparently it was intended for his own children) but has enough meat for an adult. It’s an excellent “beach book” for anyone-a good, self-contained story with enough twists, evil, love and loyalty to make you both wish for a sequel and glad that King has never written one.

BlackRabbit #CBR5 Review#8: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, that all of the good stuff has been written or said and we’re just recycling. Given the sequelitis and remake fever that Hollywood often uses to keep making new movies. I personally don’t agree. That idea is both defeatist and arrogant, along with a good helping of dismissive contempt for the fresh but hidden stuff that just doesn’t get the publicity it deserves.

By this point I don’t think Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series can be called hidden, but it’s still a good example of something fresh and new. As with his other series, the Codex Alera, Butcher combines two ideas (there the Lost Legion and Pokemon, here magic and detective novels) into an interesting new whole. The two parts don’t seem like a natural fit (apparently the Alera books came about as the result of a bet), and yet they work.

Storm Front is the first in the series starring Harry Dresden, a wizard and private investigator trying to make a buck in a world where everyone assumes he’s either a fraud or a madman. Obviously this is not the case, but the scepticism of the common man is well described. After all, we’ve all seen examples of people purporting to have supernatural powers to help others, right?

The story begins with a distraught wife who wants Harry to find her missing husband. At the same time, bodies have been discovered with an unusual cause of death. As the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook, Harry naturally gets the call from the police. This leads to a much bigger problem, and down a path to darkness in both the magical and mundane worlds. The character of Harry is fun and engaging, and the supporting cast is briskly created with little unneeded detail. Butcher also does a good job here of beginning to sketch out the rules for his magical world, which can be challenging for any novice fantasy author.

As with most first books in a series the story and characterization is a little rough as Butcher finds his feet. It’s not my favorite in the series but it seemed to make the most sense to begin at the beginning, as they say. I’ve read up to the latest book, and it’s only a tiny spoiler to say that all of the series are connected and that even small things mentioned or hinted at here are not forgotten here later.

In essence, the parts may not be new (wizard/peanut butter, detective/chocolate) but together they’re pretty tasty, and you should eat as much as you can. (Note to self, do not review before lunch again.)