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!