Book Review: Codex Alera Series by Jim Butcher (AKA the Fury series)

Like most authors, I tend to read a lot also. I thought I would post a few reviews, once in a while, as I read. I will post only Fantasy and Science Fiction in this blog – to tie into my own writing. I tend to give a bit of a writer’s type of review, which I hope is vaguely interesting to some.

I am a big Butcher fan, as are a lot of other people. He consistently ranks as one of the top selling authors.

The Codex Alera series is good, but fairly flawed. Using the Amazon star rating, I give it three stars (which means it is worth reading). Warning, as I am reviewing the entire six book series, there are spoilers.

With fantasy and science fiction, the genre generally focuses on plot and ideas quite a bit with the characters usually second. With Butcher’s Dresden Files series, I would say what makes it a winner is the character gets a lot more emphasis than many writers give in this genre. In Codex Alera the main foci are the ideas and and plot.

The “fury” concept is a nice one—in general. However, I feel that Butcher never really develops any rules for the furies and the use of them. He has a tendency to do this with his other writing, but here it is more extreme. He may have developed them off camera so to speak, but the rules are not evident. Still, in general I can forgive this aspect.

The world and the over arching plot is a bit “been there, read that.” Whether intentionally, or accidently, he borrows a LOT from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  Huge, evil force that can destroy the whole world, “slave” collars that are remarkably like the collars in Wheel of Time, a hero who has hidden powers and is coming into them, who leads an ever increasing world wide army, but has compassion for his troops.  A race of warriors that are “barbarians” where the women are super tough, slim and fight well and one falls in love with him and bonds with him.

Despite that similarity, I like Butcher’s writing more. It is faster, leaner, and does not bog down. At least a few of the main characters actually die (whereas Jordan kept a lot of them alive).

Unlike Dresden, the Codex series is written in multiple points of view. I like that and the third person. He does this well.

What I think is by far the biggest flaw is his ultimate world wide enemy, the Vord. These don’t really become the world enemy until the third book (which I like, the characters drive it forward until then). The vord, without going into too much detail, are simply not believable even within the context of a fantasy world and the furies. They multiply, via a queen at a rate that is impossible given that the queen is busy doing other things. Also, they multiply and sustain themselves in such a way that they destroy all future sources of nourishment completely. This is never explained, if they actually succeeded in conquering the world, they would simply die off from starvation.  Part of the reason this is so annoying is Butcher does a nice job of having various protagonists and antagonists use their brains and the laws of physics generally apply (side note, except the “bending of air” to bring something in focus and closer. You aren’t bending air when you bend the light rays, but that is minor.

Despite the flaws, Butcher does a nice job in weaving in political intrigue and different thinking for different races. If he had not spent so much time in the last three books on simply an army building and fighting, it would have been a better series. I think the first two, or three books are four stars, but the ending set drags this down to four.

It has been said before that there are no new stories, just variations on themes. While generally true, I think this does not vary enough in the overall arch, but is still worth the read. I am sure I will continue to read Butcher as he continues to write. I just hope I don’t imitate him and others too much in my own writing—because the temptation is there. I would almost give him an extra half star in that he proves that he is not a one hit series/style writer with this, despite its flaws.

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