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Fantasy Rantings – Codex Alera and etc February 21, 2008

Posted by Wilz in Entertainment.

furies-of-caledron.jpgAmong all the respectable fantasy stories I’ve read (Magic the Gathering books is absolute trash and therefore doesn’t come into the scope of this comment) I found Lord of the Rings the most boring – I fell asleep reading the trilogy (even the Hobbit) several times. Just not my type. That first sentence is to give all you ‘high fantasy’ fanbois some perspective so that you can stop reading this if you find your mouse finger already twitching towards the flame, ooops, I mean comment button.

I enjoy what some may call ‘modern’ fantasy. (Though I suspect I have read a lot less of them than most of my friends). I read a good number of Warcraft books based in Azeroth, and thoroughly enjoy reading in greater detail, stories of which the general plot is already known to me. Some of those warcraft books are seriously good. (Zomg) But this post isn’t about those books either. I guess this post is about the kind of fantasy written by David Eddings (and no, it doesn’t include Leigh), Jim Butcher, Ed Greenwood, R.A. Salvatore and Terry Brooks among others. (+ maybe *cough* Robert *cough* Jordan *cough*).

Most of my friends knows that I am a long time fan of David Eddings. My single favourite fantasy book in the whole world is “Belgarath the Sorceror” which is sort of like a history of the world told from the perspective of a 7000 year old wizard, filling in the blanks left by the two series (of five books each) called the Belgariad and Malloreon based in the same world. Eddings wrote his best work (imho) in those 12 books (+ Polgara the Sorceress). I wish that David Eddings would allow a movie to be made out of the whole story. I don’t care if it takes 12 years, with a movie for each year, but I digress.

Compared to Eddings, I think Terry Brooks is a relative noob, and the late Robert Jordan is like a doddering old man who’s a master of lengthening one story into as many thick books as possible. (One that he incidentally failed to finish before he moved on from this world.) Ed Greenwood is most certainly having a gay love relationship with Elminster the way that mage is impossibly and ridiculously overpowered. Granted, I enjoyed their stories as well, but they mostly consisted of characters whom I either fell asleep reading about, or rolled my eyes at constantly.

Eddings’ character development, world development and magic system in the Belgariad books is the best I have ever seen in a fantasy universe. Belgarath, Polgarath, Belgarion and Silk’s personalities are still fresh in my mind despite not having read the books for 8 years now. Eddings’ series is also the first fantasy series I’ve seen where magic was understandable instead of mysterious, and explained in great detail, working in harmony with real world physics.

captains-fury.jpgEnter Jim Butcher. Thanks to a friend called Calvin, I recently started reading the books in the as yet incomplete Codex Alera series – one that starts with “Furies of Calderon”. This series has made me stop playing World of Warcraft for about two and a half weeks now. (Yes dear friends/guildmates, your raised eyebrows are noted.) Weeks that’s busy with Chinese New Year, and later workplace responsibilities. Every moment of free time I had, I have been devouring his books.

I would say that his character development is not bad, and his world development is slow, but his elemental fury-based magic is pure genius. It even has it’s own name – ‘furycrafting’. I don’t think the word ‘magic’ appears significantly anywhere in the books so far (though references to sorceries exist for non-furycrafters). In fact, what initially drew me into the story was all the furycrafting. It’s the kind of magic system that needs little explaining, and yet makes complete sense. I find myself trying to summon the air into the shape of a horse… or touch the ground and make it ripple… – wait how old am I again?

Also, his writing is … erm … well. William calls it ‘mature prose’. I don’t know what to call it. When writing something yourself, you often find yourself with an ‘uncomfortable sentence’ – one that isn’t quite perfect for describing whatever it is you’re trying to describe. So far, I haven’t found any such sentences in Jim Butcher’s books. The story flows easily and with an incredible pace. He is also better at structuring his stories into self-contained chunks that each offer a satisfying conclusion.

In fact, his descriptive writing is so good and you enjoy his storytelling so much that you don’t care where the story is going. (Something that R.A. Salvatore pulls off really well too.) Whereas most (almost every) fantasy authors describe an artifact of great power which is needed to solve the ‘main quest’ early in their books, Jim Butcher tells the ‘as it happens’ story, where the reader figures out what is going to happen as the characters finds out themselves. There is no ultra-wise, all-knowing old man guiding the ‘only guy who can do this’ along his path. It’s very refreshing.

I told William if Eddings and Butcher were to run Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, Eddings would be like a Game Master, describing the world and the NPCs in great detail, and identifing the main questline reasonably early in his campaign. Butcher is more like a Dungeon Master, focusing on the adventure, banking adventure hooks on a few major NPCs, and coming up with excellent combat/interaction situations. Both are excellent, but I am leaning towards Jim Butcher at the moment.

My only complaint – the world of Alera doesn’t have a bloody map. Being hopeless at spatial imagination, I’m still not sure if the Canim homeland is to the east or west, even though I know the direction was mentioned countless times in the book. Calderon is supposed to be north of the capital right? Argh. WTB official map.

Thank gawd for a user called ‘Belgarion’ on the official Jim Butcher forums for coordinating some user-created maps. The irony though.



1. Austen - March 24, 2008

If you didn’t enjoy Tolkien, why did you ever read another fantasy book? Considering that almost every subsequent fantasy book (besides C. S. Lewis’s) as the same basic storyline. The storyline is the old powers ( in LOTR the elves; in the Codex Alera the old emperor’s reign) are losing the strength and influence they once had, so some new powers (in LOTR the race of man; in the Codex Alera it’s Tavi and his allies) must rise up to the challenge of becoming the protectors of civilization/saviors of the world and come into their own talents/strengths. Then the old powers of the world use their remaining strength to guide and teach the new powers, and to save the new powers when they misuse or overreach their blossoming talents.

2. Wilz - March 24, 2008

Just because I don’t enjoy listening to my mom nag doesn’t mean I don’t ever want to hear the voice of another woman again… what kind of reasoning is that? You’re trying so hard to homogenize here you’re not making any sense. Might as well say that no one should ever read fiction because they all have a setting, introduces complications, and climaxes with possible solutions/non-solutions to those complications…

Do I sense a Tolkien fanboi on the loose?

3. KY - May 22, 2008

I think that his point was that Tolkien pretty much invented fantasy (or rather, adapted it from mythology), so saying, “I like fantasy, but hated Tolkien’s writing” doesn’t make much sense at all. Now, admittedly, Tolkien takes some amount of patience and imagination to read, most probably because his writing was a return to the traditional classical style, etc etc. I could bore you with more details, but that’s all besides the point.

As for the rest, I really like Butcher’s Alera series. I think he has tremendous potential as a fantasy author, and his characters and universe show great ingenuity. However he’s letting popular opinion influence his books too much. I mean, not every fantasy book has to have a romance (or two, or three, in his case); while, yes, it does help to sell copies, I find it disturbing that such an author should be reduced to selling to people what they want to hear. Furthermore, I wish Tavi never got furies. The whole point of him starting off without them was so that he could be cast as an independent, different character who was forced to rely on the things he’s earned, not the things he’s been given. Yet with his developing powers, and newfound station, Tavi’s self-reliance is now eclipsed by his “predetermined” state in life. Just in general, I wished more authors could be like Tolkien (not in the fact that he could write an incredibly detail-oriented book), but in the sense that they were there to write and didn’t compromise their art to pander to the generally ignorant masses who have no attention spans or imagination and just want a heroic thrill and some cheap love scenes.

4. Luke - December 31, 2008

Well i have read the shannarra series and then i read The Hobbit and I didn’t care for The Hobbit because it seemed it went to fast from start to finish. I am going to have to agree that I really like to read the Codex Alera series beacuse of the furycrafting and how he explains it as the power every one has, Not magic. the only thing that bothers me is that every time i read the next book i am hopeing he will get his furys with more power. But still i waite and read the next book, I just wana see what happens when he gest all that power to see what he is made of with so much background with his family being such powerful crafters and he still has very little. It is a little disapointing but it I still can’t waite to read the next book.

5. Deep - February 20, 2009

i completely agree with you about the way that fantasy authors set up their books. Ive read a ton of fantasy books and most of them end up with the main charecter having some sort of enormous power at the end that was predicted for them in the beginning. Eddings did an incredible job with the series and i found that his charecters were very rich and diverse. Also the way that he explained the way that the magic worked in the books and how he set everything up was pure genius. But i must say that i was taken completely off guard by Codex Alera. After reading the first book i thought it had a lot of promise. Especially how furycrafting worked. But the second book and the third book completely blew my mind. The charecter development and interaction between new and old charecters felt good. Also the powers started to get more interesting especially how each element could be used in multiple ways. Also the humanity that each charecter possesed was astounding. I like yourself sometimes throw my hand out hoping that a fury would answer me =)

6. Alera - February 27, 2009

I’m working on a Codex Alera MUSH (text based roleplaying game). I’m looking to see how much interest there is from a player perspective, so email me if you’re interested! aleramu at gmail dot com….

7. Bobby - March 19, 2009

I love the LOTR but I am definitely not a fan of Tolkien’s prose. He was not a writer by career and it shows greatly. Consider the chapter, Council of Elrond, from book one. Horrendous.

“Considering that almost every subsequent fantasy book (besides C. S. Lewis’s) as the same basic storyline. The storyline is the old powers ( in LOTR the elves; in the Codex Alera the old emperor’s reign) are losing the strength and influence they once had, so some new powers (in LOTR the race of man; in the Codex Alera it’s Tavi and his allies) must rise up to the challenge of becoming the protectors of civilization/saviors of the world and come into their own talents/strengths.”

You need to read better books. :p

8. Thomas - April 28, 2009

if you go to , a fan has posted a pretty decent map (the best I’ve seen). Also, I had the same complaint.

9. bex - May 16, 2009

If you skip all the poems and songs in the Lord of the Rings it makes the reading easier though there are far too many characters.

The Codex Alera is not grabbing me like the Dresden files does but I will persevere

10. Jimmy - May 28, 2009

I have to disagree with your opinion of Eddings. When I first started reading fantasy (I came rather late to the genre) Eddings one of the first, and I read The Belgariad, The Malloreon, Belgarath, and Polgara at least three times each. As I grew older and started reading other authors and went back to Eddings I found his characters to be stereotypical at best, especially in the way he wrote the women, who are often written as shrewish and manipulative, and only finding true satisfaction once they get a man, get married, and have children. His magic was interesting but the books themselves are not that original.

The same can be said of Brooks’ Shannara series with their elves, wizards, trolls, etc. However, I think his Word and Void series was very good. Personally, I’m a fan of the Wheel of Time. A lot can be said about how Jordan dragged on the series, but it’s still original and exciting most of the time.

One author you didn’t mention was George R. R. Martin and his A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is taking forever to get done (IMHO because the author wrote himself into a corner at the end of A Storm of Swords), is a really great fantasy series that doesn’t contain many of usual fantasy stereotypes.

As for Alera. I only discovered this series a few months ago. I’ve been a fan of Butcher’s Dresden series for years, but I was always reluctant to pickup Codex Alera. Well, I was stupid to do so because this is a great series. Not as good as Dresden, but still a really fun and exciting read. Furies of Calderon was a great novel but Academ’s Fury dragged on forever. Butcher redeemed himself with Cursor’s Fury, which was a really great novel. I’m currently reading Captain’s Fury, another great one, and I hope to be done with Princep’s Fury by the time Fist Lord’s Fury comes out, which I believe will be the conclusion of the Alera series. You have to give credit to any author who can develop a series with an end in sight and not drag a series out long past time.

11. Wilz - May 28, 2009

Yeah, sometimes I wonder if it has to do with something being the first thing you read. Does it always automatically end up being the lamest. I guess a fair way to assess say, Eddings vs Brooks vs Butcher may be calling them, “light, dark, and mature” fantasy. Or something like that, with Eddings and Brooks more storytelling (great artifact + fellowship) and Butcher more expository (day to day happenings, just happens to be in a fantasy world).

If we think of all the stories that way, then perhaps there isn’t an author which is better than others, just different styles which fit different people.

I personally don’t find stereotypical character creation a necessarily bad thing. It gives you something very strong about an individual to identify with. It helps you remember a character and identify with what he/she would or would not do. Only important thing is to make sure that the character doesn’t become boring due to the stereotyping, and I honestly don’t think that any of Eddings’ characters end up being boring. I gotta agree with the women in Eddings’ books though. Which is why I put “(and no, it doesn’t include Leigh)” in my post. Lol.

Anyways, many friends have suggested A Song of Ice and Fire to me. Just haven’t gotten around to picking up those books. Definitely intend to one of these days. I still need to force myself to finish Robert Jordan’s books, so if it’s another long series, i’d rather wait for the author to be done.

12. Knight Ignus :) - August 28, 2010

Codex Alera books are freaken sweetttt!! in my opinion the catch way more attention then the Dresden Files did with me (THIS IS OPINION! MY OPINION! SO NO FLAMES) I love the furycrafting and how one powers isn’t the ultimate if you get what i am saying. How you can’t use earth furies when not on the ground, how you can’t use air underground, wood furies don’t work if there is no wood, etc. I love the books and i really do urge you to pick it up.

13. tj - November 4, 2010

Boooorrrrriiiinggg. Started the Codex Alera series and couldn’t go past the first book. Very inconsistent. At times the furies of the hardy country folk can move rivers and other times the characters are too “overcome” to hardly speak much less stir a breeze.

Butcher has basically made a whole word of magic based on rock, paper, scissors… It doesn’t hold up.

14. romantic - January 1, 2011

Anyone know of another fantasy story with a male protagonist having a “bond” with his love interest?

15. Awapi - February 2, 2011

romantic – Tamora Pierce’s series, The Immortals, features a male protagonist (Numair) with a “bond” to his love interest – I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “bond” but I think they qualify. This is classified as a Young Adult series and can be a little juvenile, but I thought they were fun and a quick read.

SOIF (Song of Ice and Fire) are great, they center around a group of people rather than one person and key players are killed throughout the series. it keeps you on your toes, you can’t help but get invested in the characters, but you always have to worry that they may not make it through the next chapter (unlike most books where you know your main character is going to make it through or else there wouldn’t be another book in the series right?).

What got me into Codex Alera was actually Jim Butcher’s other series – The Dresden Files – they aren’t necessarily great for people who like traditional fantasy set in a fantasy world, it’s about a wizard in modern day Chicago. Other worlds are brought into the mix as well and there are 12 books (with another coming out in a couple of months) so it’s definitely something that could take up some time if you need a filler. I’ve only read the first book of Codex Alera, but, for me, the writing is totally different, I don’t know if I would have picked out Butcher as the writer of both if I hadn’t known, but that’s just me, I’m not a literary pedant and I read the books for entertainment.

16. Genia G. - June 9, 2011

I have to say I was never a fan of fantasy books prior to this series. I went straight to the horror sections. Something about them called to me. However, my husband read all of the Codex Alera and kept urging me to try them out. I feel horrible for waiting so long. I’m now on the last book, 29 pages to go, and am trying not to read so fast, for fear of it all being over. I couldn’t put it down. Not from book one. I’m now looking forward to reading the dresden files that I keep reading about. If Jim butcher did this wonderful with this series, I know I won’t be dissapointed. To anyone out there that hasn’t picked this up yet, give it a chance, you won’t be dissapointed. Only sad when its over </3

17. Albion - September 18, 2011

I would dispute the assertion that you can’t read and enjoy the fantasy genre if you loathe Tolkien. I pretty much have all my adult life. I have tried repeatedly to understand what it is about Tolkien that my peers adore. I just don’t see it, I’m afraid. I find his writing style plodding and uninspiring and I’ve never been able to get past the first few chapters. This has not hindered me in any way from loving the genre per se and adoring several fantasy series – Eddings, Jordan, Martin and, yes, Butcher, to name just a few. Just because Tolkien was one of the first, doesn’t mean he will appeal to all. And certainly it is the height of spurious logic to suggest that it means that you can’t enjoy other forms of the genre. That’s like saying I can’t possibly love chocolate because I hate dark chocolate. Pretty dumb thinking all round.

18. wren - October 6, 2011

I read the first book of codex alera in italian. I liked it so much that I had to read the following in english. I was impressed by roman legion too when I didn’t like reading of dueling usually.

19. Unbiased Tolkien fan - April 20, 2012

The LOTR is so successful I think because rather than just being a simple world created for the purpose of the story, it is an entire history. The LOTR series covers a brief span of time in the universe Tolkien created. Because of the grand scale of his creation it obviously requires some very in depth writing to explain. Some people don’t have the time for that so they prefer faster plots and less development of the universe. Personally I love the fact that Tolkien has explored his universe so thoroughly, he has written the entire history of middle earth in books such as the Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin. It is simply up to people and their own personal tastes. One thing everyone must agree on, is that Tolkien has by far created the most expansive, in depth and interesting universe in literature to date, I challenge anyone to disagree.

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