Fantasy Rantings – Codex Alera and etc February 21, 2008Posted by Wilz in Entertainment.
Among 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.
Enter 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.