Archive for August 24th, 2010

Jim Butcher – Academ’s fury

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Academ’s Fury (2005) by Jim Butcher is the second book of the Codex Alera, an Epic Fantasy series.  In the first book, Furies of Calderon, Butcher set up the cast of main characters and the position they would take in the story. In the second book a time leap has been made of two years. For Epic Fantasy this is not very common, but it allows the story to skip cliche or standard developments and focus on the main events.

The main character has grown up considerably and has gained a lot more confidence, although his life is far from easy. Whereas the first novel took place in the borderregion of the Aleran Empire, this book takes mainly place in the capital, the heart of the empire, where he studies at the highly acclaimed Academy where he may gain status within the empire, even as he does not have any powers, like everyone else does. The original setting is still there though as a second storyline tells of events taking place at the same time as in the capital, keeping us in contact with the other side characters of the first book. The fact that the events of both storylines occur at the same time is clearly a plot convenience, but it is not something bothersome.

The plot partially focusses on a new big threat and even while the main storyline seems to follow some different directions at first they do converge, making the other things that have happened acting more as side-events. Butcher prefers to stick to fast-paced action to move the plot onwards. He does it well, but he doesn’t seem to like to have his characters talking too much and having action with no violence in it. The story takes place in the capital. There should be plenty of politics and complex situations, but Butcher keeps it to a minimum. A certain faction that is presented as powerful, does not seem to have much in reality in the Aleran society. It did not convince me much.

As the first story took place among farmers and Butcher took some time to present their lives, the lives of the people in the capital remain vague. The city itself remains vague as well and it is hardly described besides some standard elements. This did disappoint me, because it makes the setting generic, giving the reader little to imagine for himself. The story and the action seems to be more important and although it all entertains, it is written on an almost empty background.

There is also little character development. While the first book managed to combine it with the action, there is little in this story. One could stay that the development took place during the two year gap, as the main character is different from the first book, but the contrast was big and perhaps more would have been possible. Character development is not a requirement in fantasy novels, but one could have expected more, especially as there was much to be found in the first book. Usually the first book establishes the characters so that there is space for development in the following novels. Oddly enough, it’s the other way around here.

In my review of the first book I mentioned some flaws in the plot and they are also in this book. A major plot element noted in the beginning of the book is soon completely forgotten and doesn’t play a role anymore. At end there is something mentioned again, but that too sounds a bit odd. Butcher seems to want to put in a lot of interesting leads while they may not be used at all. At the end of the second storyline there is also another plot convenience and I also seemed to have missed out on certain things that had happened or were mentioned earlier but seem to have been forgotten about later on.

For an action-packed fantasy story this is an entertaining book and good read, but it has many flaws for those who care to notice. This is the weakest book I have read by Jim Butcher so far. The first book was about on par with the Dresden novels, but this one is no more than average fantasy. The standard set in the first book was never reached. The book also has a similar feel as his Dresden novels. All events take place within a few days with intense action. While the Dresden novels manage to add drama and development, there was hardly any of that here.

Jim Butcher – Furies of Calderon

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Jim Butcher is not an unknown author for me, as I already have read a large number of his Dresden novels. Furies of Calderon (2004) is the first installment of the Codex Alera, a series in which Butcher makes his attempt at writing Epic Fantasy.

The story is about a world where everyone has some extent power over the elemental beings of nature. Magic is thus quite commonplace, making life easier and forming a measure of social standing. The main character is a boy who has no powers and has to rely on his regular skills. When a foreign enemy threatens the nation he suddenly finds himself in dire situations.

Although the back cover only talks about the main character, the book also has several side characters whose viewpoint are also shown and who play a big role as well. Butcher handles this quite well. There is some good characterization and development as well. There are several bad guys who get their attention time and Butcher takes his time to flesh them out, which is not that common in Fantasy. I got some feel that this might be some George R.R. Martin influence here, who also tries to make the bad guys grey. It can be interesting to see how this will play out.

Butcher also introduces a different race with a different culture in the book. This is well done and the new race is quite original. As the existence of other enemy races is mentioned I’m interested in how he will develop them.

As we are used from Butcher, the plot moves fast with a lot of action and twists. It is fairly straightforward and not overly complex, while avoiding predictability.  It is however not without flaws. Certain events did bother me later on. There is a scene with all major characters in the center of the novel where there seems to be a gap. There is a shift in events while changing viewpoints and suddenly we have moved on and we have been missed out on how things have went. They are never explained later on. Later on is another twist for the main character which is also not clearly explained. If I missed it while reading, then it has been hidden well. One could perhaps explain things oneself, but that should not be required.

Butcher also has a habit that where things can go wrong, they will go wrong, putting in as many obstacles as possible. Sure, the bad guys can be smart and predicting things, but at some point it seemed too much. Fortunately this improves later on in the novel.

Butcher knows how to write action with twists. In that sense it leaves a feeling for his Dresden novels, as he sticks to what he does well. He does a good job of characterization with multiple characters and viewpoints. The plot moves fast and is entertaining, but has some minor flaws. Even so, he made a strong first novel of an Epic Fantasy series which will attract readers to the next volume. Although its level is certainly above mainstream quality, it is not in the mold of a classic series which will mark the genre, but perhaps it will grow and evolve.