Archive for August 25th, 2010

Jim Butcher – Cursor’s fury

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

The third book of the Codex Alera is Cursor’s Fury (2006) by Jim Butcher. In my reviews of the previous two books I noted a strong first novel and an entertaining but weak sequel. My main question with this book was if Butcher could get back on track with the third installment. Butcher writes entertaining and and fast-paced stories, but truly epic is not really his style yet as his habits with his urban fantasy Dresden novels partially format the stories of these books as well. The second book really hurt from that.

Cursor’s fury takes the story away from the city and back to the open land. At least that should allow for a more well-paced story. Another time leap has been made.  This time over 2 years have passed. How much will have changed now? To my surprise it was rather little. The main character was hardly any different from the end of the second novel. There is a bit more experience, but nothing out of the ordinary.

There are two main storylines, both a follow-up to events of the previous novels.  The second combines several antagonists where I was a bit surprised to see some characters turn up suddenly, although it could be explained. Butcher does try to keep getting his main set of side-characters coming back in the story. This makes it recognizable and a certain joy to the reader, but also convenient as he doesn’t have to set up something new.

The first and main storyline brings full warfare into the story. In the previous books were some skirmishes, but now Butcher can go all out. He does a good job at it and it is well written. The main character soon plays a central role, but the role is a bit too easy, so it felt to me. Obstacles are easily overcome, unlike in the previous novels, and the main character quickly evolves into the main hero. After book 2 the reader saw what would be coming for the next books, but Butcher makes no surprises here and actually pushes the character ahead. Of course this is nowhere annoying, but it is a bit of change from books 1 and 2. A struggle would have been nice for character development, but here it all goes very smoothly. A missed chance, so it feels to me.

After three books one can say to have gotten some decent insight into the world the story takes place. Butcher however keeps things vague. A strong hint is given that the Aleran Empire is somehow descendant from the Roman Empire, something which from the naming had already been guessable. My problem however is that Butcher makes a botched job of it. There is a lack of logic and he also uses certain modern names which have no relationship to Roman names, while at the same time trying to be true to it. It doesn’t make much sense.  There is a lack of consistency. The quotes on the bookcover speaks of solid world-building, but I’m not seeing any of it. Butcher takes it easy. The world-building is clearly lacking.

Also lacking is his magic system. According to the story, everyone is born with powers, but most people seem very weak or unable to use it for special use. Especially in fights he mentions powers for certain warriors, but ignores it for others who are clearly superior and so must be using them as well. This discrepancy annoyed me as well. A lot of people seem to be unable to use there abilities for something useful. It is mentioned that highborn people belong to the strongest, but apparently a large number of them are easily killed, while certain highborn people are almost untouchable. All very convenient, but sorely lacking in consistency.

The third book also spends more time with another enemy race. The first enemy race was well developed and original, but the second is rather standard, while I had hoped for something more. Again Butcher takes the easy way. It is not annoying, but mainly nothing out of the ordinary to make the story stand out.

Jim Butcher writes fast and writes entertaining stories, but it feels to me he should slow down and put more effort into his epic fantasy tale. While the first book was strong, the second was weak. The third book is better than the second, but still not close to the level of the first book. The quality is sinking fast to just an average fantasy series. This is a pity as he is managing to keep a constant good level with his Dresden novels, but fails to do the same for the Codex Alera.