“Codex Alera” by Jim Butcher

Codex Alera is a six part fantasy series by Jim Butcher – I’ve reviewed the first two parts separately (Furies of Calderon, Academ’s Fury), but I read the rest of the series too fast – they all blur into each other. So here’s a rather unconventional bullet-point review of the whole series.

  • I discovered after reading the series that it was based off of the legend of the lost Roman legion – Alerans are supposed to be their descendants, so that dismisses my criticism about the series being too much like Earth. I found it hard to love the setting, though, and I can’t pinpoint why.
  • Tavi’s character development makes sense, and I like the way he grows, but some decisions seemed to made way too abruptly, and I couldn’t quite see the motivation behind them. He also adjusts really well to court/political life after being a shepherd for most of his life.
  • I still hate the titles of these books – they’re huge spoilers.
  • Way too much action! I found myself copiously skimming the battle scenes – there are a lot of these, and often, different characters are in separate but simultaneous battles and the point of view switches between them. People also get kidnapped way too easily, and then have to escape, and the entire population of Alera gets decimated way too often in the climax of each book. Where are they getting all these fighting men from?
  • Maybe I didn’t love the setting because it didn’t seem fully fleshed out because of all the action?
  • I wish Cursor’s Fury was about Tavi being a Cursor and not about him leading his legion. Spies are way more interesting than soldiers.
  • Butcher is not great at political intrigue – much of it is overt, and the more complex issues just get ignored (for example, in First Lord’s Fury, there’s a lot of worrying about Tavi and Kitai getting married and the political astuteness of it – in the end, they just get married with no questions asked?)
  • Also, the Vord are basically the Borg, and not even the good kind – the kind after they jumped the shark, the kind with a queen that wants to seduce Data (thanks, Star Trek: First Contact.) And the Canim are basically Klingons. Boring, especially for a six book series! I’m not sure if the Marat were much better, but at least they’re a fantasy stereotype and not a sci-fi stereotype. Although, it was kind of cool to have an enemy that wanted to replicate rather than be evil and hateful.

Butcher is a good writer, and that kept me going through the series – the first books especially had promise, but the payoff wasn’t enough. I wouldn’t call these bad books, but I wouldn’t say there were great either.

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One thought on ““Codex Alera” by Jim Butcher

  1. Hebekiah

    Thanks for your views. “blur together” yes, especially once we knew for certain that none of the principle ‘good’ characters would die. The hodgepodge of creatures is ‘explained’ by it being a world that sucked in different lost tribes (as you mentioned the Roman Legion, but the same for the others).
     There were some missed opportunities with backstory on them (don’t know how the books can be so long and not say very much, maybe because information on some things is repeated several times). Seemed Butcher had cool ideas like the story of the Marat who are at first presented as savages (and keep getting called that throughout the story (or barbarians) not just by the bigoted characters but by the author. Butcher tells how they were an advanced civilization wiped out several times by the Vord. More detail on that would have been great (and an explanation of why they still messed with the croach as they had to have some inkling that they were connected). What type of society, etc? I’ve heard them referred to as a sort of Elf/Native American but that’s not too helpful other than looks.   But also, the treatment of the Marat (and all other non-Alerans) as savages is a good metaphor for what we do with really old cultures who had complex societies: we treat them as backward, simple, and dismiss them as inferior because they didn’t develop computers. “We” didn’t develop technology, a very few brilliant people did and we got lucky that information wasn’t lost (as so much was during plagues, drought, famine and natural disasters). Europeans forget that they had lost much of their knowledge and thanks to Arab, African, Asian caches and repositories it was able to be re-introduced.
      I love the story that the Aztecs were the Anasazi of New Mexico who had left their homes after decades of drought and migrated south (they already had trade with Baja and Caribbean regions so knew of them), taking a thousand years to re-build their culture (modified) and were on the verge of becoming much more technologically advanced (they had the technology for seafaring, metal working, chemistry, navigation but hadn’t yet developed the industrial infrastructure to put it to widespread use) when along came diseased Spaniards. And they only got into Mexico because the people around Vera Cruz (the Totonacs) were mad at their Aztec overlords and Spaniards promised to leave them alone and take out the Aztec’s capital. Elsewhere the Mayans turned them away, would not let them come ashore in force. Another 50-100 years and Cortez and Spaniards would have met a whole different reception or Aztecs could have been knocking on European doors.
       But the worst part of the Codex Alera is that Tavi wasn’t the underdog he and we thought he was, without the magical ability of others, a nameless bastard orphan country boy; he was secretly the offspring of the ruling and most powerful family, heir to the throne. That sucked. Just preserve the aristocracy, go back on the promise that someone not born to power has any chance, etc. More Christian Divine Right crap that wasn’t even a solid rule among the Romans as many heirs to the throne were actually adopted based on merit, not just bloodlines. So if they were a lost Roman legion, how did they get the Divine Right concept? (Divine Right was the deal Christianity made with European kings, that they no longer had to lead in battle but if you killed a rival king’s family and heirs you could absorb their lands; how Europe went from thousands of kingdoms to modern sized nations – built on the murder of children!)

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