Rec a Series is a monthly post highlighting one of my favorite series, past or present. Last month, I recommended a newer urban fantasy/paranormal romance series set in an alternate dimension. This month, while wandering around AnomalyCon and with Emerald City ComicCon looming on the horizon, I’ll stick with pure fantasy. Let’s talk about the bet that became a best-selling series.
The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
First, the bet. A member of the Del Rey Online Writer’s Workshop challenged Jim Butcher that he couldn’t make a good story from a lame idea. From my understanding, the argument was that good stories require a good central idea or even the best writing can’t salvage it. Butcher accepted that challenge and even upped the stakes: he’d mash together TWO lame ideas of their choice.
He received “Lost Roman Legion” and “Pokémon.” If you’ve read Butcher’s Dresden Files series, I’m sure you can guess the outcome. The result was an amazing series with likable protagonists, appropriately evil villains, politics, intrigue, and detailed world-building.
The Codex Alera begins with betrayal. A Cursor, one of the spies loyal to First Lord Gaius Sextus, is revealed as an agent of the House of Aquitaine who seek to overthrow the First Lord and take Alera. His student, Amara, escapes, reports the betrayal to the First Lord, and is sent north to find proof of Aquitaine’s involvement.
She runs into a young boy named Tavi, the main protagonist of the story. He saves her from beasts known as herdbanes by throwing salt on them. He used the salt because unlike every other Aleran human, Tavi has no skill in furycrafting – command over one or more of the elemental powers. This makes him an object of ridicule and pity. In exchange for his lack, he sharpens his intelligence to look for solutions to the myriad problems in a land on the brink of civil war. He succeeds…in spades.
The furies are easily recognized as the Pokémon aspects of the story. Each one is tied to an element—water, earth, wood, fire, air, and metal—and many take the form of an animal and given names. Tavi’s aunt, Isana, is a powerful watercrafter who controls Rill, a fury who looks remarkably like her. Bernard, Tavi’s uncle, uses both earthcrafting (a dog-like creature named Brutus) and woodcrafting (a humanoid shaped creature named Cyprus). Each element has a primary function—watercrafters heal, aircrafters fly, etc—used with varying degree of skill. Most Alerans control at least one. Citizens control multiple. The First Lord can wield all elements, often to catastrophic results.
The politics, society, and armies are a clear reflection of the Lost Roman Legion aspect. From their armor and weapons to their hierarchy and fighting style, the Aleran armies are clearly based on Ancient Rome.
There are a lot of characters to keep up with and the stories often jump from one point of view to another pretty rapidly (though, it’s generally via a new chapter). The first book alone introduces you to Amara, Fidelias, the Aquitaines, Odiana, Tavi, Isana, Bernard, Kitai, Doroga, Gaius Sextus, Fade, Galdrick, Araris, three different Marat clans, and most of the residents of Bernardholt. It’s not a book to skim or you’ll get lost as to who does what to whom, when, and where and that shit will get mentioned later on and become important. Ah, fantasy!
The plot is wonderful, convoluted and twisted in a way very reminiscent of the Dresden Files. There were many a-ha! moments for me. Some were fairly obvious but others came completely out of left field. I liked the mix as it kept you second guessing your own conclusions. The political maneuvering is handled so well that I didn’t cringe (I’m not a fan of politics-heavy stories). The battles can get a bit drawn out, but the series takes place in the middle of a war. What else did I expect, really?
On the whole, the Codex Alera is a wonderful fantasy story that proves what a great writer can do with a bucketful of clichéd ideas. My main complaint is that if you look at the titles of the books, you pretty much know the main character’s story arc. But even that is part of the challenge. Tavi’s arc is a cliché unto itself. Still, it’s well worth the ride.
Like any series, there are good books, great books, and sometimes meh books. My favorite of this series is a tie between Cursor’s Fury or Captain’s Fury (which has the most amazing cover). I found Academ’s Fury to be the weakest, though can’t really articulate why. It just felt…*shrugs* meh.
And last but not least, my two favorite secondary(ish) characters:
- Kitai – the Marat girl Tavi meets in Furies of Calderon. She’s strong, smart, loyal, and not encumbered by the Aleran’s strict codes of society. You get to see her often throughout the series and she just gets more and more amazing.
- Varg – the Canim ambassador. The Cane race resembles a typical werewolf – a towering bipedal blend of human and wolf. He’s intelligent, strong, and fierce. He’s introduced in Academ’s Fury and stays through ’til the end. I have a thing for werewolves and he’s close enough for me!
The Codex Alera –
Number of Books: Six
Number of Extras: None that I’m aware of but I’d be very excited to find them.