More Random Book Reviews!

I read the first two books in the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Tell me honestly — Tavi is totally the long-lost imperial prince, isn’t he? That would kind of suck.

See, the whole thing about Tavi is that he’s basically a normal person in a world where everyone has superpowers. Everyone else has magic, and he doesn’t, so he has to get by with his wits. But that’s great! The tendency for fantasy authors to indulge in power fantasies is absolutely unbearable sometimes, so it’s good to see a main character who doesn’t have everything handed to him and is successful despite his disadvantages. If Butcher wusses out and goes “Yeah, he’s totally the crown prince, and also he’s got powerful magic that’s just being suppressed” or something, that more or less destroys his whole character. Why not just make him a normal dude who changes the course of events through cleverness and attentiveness rather than making him implicit in the story? Doing that veers dangerously close to “chosen hero of destiny”, and that’s kind of played out.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t particularly mind cliches. They’re just tools, after all; people wouldn’t use them if they didn’t work on some level or another. But the more hoary the cliche you’re dealing with, the defter a hand you need to write it well. The example I always turn to is David Eddings — in the Belgariad, it’s obvious to all concerned that Garion is really the lost prince of Riva. However, the only character oblivious to this fact is Garion himself — everyone else notices it right off, and Eddings expects you to do so as well. He uses the plotline because it’s an effective archetype, but he respects the reader enough to assume that they’re not going to be fooled by it, and the story is written under that assumption. That’s all I ask — a little self-awareness. I have a feeling we’re going to find this out in the last book and it’s supposed to be a huge shock, despite the fact that everyone who’s read that far is going to have figured it out four books ago at least.

It’s not a story-ruiner, though. Butcher’s put together an interesting world and a fun, if somewhat basic, magic system to explore, so the books are fun romps even if you can see where they’re going. I’m a big fan of the Ancient Roman influence, which in fantasy novels usually gets shunted aside in favor of medieval Europe. I especially liked the examination of how the presence of magic would affect a society’s technological development — there’s an interesting scene where one of Tavi’s tutors expresses skepticism at the idea of engineering, full stop. I mean, why bother with machines when a furycrafter has super-strength and can shape wood or stone at will? The action scenes are well-written, and the climaxes are uniformly tense, so I think I’ll keep reading despite the inevitable lack of mystery. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done.


1 Response to “More Random Book Reviews!”

  1. 1 kaisel January 31, 2011 at 12:37 am

    Have you read any of his Dresden series? It’s urban fantasy, with a Wizard private eye as the main character. I enjoy them a lot, so I might have to try his other series.

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