As a dedicated fan of the Dresden Files, I decided to pick up the two first Codex Alera books gathering dust on my “to read” bookshelf. The series had previously not appealed to me, being pitched as “Avatar: The Last Airbender, with Roman Legions, neanderthal elves and werewolf Klingons.”
Actually this is a very good description of the series, and encapsulates the rest of my review in brief: Avatar, yes, but not the good one. The M. Night Shamalan movie with clunky exposition.
The YeerkPosleenXenomorphFormicBugs are utterly terrifying. No wonder most people who fight them use power armor.
With the exception of Tavi, most of the characters are likeable and occasionally clever.
Several common, annoying fantasy tropes are avoided and twisted in surprising and clever ways.
PRIMUS: Everybody talks way too much. Emotional or pseudoemotional connections are made between characters who have no business forming them. The foremost example of this is when Amara, a junior spycatsuitassin, makes a collect call to the Emperor to complain about being sent on a near-suicide mission, the key words in this sentence being “emperor,” and “complain.” And the Emperor, apologetically, explains himself.
Some authors (Frank Herbert, Dune; anything by Dorothy Dunnett; named characters in The Worm Ouroboros; heck, the Japanese know: Code Geass, Bleach, etc.) are able to pull off an leader who is humane and friendly among peers; distant to subordinates—but still reaps fierce loyalty from them, because he’s That Awesome.
This one isn’t, doesn’t, and doesn’t convince me he’s any more suited to be emperor than nuKirk deserves to be captain of anything larger than a rubber ducky.
SECONDUS: characters’ likeability varies inversely with their screen time.
Ambassador Varg is undiluted awesome in his first appearance, when his presence is limited to laconic reports such as: “Two Canim warriors were seen dueling in an alley. Ambassador Varg was certainly the winner.”
Serai in book two was around for about three chapters and had absolutely nothing to do with Tavi, which made her death pleasantly unpredicted.
Lord Attis is similarly enjoyable, because his limited screentime only has time to showcase one thing about him: his confidence and why it is justified. (Not to mention sex appeal). Lady Invidia is smilingly ruthless and stunningly powerful. (These are good traits for your protagonist to have.) She and her husband are dripping with charisma (and sex appeal. Cough Where was I?)
Tavi, on the other hand, galumphs along winning hearts and minds and battles solely because he’s the protagonist. I started to actively dislike Tavi once I made that connection.
TERCE: A more minor fault, but one worth mentioning, there are numerous characters whose sole and only purpose, in-story and out of it, is to make themselves despicable.
Why? They serve no, repeat no, purpose except being pettily, inventively, creatively despicable; their only narrative purpose is to make themselves a target for violent, “justified” retribution. It’s utterly pointless. It’s boring. It’s ham-handed and lazy.
In summary, meh. I bought the first two books used, ordered the third and fourth from the library, discovered they’d given me the fifth book by mistake, and never bothered to read either of them before their due dates.
So: My detailed review.
Furies of Calderon.
Master spy Fidelias, together with his student Amara, infiltrates a Legion camp. Capture! Betrayal! Amara escapes! Then she confronts the Emperor for knowingly sending her out with a traitor, endangering her life. Yes, confronts. Yes, “Emperor.”
After placating his minion, the Emperor orders Amara to Calderon Valley to stop Fidelias. Meanwhile back at the ranch, our plucky young hero Tavi and stodgy but tough uncle Bernard head out to bring in the herd of giant goats, so Tavi can go to school on the proceeds of the droid sale instead of staying out here on the moisture farm. Uncle Bernard is badly wounded by a feral ostrich…No, it is too much. I will sum up.
1. Fidelias, Tavi, Amara, Bernard, Isana. Conspiracy.
2. Fidelias really really really only wants what’s best for the Realm. Really.
3. Lord and Lady Aquitaine are bad, oversexed, ambitious, arrogant people. Which is perhaps why they are the most interesting characters in the entire book.
4. Hi there, Person Who Goes To Great Lengths to Demonstrate He Is Without Any Redeeming Characteristics Whatsoever, you do know you’re going to die horribly before the book is out?
4 ½. Yeah, like you’re really going to stay dead.
5. What, you’re really not a mentally retarded massive spoiler? Gosh. Now, look. In a battle between the world’s second best swordsman who has been working very hard, honing and improving his skills in actual combat with other swordsman for the past fifteen years versus the world’s first best swordsman who has been pretending to be an idiot slave, and I really doubt getting much practice with worthwhile oponents in, for that same length of time, convince me how it is not going to end well for the ex-idiot—oh. Darn. I was hoping the idiot would die.
6. Oh look, a barbarian invasion. I guess it’s too bad for them the ancient Romans never heard of political correctness, there’s bound to be no Noble Savages over here…oh. Darn. I was hoping everyone would die.
7. Okay. So, puny human undersized human boy: you and my daughter
whelp, yeah, my whelp, are gonna to go into the canyon where demonic minishelobs will keep you sealed alive in the wax as food for the little ones if you bother them. Don’t make them mad or wake up anything creepy, okay? Okay? Boy? You listening?
8. And then the noble savages show up at the last moment to stop the ignoble savages, the person without any redeeming characteristics whatsoever is horribly yet unfulfillingly killed since it happens offscreen and is done by a bunch of nameless Politically Incorrect Savages, the day is saved, the Emperor shows up to toss a few promotions around, and Tavi brings back the droids from Chapter #2 in a cute but ultimately meaningless gesture, since he’s going to school on the Emperor’s tab anyway.
I’ll admit I stayed up past midnight to finish this book, but that was purely coincidental.