So here it is, Book One, the Furies of Calderon
1) Character. Butcher's characters are well drawn, if a trifle hasty. Hasty? Well from page one, this book has been an action thriller; and while the characters are intelligent, believable and deep, in between fighting, fleeing, flying and furycrafting (the four Fs of the Codex) there really isn't much time for in depth character analysis. What a comparison to my last review of Way of Kings, which plodded between boring character soliloquies. That said, I would have preferred a slower build. The character which is probably the most complete is the young Cursor Amera. A Cursor, somewhat unusual for a fantasy novel, is an intelligence agent with a license to kill. She is finishing her years of study and graduating what amounts to spy school. Her mentor is another excellent character, the masterspy and cold-hearted killer Fidelias. Fidelias is an unusual type of villain, and it is to Butcher's credit that all three of the evil usurpers top mercenaries are, if not always like able, certainly understandable. Of course the central character is a 15 year old boy named Tavi. Tavi's character is at once the most interesting and the most unbelievable. Making an unusual choice, what makes Tavi special is that he is the only person in the kingdom to not have a Fury. More on what that means later. Suffice it to say, what makes Tavi special is his ordinariness, and that he must rely on his wits, curiosity and courage, where others can simply use magic. Sometimes though Tavi's courage seems enough for ten men, and this is what makes his character just a tad hard to believe. Still, you want to believe in him, and as one of the story's main voices--it isn't hard to do so. Fantasy novels are often built initially on a gimmick. And though the choice to make Tavi the only non-magical being in the kingdom is unusual, it is not entirely without precedent. Still the choice feels very much like a gimmick. I can see Butcher in a coffee shop, pencil tapping his chin. What about a magical land where everyone had special powers but the main character? That said, and this is a big "that said," I absolutely do not have a problem with a good gimmick.
|Tavi and Kitai, by Dystopiaworld at Deviant Art|
|The unbeautiful beautiful Amara, Sandara at Deviant Art|
3) Scope: so when I first heard about Jim Butcher it was with all the gushing excitement of a thirteen year old on the Tor website. They made it sound like he was the second coming of Robert Jordan. I was skeptical, but figured I'd get around to him eventually. My skepticism has proved well founded. What made the worlds of Jordan, Martin and Erikson so remarkable was their scope. This is why scope is a signal element to a great fantasy. When you step into a world of someone's making and, to your delight, find it every bit as detailed as your own--it's exciting on a level so deep that every chapter almost throbs with life. How does one achieve it? To be honest, I am still working on that. It's not the number of books, or size of the words on the page, its not a world map with continents of people. It's not the number of characters-though that has something to so with it. It's not the number of political parties, or factions or world destroying g forces. It's literally about how the book is written.
Jim Butcher's world is large, and I already took the next two books out from the library. But the scope... Is merely pedestrian. I wrote a scene recently in a Jordan fanfic that I work on, and in it I have described in detail the vintages of wine from Tear, Cairhien and Altara (three separate nations in the Wheel of Time) I also described three works of art from no less than three different Ages. I'm not tooting my own horn, Jordan's world supplied the framework for this level of detail. I could create the same in Butcher's world, but it would be of entirely my own creation, and it would be a desecration of his work to add such detail. But Jordan's world is different, from book one we were provided tantalizing glimpses into the history of this continent, glimpses from time periods as disparate as twenty years prior to a thousand years before the present! That is depth.
Butcher chose to begin these tales in medias res. and it works, the book is a fun, fast read. But starting a political drama at the center of a world leaves little room to grow. We know that the present King is old and heirless, we know that there is much unrest, and that there are "many" people trying to take advantage. But the plot, SPOILER, is based on just one Lord's efforts to unseat the crown. After book one of Game of Thrones, you knew Cersei was a bitch, but you had no idea that the next book would detail the first year of the War of Five Kings.
|Gratuitous picture of Queen Cersei by Teilku|
|An Earth Fury by MctChapman at DeviantArt|
Theme: last and hardest to define. Butcher's world uses slavery. I'm not sure why slavery has become endemic to modern fantasy writers, Sanderson's new story uses it, as does Butcher's. Slavery existed in medieval Europe, but it existed as serfdom, which was different. Serfs were the lowest of the caste society but they were still part of the society. Slaves are not part of the society, they are alien and not accorded the basic rights of humanity. They exist outside the social structure which is why their rights can be restricted in ordinary men's minds. It adds a dimension of darkness to any realm. That said, while Butcher's world contains dark elements such as sex slavery, it doesn't feel dark. This is in part because of the main character Tavi. Tavi represents what is perhaps the ultimate fantasy cliche, he is Good. And he's smart, which makes him much more likeable than say Sam or Frodo who just seemed too saccharine and idiotic to be more than patsies. But Tavi, like The Ta'veren Trio, is good and pure in a way that makes every chapter in which he belongs a delight to read. There is one thing, a nit really, but it does alter the theme. There is sex in this novel. I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that. Without getting gross, let me say, I love sex, and eroticism. But I can't square the circle of seeing it in my swords and sorcery. I don't know if it's because it's too "sweet" or that it seems disingenuous, but I just don't feel it. Here or elsewhere. I guess it adds a component of adulthood to the text, which reminds me to warn you that there is a brutal rape scene. It added little to the story but did at the very least demonstrate the depths of depravity of slavery.
Suffice it to say: the Theme of Calderon is entirely wrapped up in the viewpoints of its three largest characters: Tavi, Isana, and Amara. All three of whom believe in what is good, what is kind, what is right, and the importance of the rule of law. And those themes are good enogh for me.
Do yourself a favor, get the first four books altogether. It's hell trying to wait until I can get my hands on a copy of the fourth book.
|Marat, by Sandera at Deviant Art, a beautiful illustration of the Marat horde moving toward Alera.|