Review: Codex of Alera (Jim Butcher)

This was a 6-books series I’ve been working on for…. probably about 6 months.  I was listening to them via audiobook and they are LONG  (and I had about 2 months Nov-Dec where I couldn’t buy the last 2 because it was xmas season. Then I found them at my local library via overdrive).

Overview: Jim Butcher made a bet that he could take 2 lousy concepts and write a good book (he said so!). He was given “Roman Legions and Pokemon.” He won the bet.

(Note: I want to know why someone thought “Roman legions” would be a lousy concept – much less Pokemon? Like seriously? Do they read fantasy at all? I feel like they gave him GREAT TOPICS to start with – so maybe Butcher didn’t win the bet so much as the other dude lost it by making it too easy.)

Plot: Each book is relatively self-contained. Definitely, the first three could each be read alone. But by the time you get to the last 2, you are pretty wrapped up in the giant-plot-of-world-doom! that they aren’t standalone anymore, but they are still relatively self-contained. And the build up to “world-doom!” is mostly bearable. (book 4 could start alone, but leads pretty directly into book 5)

Villain: Maybe it’s just me (because I have this problem), but I think Butcher realized he had made a villain who was evil-to-be-evil and wanted to make it more sympathetic – in like the last book. So at the last minute he tried to make it more “humane,” but I actually walked away feeling like he never really USED that so much as squeezed it in. I really wanted this thing he was building during the last book to turn into a knife-twist that gave the protagonist the leg-up he needed to defeat “ultimate world-doom!” villain. Like in Mistborn when Vin’s understanding of the Lord Ruler as a person gave her the insight to understand what it would take to save the world. It was a good series, but this stood out to me – I was building sympathy for the villain and then… nothing happened with it.

Characters: My only “complaint” here would be that some of the names were really similar and listening to them – I was quite confused: Antillus, Attis, and Aquitaine were all names for high lords and were major enough to be brought up over and over but minor enough their personalities were… confusing.  The switch from character-to-character also ran into a Tolstoy-esque issue of various names and nicknames for characters.  One character might think of someone as “Lady Placida,” but another thinks of her as “Aria” because they are friends.  This was specifically an issue with audio, but it was a hurdle throughout the series – even into the end of the last book.

Review: If you want a fantasy series that is an absolutely fun romp through magic, adventure, love and war – this is definitely a great series.  It makes me think of what Game of Thrones could have been if GRRM wasn’t so vicious to his characters. Codex walks a good line between killing when needed and impactful (there was a point I yelled “don’t you dare kill her!” at my phone – no, I won’t tell you if he did or not). For anyone who doesn’t like GoT because it is too brutal – this might be the perfect political twister for you. I am very glad I read the first one by accident (seriously, I just thought it looked interesting and I didn’t know about the bet until I google’d to find out the name of #2).

Go. Read.

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