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Bookends: The Tale of the Lost Roman Legion March 19, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: The Tale of the Lost Roman Legion

By Dan Davidson

February 8, 2012

Feb. 10/12

– 1013 words –

 Codex Alera #3: Cursor’s Fury  

 

by Jim Butcher

Ace Books

544 pages

$12.50

Codex Alera #4: Captain’s Fury

by Jim Butcher

Ace Books

528 pages

$12.50

Books can come from strange places. Some time ago Jim Butcher, better known for his novels about the wizard Harry Dresden, was challenged to use two “lame” ideas to create a story. “Lame” in this case meant overworked, clichéd and over-exposed, and the choices were “a lost Roman legion” and “Pokémon”.

The Codex Alera series of six novels takes place in the collision between these ideas. It’s never specifically stated that the human characters in the series are descendants of a lost Roman legion, but they all have Roman style names. In addition “Alera” means “Eagle” in Latin, and “codex” is Latin for a type of book. Draw your own conclusions.

The humans who arrived in Alera untold generations ago have developed a symbiotic psychic relationship with local mystic forces, basically embodiments of the classical elements of earth, air, fire and water, with plants and metals thrown in. The humans would have equated them with nature spirits of classical mythology and they call them furies.

Some people consider the furies to be simple forces and treat them in a rational, scientific manner as mere tools, while others, mainly country folk, give them names and bond with them emotionally.

Humans are not the only intelligent beings on Alera, and there are strong hints that all the other beings also came from elsewhere. There are the humanoid Marat, a race in which individuals form fury-like bonds with various types of animals and acquire some of their characteristics in the process.

Humans and Marat used to battle each other, but have become allies over the course of the first two books in the series.

There are the Canim, a race of somewhat wolf-like creatures who live on another continent, but make occasional forays into human-Marat territory.

There are the Vord, who are introduced in the first book, but stay in the background for several books before becoming a major threat. They are incredibly alien, and seemingly live to possess others and make them into something like themselves. The closest I can think of would be the Borg from Star Trek, and even that is an oversimplification.

Butcher has structured the series like a good many classical myths, in that the central character, Tavi (an odd name that is finally explained in book #4) is in fact a member of a royal family who does not know that he is, having been protected from harm by his mother (who he thinks is his aunt) and his uncle (who has played the role of a dim-witted slave for all of Tavi’s life).

The main story (which covers many years) is about Tavi growing up and achieving his potential in spite of the many obstacles that have been placed in his way.

In many ways this structure runs parallel to the evolution Harry Dresden is undergoing in Butcher’s other series, but the presentation is quite different. The Dresden novels are told in a first person detective noir style, while the Codex books use multiple viewpoints and have more of a fantasy style of narrative.

Multiple viewpoints mean more central characters. Tavi and his Marat lover, Kitai (they are bonded) feature strongly, though Tavi’s fellow students and legionnaires also have a vital presence. Tavi’s mother, Isana, gets her own chapters, as does Amara, a windcrafting cursor who works directly for the First Lord Gaius, who is actually Tavi’s grandfather.

Her former mentor, Fidelius, appears to be a betraying villain in the first book, but it turns out that his motives and relationship to events are far more complex than that, and we also come to know him as the legionnaire Valiar Marcus, where he is an entirely different fellow.

In book three Tavi, who has been studying at the academy, is sent out under the false name of Rufus Scipio as a spy in one of the legions. When the entire upper cadre of officers in wiped out by a sneak attack launched by the Canim invaders, Tavi becomes the legion’s captain by default and acquits himself very handily.

A late bloomer in the matter of handling furies (his talent having been deliberately retarded by his mother as part of a strategy to keep him safely hidden from the people who killed his father) Tavi has spent his life developing coping strategies for his lack of furycrafting. The result is that he thinks outside of the box and tends to come up with unorthodox solutions that work. Not unlike a certain Captain Kirk, when he finds himself trapped in an unwinnable situation, he tries to find a way to change the rules.

In book four, set two years later, this strategy involves working around the ineptly corrupt planning of a superior officer who is not only mishandling the response to the Canim invasion, but also perpetrating Syrian style atrocities on the local population of Alerans. Tavi intuits that the reason for the Canim incursion is that their land has been overrun by the Vord, and manages to engineer an alliance between the Canim and Aleran forces in order that they may address their common enemy. That will be the substance of the final two books in the series.

Also in book four, Tavi’s real name and family connections are revealed for the first time, and it becomes clear that he is, in effect, the crown prince, or princeps, of Alera. This complicates his life considerably and leads to some tense moments with his mother, who has been hiding his heritage from him his entire life. It may have been for his own good, but it still hurts to know someone you love has been lying to you for 20 years.

So far this has been a very satisfying series. It’s likely to be a few months before I give myself the treat of reading the last two books, I’ll get back to you then.

 

-30-

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