Right. I actually started reading The Reality Dysfunction. I promise I did. I got about a third of the way through, maybe. But between reading books about literature and writing essays about literature, I’d rather read something a bit more… I don’t know… enjoyable? So I took a break from it (I will finish it, I will, goddamn it I will) to read a book sold to me as “Romans with Pokémon”. I am very easy to recommend books to, I think.
I’ve already read some Jim Butcher novels (a fair portion of the Harry Dresden books, in fact) so I knew what to expect on the writing front. Though actually, before I get into praise (and there is a lot of praise) the writing quality in Furies of Calderon is actually pretty low. It’s certainly low enough that it was bothering me as I read. I kept seeing things that were too… obvious? Little style things that I think are more suited to a sixteen year old’s school fiction than a serious novel. It niggled somewhat. It’s been a few years since I read the Dresden Files, so maybe memory has edited out the awkwardness of the writing, but I genuinely don’t remember them being so clunky and clumsy. It’s a shame, as Furies of Calderon is pretty ace, otherwise. If I hadn’t just gone and checked on Amazon, I’d have thought FoC was earlier in Butcher’s writing career, but it looks like the paperback came out two years after the paperback of Storm Front (which I think is the first Dresden File book?) so no. Maybe he’s just more comfortable in the crime-fiction style. Oh well.
That aside, however, much praise. It was everything I want in my not-heavy-going, pleasantly daft, escapist fantasy novels. This isn’t objectively excellent literature, I’m afraid, but I didn’t want that right now. It’s trash, but it’s good trash. And I like trashy novels anyway.
As I said before, I was sold on it as “Romans with Pokémon”. It definitely lived up to the “Romans” part. And without hurting my soul too much either. I was fully prepared to have to turn off my inner Classicist to cope, but it was pretty ok. He didn’t stray too much into describing any complex aspects of the Aleran society, and thus avoided most opportunities for horrific blunders. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but the issues were minor*. The Pokémon bit? Less so. Not that I’m criticising the person who recommended the book to me, by the by, for the description. It is better than anything I could come up with. But the furies (the magical… very unexplained… thingummies that help various characters) are more… spirity than anything else. And not explained at all. Not even a little bit. Which annoys me very much indeed. I like me some appendices and whatnot, even if no one cares to give me some exposition mid-plot. As a magic-system, of a sort, furies work pleasantly. They’re not very original, since they essentially (I don’t think this is spoilers?) turn people into, for example, earthbenders. The elements seem to be earth, air, fire, water, wood and metal, which is a nice deviation from the standard four most fantasy books go with, but other than that and the fact that the power comes from some unexplained spirit thing, you have people with powers like you get in a lot of fantasy.
Basically, the book isn’t doing anything new or particularly clever. But that’s not what it’s setting out to be. It is a romp (which sounds weird when I come to say it, but I think is an accurate description). It knows it’s trash, and it knows what the not-very-discerning-reader-of-trash (hello, *waves*) wants in their silly escapist novel and it delivers. Pretty much. The pacing is a little off (in that the last third of the book feels as if it drags in parts) but that’s a minor issue. It is very predictable. I mean ludicrously predictable. But that’s fine, and very much what the genre of “trash” (it is totally a real genre) tends to do. It is what it sets out to be. It is a very good example of what it is. It was definitely not the Reality Dysfunction, and so is very much what I wanted it to be. Thumbs up all round.
I enjoyed the book a lot. I mean really a lot. The writing style did niggle but a lot of the time, I could look past it because I was genuinely pulled in by the plot. I was never surprised, but I still cared what happened (as someone who has read at least one book more than fifteen times, I am convinced you can still get involved in a plot just as much when you know what’s going to happen as when you don’t… just has to be a good story) and that’s all that really mattered. I liked a lot of the characters, even some of the baddies, and several of the baddies get fleshed out enough to be worthwhile. Oh, actual spoiler, there are also some “savages” that reeked of Butcher having read the Barsoom books. They were so, so very reminiscent of the Green Martians. It struck me as I read and it strikes me more now I think about it. Doroga is very Tars Tarkas and (somewhat large spoiler) Kitai is quite a lot Sola, in some respects. Absolutely shockingly, given my propensity to disliking female characters in almost everything, I disliked Amara. She’s vaguely irritating in a lot of ways. But I didn’t hate her, so that was alright. And she was a decent protagonist. She never gets unbelievable in her motivations. She has moments of fainting and patheticness, but generally they happen after she’s been busy beating up some dudes or furycrafting or doing things that would actually make her exhausted, so she’s not just some pathetic fainting woman. It’s all good.
I’m definitely going to read the sequels, of which there seem to be at least five. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the plot, and I care enough that I want to know now, but also, I suspect they’ll be enjoyable. One of the things I do remember about the Dresden Files books is that they maintained a fairly consistent quality throughout. If that holds true for the Codex Alera books, then I’ll be very happy indeed. Also there needs to be some exposition at some point. Even just a teeny tiny bit. Please, Mr. Butcher.
So yeah. It does exactly what it says on the tin, pretty much. Woo. Trashy novel is trashy and delicious.
Next time? Goddamnit I will finish that Hamilton novel if it kills me.
*I’m aware that criticising the historical accuracy of pseudo-Rome in a fantasy novel is dumb, it being a work of fiction and all. But I’m going to do it whether it’s dumb or not so I may as well embrace it. And besides, if the author is going to write pseudo-Rome, he should do it correctly. Elsewise he should make up his own damn society. Then no one can nitpick.