I finished the penultimate instalment of the Codex Alera a few days ago. The fact that I didn’t immediately write down my thoughts goes to show that I was quite underwhelmed this time around. Having come this far, I will obviously listen to the last book in the series, but just to put it into perspective: Had this been a standalone novel or the first in a series, I wouldn’t feel the need to read anything else by Butcher. SPOILERS for books 1-4 ahead…
Published by: Penguin Audio, 2008
Audiobook: 17 h 46 min
Paperback: 640 pages
Series: Codex Alera #5
My rating: 6/10
First sentence: Raucus had cut his teeth in battle at fourteen years of age.
Tavi of Calderon, now recognized as Princeps Gaius Octavian and heir to the crown, has achieved a fragile alliance with Alera’s oldest foes, the savage Canim. But when Tavi and his legions guide the Canim safely to their lands, his worst fears are realized.The dreaded Vord—the enemy of Aleran and Cane alike—have spent the last three years laying waste to the Canim homeland. And when the Alerans are cut off from their ships, they find themselves with no choice but to fight shoulder to shoulder if they are to survive.For a thousand years, Alera and her furies have withstood every enemy, and survived every foe.The thousand years are over…
Jim Butcher returns to his well-established characters pretty much where he left them off in Captain’s Fury. Once again, the foe threatening the kingdom of Alera is the Vord, that alien species which seems to adapt to any circumstances and grow more terrifying the more they are defied. Pretty early on, I knew I wouldn’t love this book. Tavi’s storyline takes place entirely out of Alera – first we follow him on a sea voyage drawn out for no good reason and slowing down the plot any time the point of view switched to Tavi. Isana, Amara, Bernard, and Ehren may be up to interesting things of their own – Isana trying to make peace with the Icemen in the north, Amara and Bernard on a dangerous mission for the First Lord, and Ehren just genearlly having his hands in a bit of everything. But the pacing was so off in this volume that I could rarely work up interest in any plotline.
Tavi’s storyline was by far the weakest, although it did have its moments of edge-of-your-seat action (we know Jim Butcher is good at writing those). Amara’s story being the most nuanced in that it is about more than travelling and looking at the Vord destroy everything (althout a fair bit of that, too), still wasn’t up to par. Obviously, this book benefits from me already having enjoyed the volumes that came before, and the author’s laziness in character development was balanced out by my memories of who the characters are. I don’t mind authors who let their readers do part of the work in creating a vibrant world and characters that feel real. But this is not that kind of create-a-world-together, it’s the kind of I-already-told-you-who-Isana-is-now-I-don’t-feel-like-giving-her-depth-anymore. The ladies especially suffered from this laziness. Kitai rarely has anything better to say than that she worries about Tavi, Isana is the strawman peacemaker, willing to sacrifice everything for her country – remember her opinion in the former books? She didn’t seem to give much of a fuck about politics, it was her loved ones and her quiet live she cared about. If the author had show us what had brought about this change, I would have been fine with it. This way it is just inconsistent.
This is not only true of the female characters. Some of the most interesting male side characters also lose all their depth. And I can’t even tell you in favor of what! Because there isn’t enough quick-succession action or complex politics to justify that lack of love for your characters, Mr. Butcher. Altogether, the book seemed like an unnecessary instalment in the series, where the author relied too heavily on the work done in previous books, and offered very little that was new or pushed the actual plot forward.
Having let the book “settle” for almost a week and looking back at its entirety, it just feels like a big mess. Plotstrings, characters, and world-building all seem to me extremely confused. The Canim, for example, have been established as a people who rely on hierarchy and demonstration of power, almost like a pack of wolves (because obviously). Their actions have always seemed consistent within that set of rules so far, but now even they acted out of character, being too trusting or, at times, just plain stupid. The Icemen didn’t even merit being properly introduced as anything other than “those barbarians in the north”. They are humanized to some degree but, let’s face it, they are not really written as people, just another stand-in threat that needs to heroically be resolved.
Needless to say, this was not my favorite book in the series. But Butcher continues to write in a way that is gripping and intriguing, at least when it comes to action. He seriously let his characters drift and unlike the other novels in the series, this one does not offer a proper ending. Some of those random plot-threads are semi-resolved, everything else is still chaos, literally and figuratively. Alera is struggling against an overwhelming enemy and any structure goes down the drain, and I was struggling to keep interested in (fictional) peoples’ lives who didn’t read at all like the characters I had come to know and love.
THE GOOD: Good, thrilling action and fight scenes.
THE BAD: Confused on so many levels: plot threads, character development, politics, and world-building.
THE VERDICT: As a standalone, I would not recommend this. But having almost finished the series, I won’t stop here now. My hope is high that Butcher got back to old form in the last book and delivers a well-plottet story peopled with lovable characters again. Fingers crossed…
RATING: 6/10 – Okay
The Codex Alera: