Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Princep's Fury Book 5 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

Princep's Fury
Book 5 of the Codex Alera
Jim Butcher
Read by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio, 18 Hours

Jim Butcher has created an epic series of magick, swords and mythical beasts in the Codex Alera, and he's approaching the finale of the series according to his website book six is to be titled First Lord's Fury and will end the series. Knowing this and having listened to all the previous four installments, I listened as slowly as possible not wanting this relationship I have developed with the land of Alera and the born leader in Gaius Octavian, Tavi to his friends. Jim Butcher's creativity has created a world that I had hoped be able to visit forever.

Once again Kate Reading provides a great auditory escape into Jim Butcher's world of Codex Alera. Her vocal characterizations are simple enough to put sound to the characters and to be able to inflect emotion into those same voices.

The beginning of this series brought us the character of Tavi, who has a secret, the secret is slowly revealed throughout each book that Tavi is the son of Gaius Septimus, son of the First Lord of Alera and heir to that same title. Septimus was killed in a major battle between on of Alera's enemys, the Marat. Tavi's mother, Isana, hid Tavi's fury crafting abilities so that he would be safe from those that would assassinate him and the first lord to take over the crown. Tavi grows up without the ability to fury craft, making him a freak among the Alerans.

The Alerans use a special magic/sorcery called fury crafting to call upon the furies of the elements to perform functions from the simplest tasks of lighting lamps, pumping water or building homes from wood or earth to military uses of flying, increasing strength, healing, or functioning at super human speed. Everyone in Alera can perform some fury crafting to some degree, the most powerful of which are leaders of the separate states in the land, and the First Lord being the most powerful of all.

In Princep's Fury Tavi has been accepted as the Princep's (heir to the crown of First Lord), however the recent civil war in Alera has left many citizens disgruntled and wanting for something more than what Gaius Sextus, the First Lord, seems to offer. Alera has had many enemies surrounding the land The Marat to the south, the Ice Men to the north and across the sea to the west the Canim. Through diplomacy and kindness has created an ally through the Marat. While not so much of an ally, the Canim have agreed to cease hostilities as Tavi and his legion assist them in building ships and returning to their homeland. Tavi has earned the respect of the Canim Leader, Varg and through that a working relationship with the Canim.

One other enemy that has come to Alera from unknown origins is the Vord. The the first book in the series Tavi awakend a Vord Queen while proving himself to the Marat leaders. The Vord is an insect like species that are extremely powerful. They take forms similar to the people in the lands they invade. They can takeover a living being body (animal or human) through a small taker that eats its way to the brain of the "host" and then controls the "host's" every move. Also the Vord Queen can read minds thus making her a dangerous enemy. Many people in Alera do not believe the Vord to be real, until now.

The Vord have begun to attack Alera, this time around they are using fury crafting, which only Alerans have been able to do. This makes the Vord even more dangerous. To save Alera the First Lord, Gaius Sextus, has plans. The first of which is to send Count Bernard (Tavi's Uncle and a powerful fury crafter) and his wife Countess Amara (former cursor/spy for the First Lord) to discover how the Vord are able to suddenly use fury crafting. Next, in order to bring in more legions Gaius sends Tavi's mother Isana to the Shield Wall in the north, where the perpetual war with the Ice Men is waged, to form a truce so that the Legions there can come fight the Vord, and finally the First Lord lures the Vord to the Aleran capital where he can fight the Vord Queen. Killing the queen is the only way to stop the Vord.

While the possible destruction of Alera goes on, Tavi has arrived with ships full of Canim in their homeland, only to discover that the Vord have destroyed all the people and lands save for one small faction fighting a never ending war with the Vord. Tavi must then fight the Vord side by side with the Canim to escape back to Alera.

Once again, with Princep's Fury, Jim Butcher has created a masterpiece of high fantasy with excitment from many factions that will sweep you up in the excitement that is Codex Alera.

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posted by Gil T. @ 1:47 AM Comments: 0

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cursor's Fury: Book 3 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

Cursor's Fury: Book 3 of the Codex Alera
Jim Butcher
Narrated by Kate Reading, unabridged
Penguin Audio, 20.5 hours

Jim Butcher has yet again created a memorable masterpiece in the Codex Alera series. The story is set in the mystical land of Alera, whose residents seem to be descendants of Roman Legionnaires. As befits legionnaires of any time or place, there are plenty of stunning battles, heroic characters, and menace from both ingenious alien races and treacherous allies. Add to this the ability of Alerans to control different aspects of the forces of nature (fury crafting) and you have the ingredients for an exciting piece of literature that spans five books. Each title builds toward the conclusion of this saga, with the sixth and final book in the series scheduled for publication later this year.

Narrator Kate Reading keeps the audiobook alive with a delicate command in her voice that demands attention. She accurately conveys excitement and danger, providing a good read that will lock in listeners and keep them engaged throughout the battle-filled story.

Cursor’s Fury continues the adventures of Gaius Octavius, or Tavi, the only Aleran who cannot perform magic by controlling a part of nature. But Tavi is the grandson and only heir to the First Lord, Gaius Sextus. His true identity is kept secret to avoid assassination by those seeking to overthrow the First Lord. Tavi’s mother uses her water-fury crafting skills to prevent Tavi from developing what would no doubt be extremely powerful fury crafting. As a result, Tavi is forced to rely on his wits to overcome many serious tests that come his way.

Recognizing his leadership skills and seeing through the veil created to hide Tavi, the First Lord, Gaius Sextus, realizes Tavi is his grandson. To protect him, Tavi is sent to train with a legion of recruits who are far away from civil strife. Because the First Lord has not named an heir to the throne, some of the major houses of Alera feel the need to overthrow the powerful First Lord and place themselves on that throne. The most ambitious of these is House Kalare. Lord Kalare has made it known that he will do anything to capture the throne, and in Cursor's Fury he makes his move.

To help insure his victory, Lord Kalare allies himself with the Canim, one of the sworn enemies of Alera.
The Canim are a humanoid/wolf race that live across the ocean from Alera. Lord Kalare asks the Canim to invade at the same time he attacks the First Lord. The plan seems to be working until it’s discovered that the Canim have something else in mind. They don't come over with merely an invading army, they come over with most of their population in order to take Alera themselves. And to emphasize the point, they burn their ships so they cannot return to their homeland.

Meanwhile, instead of being out of harm’s way, Tavi's 1st Legion of "fish," finds they must fortify and hold the bridge to the city of Elinarch. The bridge is a strategic point where the Canim threaten to invade Alera. The young legionnaires are called fish because they are new recruits and, instead of knowing how to battle, they flop around like fish. Through a series of unplanned events, Tavi is forced into the rank of Captain and must use only his wits to lead the legion of "Knights Pisces" into a major battle that may decide the future of Alera.
With a war on three fronts, this book is full of exciting action and a great cast of characters. Codex Alera is one series that is worth reading, or better yet, hearing again and again.

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posted by Gil T. @ 1:11 AM Comments: 0

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Academ's Fury Book two of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher
Academ's Fury Book two of the Codex Alera
Read by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio
Approx. 21 hours
Audiobook published 2008

Jim Butcher wanted to create what he called a "sword and horses" novel and the Codex Alera series is that and more. This high fantasy series  is very successful in creating a new world where swords are the weapon of choice and the horse is one of the main transportation methods. However, Butcher did not limit himself to these two concepts when creating his world. Other weapons include furies, a type of sorcery using the elements. The furies are also the answer to transportation as well as communication and medical arts. Basing all this on the ideals of the Roman Legionnaires, Butcher's writing not only provides excellent battle scenes but great characters that live in a four dimensional universe. Academ's Fury builds on that foundation and not only pushes the series along but also is an intriguing read in and of itself.

The narrator, Kate Reading, has a touch of a British accent that brings a classic quality to the book. Her accent gives this sword and sorcery novel the feel of an Arthurian tale. At the same time, she provides the perfect level of emotion during the warm moments of love between the characters and, when needed, bursts of excitement during the novel's tense battles. She can deliver lump-in-the-throat speeches as well as screaming enemy attacks.

Academ's Fury picks up 2 years after the events in the book, Furies of Calderon. The hero, Tavi, lacks the ability to control the furies (fury crafting), making him a "freak" in Alera.. Studying to become a cursor, or messenger, for the First Lord (Emperor) of Alera, Tavi learns the job also requires becoming a spy and a warrior.  As his studies near their end a new danger comes to the capitol of Alera, where the First Lord resides and is the home for the acadamy Tavi is attending. This new danger is in the form of a being known as the Vord.

The Vord is an insect-like race also referred to as shapeshifters. The Vord gain control of the body and mind of an enemy, creating a zombie with a Vord mind to battle their enemies. This tactic is a demoralizing weapon because the body taken over by the Vord, perhaps a loved one or even a child, becomes a treacherous killer. In any great story a hero will have his ultimate villain, Batman has the Joker, Spider-Man has Venom. Jim Butcher has created one of the most ultimate nemeses of all time with this race of Vord. They are powerful, dark and complex.

Tavi awakened the Vord in the first novel in the Codex Alera, Furies of Calderon, by spilling some of his own blood on the Vord nest in the wax forest. This not only awakened the Vord but also made Tavi a target. When the Vord expands its community it separates into 3 queens, which move to different locations and set up new nests to conquer all life in that area.

Duroga, a clan leader of the Murat, has come to warn Tavi's uncle of the danger after destroying one of the three nests. The other two must be destroyed or all of Alera will fall. One nest is in Calderon Valley the other is seeking Tavi in the capitol city.

While this new danger is going on there also exists the beginnings of a civil war in Alera due to the First Lord having no heir. So with complications of politics piling on top of the pending destruction of humanity, Tavi must use his wits and strength to save Alera.

This book is cram-packed with excitement that will keep you up until you hear the final sentence, and even there you will be reaching for the next novel in the series.

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posted by Gil T. @ 12:48 AM Comments: 0

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Furies of Calderon Book one of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher
Furies of Calderon Book one of the Codex Alera
Read by Kate Reading
Penguin Audio
Approx. 20 hours
Audiobook published 2008

Jim Butcher has created a wonderful new world of fantasy in the series known as Codex Alera. This first book in the series introduces all the main characters and the creatures and events that make Alera a great world in which any reader could get lost.

The narrator, Kate Reading, delivers the punch when needed in this epic adventure and when needed vocalizes the perfect emotional tone during the various emotions in the tale. Kate Reading's voice easily relays the sense of loss or hope, and when needed, she can drum up the excitement for all the battle scenes. Jim Butcher has written all the words to describe the various scenes and settings that make this an exciting read, but Kaet Reading's delivery makes it so the audiobook listener gets completely immersed in the land of Alera.

The people of Alera have special abilities called fury-crafting. The Alerans have tamed the furies to assist them in their every day jobs. The furies represent the main elements; earth, metal, wood, fire, water and air. The earth furies manipulate earth and stone and allow earth fury-crafters to gain more strength and be great hunters/trackers. The metal crafters make superior swordsmen. The wood crafters manipulate plants and trees great for making camouflage and increasing accuracy of arrows. The fire crafters not only manipulate fire but can also use the fire furies to manipulate human emotion. The water crafters tame the waters to communicate over long distance, heal others, keep a youthful appearance and detect emotions. The air crafters have the ability of flight and increased speed and agility as well as the ability to bend air to listen or see long distances.

All these powers make the Alerans masters of their domains and yes some small skirmishes may erupt but the land is governed by Gaius Sextus, First Lord of alera. Gaius is getting older and after the death of his son, lacks an heir, so a war of who could be First Lord seems imminent.

In the Calderon Valley there lives a "disabled" boy by the name of Tavi. Tavi lives on Bernardholt with his uncle Bernard an earth and wood crafter, and aunt Isana, a water crafter. The reason Tavi is disabled is that he lacks any fury crafting skills, and this does not happen in Alera. Tavi has learned to use his intelligence to get out of a situation instead of relying on furies.

In Furies of Calderon, which is book one of the Codex Alera, which so far there are six books in the series, the Tolkienesque adventures in Alera are unleashed. Tavi has lost his flock of sheep and he and his uncle go out to find them, instead they find that the Murat (a violent and dangerous race of humanoids that have tribal affiliations with certain animals in the realm) are invading the Calderon Valley, after a near fatal encounter Bernard is wounded and may die if not healed soon, Tavi stays to mislead the Murat warriors so that Bernard can be taken to safety. At the same time a strong Fury Storm erupts in the valley and Tavi has to seek shelter or die from the Murat attack or the furies in the storm. As he's running for shelter he finds a runaway slave girl, Amara (who is actually a spy sent from Gaius to find what is happening in the Calderon Valley) and risks his life to help her.

At this same time three mercenaries find their way to Bernardholt seeking shelter from the storm. The three are looking for Amara to keep her from warning the steadholders of the coming war, and are also there to start the war so Gaius looks week and House Aquitaine can take the throne.

Amara takes Tavi into the night to warn the Count ruling calderon, since Tavi is the one who has seen the Murat. During their escape Tavi and the slave with a secret, Fade, are captured by the Murat, Amara and Bernard make it to the garrison to warn the count but meet opposition from a second in command that does not believe them and barely prepares the garrison for the battle, Isana and one of the mercenaries are captured by an evil steadholder who wishes to "break" them and make them his slaves.

As the separate parties go on their own adventures working to stop a war in Alera excitement abounds in this first book of what is proving to be a great fantasy series. Be prepared for a fun read with some all the highs and lows of the emotional gamut.

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posted by Gil T. @ 10:32 PM Comments: 0

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Captain's Fury Book Four of the Codex Alera By Jim Butcher

Captain's Fury
Book Four of the Codex Alera
By Jim Butcher
Audiobook produced by Penguin Audio
Read by Kate Reading
Approx. 20.5 Hours.

Jim Butcher has created a Lord of the Rings series for today’s generation. The Codex Alera series takes place in a mythical/mystical land called Alera. The Alerans are humans who have a special ability known as fury crafting. In fury crafting the Alerans manifest the spirits of the elements to create magic and maintain life. From simple fury lamps, which use fire furies to provide light, to earth furies which can create shelter and gain extra strength in battle, all Alerans control their elements. All Alerans except for Tavi (a.k.a.Gaius Octavian/Captain Rufus Scipio). Tavi is forced to live with his "disability" by using his wits. Later in the series (about book 3) Tavi learns some limited fury crafting, but nowhere near the abilities of the regular Alerans.

Before we get into the meat of this audiobook review let me first say I may be a little biased due to my huge fanship of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files books. I love his characterizations in those books and have declared myself an official Jim Butcher fanboy. I have read his other novel which is based on the Marvel Superhero Spiderman, another of my favorites, and have been interested in reading the Codex Alera series. I wanted to first finish the Dresden books but when the opportunity to review this book came up, I more than jumped on it. I did want to read the Codex Alera books in order, but the opportunity began with Book Four, so I did some quick research and got the gist of the series to prepare myself for book four. In retrospect the research helped, but I didn't really need it. Jim Butcher continues the series but when needed, he recaps what has happened enough to keep the reader in the know, but still enough to make you want to go back and read the series, which I will.

This review is for the audiobook version of the book and I'll tell you right off that I'm glad I started this series with an audiobook. First of all there's the convenience of an audiobook, you can listen while commuting, while exercising, while doing housework or heck, even while showering. Second, this audiobook was so well read by Kate Reading. (I think her last name is very fitting, but I should say it's pronounced RED-ing.) There are many characters throughout this book and series and Kate Reading makes the subtle changes in her reading that the voices of the different characters really stand out. Another aspect of her reading is the portrayal of emotions of the characters and the excitement of the action. The emotions and excitement are subtle enough for the listener to still maintain their own interpretations but also enough to capture the mood created by the author.

The audiobook production of Captain's Fury is very well done in that the pace of the reading is kept up with the pace of the written material, when needed the excitement is allowed to carry the action with a fast pace, while during times of the book when explanation of past events are needed the reader and the direction slow to allow the listener to absorb the information.

Okay, let's talk about the story.

In this book Tavi's mysterious origin is discovered. It seems Tavi has more in store for his future than simply being a captain of the First Aleran Legion. This book is the turnaround book where Tavi becomes more as well as many other characters in the series. The beginning of the book finds Tavi in charge of an attack on the invading Canim, a race of wolf-like humanoids that have invaded Alera by crossing the sea. This book also explains why the Canim came to "invade." It turns out not to be an invasion, but rather an escape from a force that is also a threat to the Alerans.

One of the reasons I referred to this book as, "Lord of the Rings series for today’s generation," is that the book is part of an ongoing series with mythical creatures that are battling separate wars but you can tell a central battle between good and evil is forthcoming. Also that the book covers characters that start out with one central mission and branch out into several side but related missions, and from what I can see will be regrouping to fight the main battle. However, Codex Alera has already gone more than Tolkien's 3 book series to this 4th book and more. And finally to justify my comparison, Jim Butcher's writing is not only fun and adventurous but also has a great literary feel that could easily be studied by scholar's for years to come.

On a final note, an interesting aspect of this book is the constant reference to the Roman Empire are great and not accidental. The most obvious references to Rome and its era is the use of terms like Legionare, Legion, patriserus, and other such terms. Also, the names of many characters are Latin styled. Maximus, Gaius, etc. Jim Butcher had this to say about his fascination with the Romans, "There's plenty of Lost Roman Legion stories out there. Mostly, the stories are about where they went, and what they did when they got there. This one just happens to be about the world they got lost on, and the society that developed there over the next couple of thousand years."

So do yourself a favor and pick up the Captain's Fury, by Jim Butcher, audiobook and jump ahead into the Aleran world. Good news comes via Jim Butcher's website that the other books will be released soon on audiobook so you can go back and listen to the history of Tavi.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:44 PM Comments: 0