Okay guys, I admit that things got a bit weird last week with my Valentine’s Day post (The Golden Ass: A Valentine’s with Something for Everyone) but to your, very likely, welcoming this week I don’t have anything nearly as topical nor as weird (but if you like weird, trust me there is plenty of weird left in the tank). No this week I have something fairly pedestrian in comparison to last week’s book, something more fantastical but in the traditional way.
This book, Furies of Calderon(1), is another series from the wonderful and imaginative Jim Butcher (best known for The Dresden Files books, I wrote a review of the first book in the series and can be seen here: Storm Front by Jim Butcher and my friend wrote a review on the comic omnibus which covers the events of the first three books here: Spoiler Free Book Review Dresden Files Graphic Novel Omnibus One). I got this book as a xmas present from my best friend Evan and was extremely excited when my other reader friend Marc told me the backstory to the conception of this series:
“How did you come up with the original idea for CODEX ALERA? We’ve heard rumours that it involved a bet on whether you could combine the Roman empire and Pokémon… is that true?
The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.
It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.
Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”
The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed.”
(Source: “Jim Butcher chats about Pokemon, responsibility, and Changes” by Beth Johnson, guest reviewer for fantasyliterature.com)
See this series hit a golden triad of nerd-topia for me: Jim Butcher style fantasy, anime, and action/adventure. Plus after being recommended by two different reader friends who’s tastes I trust to be closely calibrated to mine (but both of their tastes are heavier on the fantasy side, I’m more of a realism/so-fucking-weird-it-leaves-you-wondering-what-you’re-doing-with-your-life kinda freak(2)), I knew I was in for a treat.
Furies of Calderon is an early Jim Butcher work, or at least it feels like it. Being published in 2004 he had a few Dresden Files under his belt and his experience shows in this book however that’s not to say there are no flaws with the inaugural piece in his 6 book series(3). This book has some imperfections which doesn’t hold it back from being an excellent fantasy adventure by it self but does keep me from being driven towards the 2640 page commitment that entails the rest of the series.
So O.K. Corral style here is my thoughts on the book: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly style.
Even this early in Butcher’s career he’s really good at misdirection or leading this reader to think that things are more grim than they are but still leaving clues to the observant to keep it fair. Let’s take an example from the second chapter after Alera and her mentor Fidelius are captured by the enemy and in a compromising position:
Aldrick drew his sword and said, “The old man [Fidelius] isn’t necessary.” He went outside the tent.
A moment later, there was a sound not unlike a knife sinking into a melon.”
(Furies of Calderon, 24)
At this point we as the readers have developed a 1.5 chapter (24 pages) bond with Almara and Fidelius and then we are lead to believe he was executed stage left however we later discover that he was faking his death and there was a literal melon being stabbed to simulate the sound of a man being cut through the gut. It’s small details like this that make me appreciate an author more because they’re thinking about the reader’s experience reading the book a second time.
Butcher also does a good job at inciting curiosity such as only partly explaining how the “Fury magic system” works, who some characters are like (Fade? Aldrick? The fucking entire Marat “species”[are they even human?!]) and locations like most of the map beyond “Vallis Calderon” specifically what lies beyond “The Shield Wall” (okay, I admit to being a “Game of Thrones” fan(4) and I guess I’m conditioned to have curiosities about a mysterious northerly wall).
Okay so Jim is capable of bad writing, as I learned from this 650+ page novel. Thankfully the bad isn’t concentrated in parts like books I could mention(5) however the mercy is spread among hundreds of too many pages in a couple of paragraphs segments:
[Pirellus] was lean with hard, fat muscle, and bore a slender, curved sword of metal blacker than mourning velvet in his hand.”
Goddamn that’s a deadly sexy description of a serious swordsman. This is our introduction to one of the most deadly swordsman in the cannon (as far as we know) and he was challenged by one of our main characters, Almara (as we have met from chapter one) however Butcher kind of ruins the sexy tight writing he showed us with spoon-feeding the reader exactly how deadly this Pirellus is
Pirellus was a master metalcrafter, one of the finest swordsmen alive. If he chose to engage in the duel, he could kill [Almara], and there would be little she could do to stop him. And yet it was necessary. Necessary to convince him of her sincerity, necessary for him to know that she was willing to die to get him to act, that she would sooner die than fail in her duty to Alera, to Gaius. She stared at his eyse and focused on the task before her and refused to give in to her fear or to let it make the sword tremble at all.
Notice this isn’t the beginning of a paragraph nor even close to the last page where we got a very distinct description of the swordsman and his prowess. It’s three pages later of sword-waving (in the metaphorical sense, Amara is a biological woman after all) and a very long paragraph of describing how deadly this Pirellus is, we are FINALLY granted some action (a page later mind) and that’s not even between her and her perceived adversary.
This nicely segues into my final and main complaint about the book which is a general complaint across most of the book but becomes most evident after page 490: the book is too long and accomplishes too little. I’m inclined to believe Butcher was paid by the page/word for this novel because the “climax” of the book was about 150 pages and the falling action was around 20 pages). In almost 700 pages, Butcher accomplished what could have been finished (with some tight editing) in around 400 pages (give or take, I didn’t count strictly but even given space for world building, there’s still a significant amount of purple text even for a fantasy novel(6)).
Thankfully there’s not much of this here. Butcher does make some minor mistakes that did bother me (such as using too many similar names in the same story arc IE Aldrick and Asturak, having some flat characters on both the “good” and “bad” side such as Bernard and Kord respectively, having places mentioned by name in the narrative but not appear on the map, etc) however the worst of the lot was at the end of the 150 page climax Butcher pulls a a GRRM and kills just about every character we’ve been following in this book including my personal favourie, Fade (for the mystery mostly but also he has the best name in this book) which is a pretty bold move. Except that it wasn’t. As the magic system works in this series there are healers who are capable of reviving people from the dead but it’s only available to extremely strong and experienced healers which even then it’s risky to both the healer and the patient. So after this long drawn out battle which has left everyone injured, dead, or otherwise indisposed, somehow there’s a healer available who can revive like 6 people (I don’t have the book in front of me but I can think of at least 3 people who are “killed”) which effectively tells me as a reader: THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES! DON’T WORRY NO ONE REALLY DIES!
This is a solid, if long, fantasy book. I have read much worse and I have read much better. The problem I have is that, like a blog post series, the interest nose-dives after the first installment and I won’t say I fully understand the loss of interest in every case but I can say I understand my personal loss of interest in this series beyond the beginning and that’s largely to do with the pacing of the novel and the ability for watercrafters (the healers of this magic system) to be able to reverse the condition of death even with seemingly-dire-canonical-implied-risks which ends up in being a Chekhov’s Gun full of blanks. It’s almost like a GRRM book except remove the lasting implications of tragedy.
I in no way regret reading this novel regardless of my apathy to continue with the series in general. If you like high fantasy and like Jim Butcher’s works you’ll very likely like this book however if you’re like me and kinda borderline on fantasy or generally a slow reader (my main reason for not reading more fantasy novels) you might be best off renting it from the library or generally passing on this novel. It’s an interesting world with some interesting characters but Butcher wasn’t able to cut enough fat for me to remain interested for the remainder of this series.
Okay so Valentines day is tomorrow. I have expressed how seriously I take this “holiday”(1) in the past.
However as a shameless self-promoter and a young writer/artist desperate for ever more attention as a form of validation (for a struggling artist, everyday is like being single and drunk on Valentine’s day: an emotional fucking roller coaster), I always try to jump on whatever will grab me more traffic without completely whoring out my “talents”. Which this time of year means writing something about Valentine’s day.
This post started out as a simple etymological exploration of the English word “love”(2) and myth of Eros and Psyche, particularly inspired from the brilliant video from Overly Sarcastic Productions: Miscellaneous Myths: Eros and Psyche.
Then I remembered: this is OBOP what’s so offbeat about writing about “love” during valentines week? It’s onpoint but not offbeat. So I. Dug. DEEPER. And what I found was…really interesting.
The book in question this week is one that, like the word “love”, has a few different faces and lacks the simplicity that a four letter word seems to promise.
NOTE: I haven’t read this book in it’s entirety yet. I’m working on it but I couldn’t finish it in time however I promise this will not be the last time I visit t his unique piece of literature. I have big plans for this rare volume.
There are more than a few interesting(3) things about this novel other than it’s rather lewd title. The first being is that the original title was “Metamorphosis”, which as far as I can tell has very little to do with the Kafka novel of the same name, but then was renamed by St Augustine of Hippo to the more appropriate “The Golden Ass”(4) and the second is that this is the only novel from the Grecco-Roman to survive in it’s entirety. Some one cared to make sure that this piece of literature survived the fall of the Roman empire.
As promised, The Golden Ass is about an Ass or more specifically about a man who is driven by curiosity and the desire to learn about magic and accidentally turns himself into a donkey and then goes on adventures. These adventures include adultery, witches replacing a man’s heart with a sponge, golden showers, murder, necromancy, , thievery, kidnapping, anonymous sex with an invisible being, animal cruelty, catamite priests, cuckolding, incest, and bestiality. These are just the highlights, folks. Truly something for everyone.
Now if you’re still with me, you might be wondering “Fin: what does this lewd and strangely appropriately titled piece of ancient literature have to do with Eros and Psyche?”
One of the inset stories in The Golden Ass is Eros and Psyche. I feel like the entirety of The Golden Ass, rather than one hand-picked and relatively tame piece, does a better job of reflecting the complexity, beauty, and occasionally taboo aspects of love. Love, for me, in every capacity from romantic to platonic has many different forms and facets. Sometimes love is beautiful, other times it’s gross, but most often love much more complex than just a couple of star-crossed lovers who get a lovely ending or the loyalty between individuals who have grown together and die together.
Happy Valentine’s day.
STAY TUNED: The next comic in The Adventures of Fin and Louie is coming soon (probably this week), it’ll be the second to last comic before the end of the “Looking for a Friend/Count Rubber’s Keep” story arc.
2. Which does have an interesting and complicated history which reflects it’s relatively sloppy application because of how ambiguously it can be used from sports (Tennis) to phrases like “for love or money” roughly meaning “for anything” which it self has revealing implications of motivations. If you’re interested, read more here: “love” etymology online dictionary
I recognise that one of my weaknesses as a writer is the over-use (I prefer “liberal”) of the word “interesting” however this is one of those posts where “interesting” might be the best word to use liberally to talk about this ancient novel.
I understand that St Augustine of Hippo was not, publicly, a fan of Metamorphosis and likely nicknamed the book a less polite title as a way to smear the reputation of the book. I think the title is an improvement because otherwise I probably wouldn’t have looked into this book in the first place.
Heya heres the newest panel in The Adventures of Fin & Louie. Try to ignore the writing around the comic. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m back on the road so I’m back down to one notebook for literally everything.
I’m not sure if this interests anyone but sometimes I wonder how much real artists rely on visual references or how closely they follow those references (if they use them). Anyway here’s my visual reference for this panel.
Now before you stomp all over my face and say “YOUR VERSION LOOKS NOTHING LIKE THE ORIGINAL YOU FUCKING FAKER” keep in mind that I’m not going for photo-copy replication. I personally just need visual references for scale/perspective, some texture/pattern ideas, and everything else I just make it up as I go.
Stay tuned, there’s only a couple more panels left in the “Count Rubber’s Keep” arc. I will, someday, re arrange the website so that all the comics are in one place and in chronological order. It’ll probably be close to the end of this story arc.
Also I don’t know if you’ve seen but I’ve begun a video log of my life as a western bound nomad. I’m flying out to San Diego Sunday and today my friend from Thailand offered me a place to stay, so I have a new goal to get out to Thailand by September for my 30th birthday. Who knows, this might be the beginning of my “around the world in who-cares-number-of-days” adventure. Besides, I do have a lot of friends to visit in Europe and Thailand is one step closer back to Europe. I’m pretty deeply optimistic and excited about this whole situation. Thank you to Elaina who inspired me to leave the country in the first place, thank you to Rico for bringing me back to St Louis, thank you to Morgan for inspiration and motivation, thank you Marc for kicking my ass over writing, but most of all thank you Evan for being my rock, god knows I probably would have given up or went back to being a drowning work from home deep sea diver if it wasn’t for you.
Anyway come watch some of my video logs, they’re getting better. Here’s the newest one.
Anyway stay tuned! The next time I post maybe from San Diego. Wish me luck!