Oh Jim Butcher… What Were you Thinking?

So, I’ve been sick recently — death flu, lay-on-the-couch-and-read sick… And read I did, several new books, most of them very good. I’ve really been enjoying Catalyst’s, Era Report: 3052. While I may criticize their editing in fiction — I have nothing but praise for the game books they are putting out.

But my enforced reading spurt finally gave me the chance to get to Jim Butcher’s other series — the fantasy one. I’m a big fan of the Dresden books, I think they are fun, well-written, and very well-maintained as the series matures. So I’ve had friends telling me I need to read the Calderon books for a long time. These are people I respect. So I find myself asking them, “Why did I need to read these again?”

They’re pretty, um, awful…

Let me explain (and there might be spoiler or two lurking below, so be warned)…

First, the fantasy world feels remotely interesting — a pseudo Roman culture, displaced from the Earth, with a somewhat inventive magic system, beset on all sides by various varieties of semi-human barbarians. Internal politics of the world are the expected mix of betrayal, backstabbing and “old leader without an heir.” So, fairly standard fair, but not offensively so.

From that initial position it only gets worse.

The Main Character
So, whereas Harry Dresden always manages to remain a consistently interesting person, with serious foibles and a sense that even when he’s at his most powerful, it’s always at a price, well, Tavi is nothing short of masturbatory… He’s nearly perfect, gets better at everything as the books go on, is sweet and nice, and well… perfect.

Except! He lacks the one power that would everyone else in the culture has. He can’t furycraft. And eventually, this one less than perfect facet of his character — a source of such pain when he was a child — becomes something unique about him, something he can be proud of all that he has accomplished without “magic” and he accepts his disability… and the exact minute that he does, just when he comes to terms with it, he gains the power… yup, that’s right, he’s suddenly a furycrafter.

He’s also the lost heir to the throne… just, you know, because.

The Story
Well, it’s not awful… just, pedestrian. But there is one thing that really, really irks me — and it shows up in the first book of the series. Nothing bad will ever happen to a main character. All tension is robbed from any build up of scenes because you know that no matter how it seems, no matter how bad it is, nothing bad will ever happen to them! In the first book alone, several major characters are involved in the climactic fight — One of them gets stabbed in the stomach, one gets hung, one falls and breaks a bunch of bones, and more — but none of them die or have any lasting consequences — despite the fact that healing, even magic healing, in this world is time sensitive, but the guy stabbed in the stomach lays there for a while, several minutes or more at least, but he’s fine. And that’s the second time he was “mortally” wounded in that book alone.

So I can no longer even believe that a main character will be in danger. Yay!

Men and Women
This is an odd one. Butcher has created a story-world where women are second class citizens. Which is fine. To have men and women with societal inequalities is interesting. So many fantasy worlds just ignore male/female issues that it’s refreshing to see him attempt to tackle this. However, it’s painfully awkward and ham-fisted that every time he has a male character acting at all the way you’d expect for this society the interaction feels like the dialogue in the worst romance novel you’ve ever read… or heard about… or saw at a bookstore that one time.

Conclusion
I could go on. The main villains are painful, some of the ostensible “bad guys” are far more honest and likable than the “good guys” and the fact that nothing happens that you didn’t see coming ten miles away are just more icing on this cake of awful. So, seriously, two out of five Jim Butcher. Two out of Five, my friends who told me to read this.

At least Wise Man’s Fear will finally be out soon.

Thanks for Reading.

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