Archive for May, 2009

Currently reading: May 2009

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, Book 4) by Jim Butcher

Academ’s Fury (Codex Alera, Book 2) by Jim Butcher (listening via audiobook)

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom — a historical mystery set in Tudor England

Treasure Island (Signet Classics) by Robert Louis Stevenson

Categories: currently reading

Surprising urban fantasy: Dresden Files book 1

Frankly, I don’t care for urban fantasies. My preference is for a more fully realized imaginary world, but a friend at work kept mentioning how she was devouring The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, so I thought I give the first novel a try.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) introduces a slightly alternate Chicago where Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has set up shop as a paranormal investigation consultant (no love potions). Most people don’t believe in the supernatural (wizards, vampires, werewolves, sorcery, etc), but Harry does get a few responses to his advertisement in the Yellow Pages. He also consults with Special Investigations of the Chicago Police Department. No one really takes him seriously, but he gets paid nonetheless. He is a real wizard with real powers; in fact, he’s one of the more powerful human magic users in the world.

The novel is an interesting mix of detective mystery, light horror, and urban fantasy. But what really ties it together is the humor. Harry is sarcastic, witty, and has a timely knack of understatement which gives him a lot of personality. The book is a fast read because of the humor but also due to the first person narrative.

There are enough pop culture and literary (genre) references that I was thoroughly entertained. For example, a new mailman points to Harry’s doorsign which reads “Harry Dresden. Wizard.” Incredulous, he asks,

“Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”

Harry responds, “Not so subtle”.

This is obviously a reference to The Fellowship of the Ring when Gildor the Elf advises Frodo Baggins:

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. (Book I, Chapter 3 “Three is Company”)

As with his more traditional fantasy novel Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1), Jim Butcher is a master of only doling out small pieces of information from book-to-book. Only glimpses of Harry’s training and family, the nature of the White Council of Wizards, and the creatures of magic are given. While the reader wants to know more, somehow Butcher’s parceling of data seems right.

With the mixture of the mundane and the supernatural, it’s definitely a good start to a series.

Categories: Book Reviews Tags: ,

Salt as a magical component

I’ve been reading two series: The Codex Alera, an epic fantasy, and The Dresden Files, an urban fantasy/mystery both by Jim Butcher. I was struck by the use of salt as a disruption to active magic or as a purifying element in each. Why salt?

According to the Jewish Heritage Online Magazine,

From ancient times, salt was used both to indicate and to repel the presence of evil. This is evident in the ritual of mothers salting their babies mentioned in the book of Ezekiel, a practice which included but was not limited to Hebrew women: “Your father was an Emorite and your mother a Hittite, and as for your birth, on the day you were born your navel was not cut nor were you washed in water for cleansing, you were not salted at all nor were you swaddled….” (Ezekiel 16:4)

The site further describes numerous other cultures who “salt the baby” to protect against demonic forces including Arabic, Catholic Christians, Baltic, Swedish, Laotian, and Thai among others.


Salt being incorruptible, averts demons and protects against black magic. As an ancient writer put it, witches and warlocks “like their master, the Devil, abhor salt as the emblem of immorality.”

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, salt is used in the Catholic liturgy as an element of the baptismal rite and also as part of the preparation of holy water.

The old superstition of throwing a pinch of salt over the left shoulder (into the face of the Devil) after spilling salt is one of the remaining vestiges of these beliefs.

Me, I prefer freshly cracked pepper. But I may have to browse through the book, Salt: A World History, to rediscover the importance of this substance of life.

Categories: Musings Tags:

Furies of Calderon

Just a few comments about Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1) which is the first novel of his Codex Alera series.

In the paper version of the book (I actually listened to the audio version from, I was disappointed that there was neither a map of the world, nor an appendix describing key terms. I really feel that a small map would have helped to orient the reader

The largest mystery are the furies. Butcher gives only a partial discussion of what they are. Little to no time is spent describing how they are captured by (?) / bonded to (?) the human population. We know that these elemental spirits are obtained in one’s youth (Tavi’s lack is very clearly unusual). We are shown how the various furies are used (wind, water, fire, earth, wood, metal), but minimally about the relationship between Aleran and fury.

Another interesting facet of the novel is its setting in an Ancient Rome analogue. The names (Gaius Sextus, Fidelias, Aquitainus) and terms (legionares, academ, patriserus, Knights Aeris) all have a Latin sound to them. The special rights granted to those called “Citizen” are also reminiscent of Rome as is the barbarian horde attacking the land’s frontiers. I’ll be interested to see how far the similarities go when Tavi goes to the capital city to be educated at the Academy — the City of Rome (likely under another name), perhaps?

The book is very dense with a good deal of character development. The villains for the most part aren’t “mwuah-ha-haaa” evil, which is refreshing. Instead, they are merely greedy, ambitious, self-involved, traitorous, or believe they are more right than the current ruling class.

This book is followed by:
Academ’s Fury (Codex Alera, Book 2)
Cursor’s Fury (Codex Alera, Book 3)
Captain’s Fury (Codex Alera, Book 4)
Princeps’ Fury (Codex Alera, Book 5)
First Lord’s Fury (Codex Alera) — not yet released

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The Courtship of Princess Leia

I recently reread The Courtship of Princess Leia (Star Wars) in order to refamiliarize myself with the ultimate fate of the warlord Zsinj. The X-Wing Wraith Squadron books, although written after this novel, introduce Han Solo’s relentless pursuit, and I had just finished them.

Since I hadn’t read the novel since Episodes I – III were released, I wondered whether there were discrepancies with the movies, or just plain oddities not seen elsewhere:

* Like many novels, Wolverton assumes that all Jedi bodies “dissapate” after death. The movies (and related lore) seem to indicate that only some Jedi learned to become one with the Force as a “force ghost” who is able to interact with the living.

* The long dead Jedi for whom Luke searches is described as the “curator of records for the Jedi at Coruscant”, a striking prediction of the librarians of the Jedi Archives in the Jedi Temple complex on Coruscant. The holographic recordings in the novel certainly reflect the types of recordings shown on the library “shelves” in the movie.

* The recording discovered in the ruins describe Yoda and other Jedi giving reports to the high master in a throne room. Similar to the Jedi Council?

* Wolverton several times describes a Jedi ability to use the Force to translate alien languages (and even Droidspeak) into Basic. Both Luke and the witches of Dathomir appear to do this — I don’t recall this ability in any other novel….

* The deed to Dathomir is described as “a registry chip, one of the old kind with a holo cube built in. She thumbed the switch, watched the planet materialize in the air before her, a scene from space showing the planet.” Reminded me of the holographic device that Qui-Gon Jinn used on Tatooine to project the image of the Naboo ship.

* A Jedi academy on board a roving starship in not contradicted by the movies to my knowledge.

With so few people strong enough to master the Force, the ancient Jedi would have needed to scour the galaxy hunting for recruits. In each star cluster they might have found only one or two cadets worthy to join. (page 165)

* At the end of the novel, the Hapan Navy launches “pulsemass generators” to keep the warlord’s ships in realspace, preventing them from entering hyperspace. In other novels, the Alliance/New Republic relies on maneuvering their enemies into the gravity wells of planets and stars or use Interdictor cruisers or destroyers for this purpose. If these pulsemass generators were available, why aren’t they used in other situations? Seems like a one-off.

Plot-wise, not the most impressive Star Wars novel. Luke’s character feels right, but Leia is waaaay off.

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Star Wars: We Don’t Do Weddings by Kathy Tyers

We Don’t Do Weddings is an audio dramatization based on a short story by Kathy Tyers originally published in the short story collection Tales from Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars).

The story recounts the backstory of the Bith band that plays the Cantina theme in A New Hope — how did a group that “played in the finest palladiums in the galaxy” end up in a dirty Mos Eisley Cantina? Figran D’An and the Modal Nodes had been the exclusive band for Jabba the Hutt until accepting a gig for the wedding reception for another Tatooine gangster. Normally, the band doesn’t “do weddings” because they’re too much trouble for far too few credits, but the offer this time is too good to pass up: a surprising amount of credits and free run of the sabaac tables when on break.

The dramatization is simply exceptional and the voice acting, particularly the Bith narrator (Doikk Na’ts, the fizzz player), is top notch. The audio producer liberally adds appropriate background noises, Star Wars sound effects, and soundtrack snippets to bring the story to life. Several new Modal Nodes tunes were also performed.

You may need to listen to the story several times before fully appreciating the story, but you’ll want to…. it’s THAT good.

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