The Alera Codex: a model for coming together in divisive times

Jim Butcher knows how to tell a cracking good story.

He also knows how to undergird it with a morality that is desperately needed in these divisive times.

furies of calderon

First, I should issue a general spoiler alert, not because I’m going to give away any particular details, but because my general observation may spoil some of the twists in his story. So you may want to stop here and read the whole series for yourself, and then come back to this post. In that case, I’ll give you a general picture before coming to my larger point.

I’m not always up for epic fantasy. I think it is one of the most difficult genres to write really well because the characters can get lost in the trappings of plot and setting. But Jim Butcher writes such believable, well-rounded characters that I immediately get caught up in their stories. Even if you think fantasy isn’t your cup of tea, I urge you to give it a try. Then get back to the rest of this post. The first book is called CALDERON’S FURY.

For those who have already read the entire series and those who are simply curious to read on, consider yourself warned of my general spoiler, the whole reason I’m prompted to write about this particular series of books at this particular time. The hero of our series is a young man named Tavy, whom we first meet as a teenager hoping to escape his rural life. Tavy doesn’t want to flee the countryside because he is bored or has no job prospects, but because in his world, where almost everyone is born with some kind of magical talent, he has absolutely none.

Throughout the series, Tavy consistently makes his way by befriending his enemies. Not all of them, to be sure, and not by giving up his values or objectives.

Rather, he unites with those he has been taught to fear and hate in the interest of working together to fight against a common enemy, for common objectives. And in so doing, they create friendships and a better world.

Not a bad model for our times.

My Novel-in-Progress

A few weeks ago, fellow Sister in Crime Alyx Morgan invited me to participate in an ongoing blog chain called “The Next Big Thing” where writers talk about their current works-in-progress. Alyx writes young adult mysteries featuring teenage Holmes-wannabe Tabitha Patterson. If that sounds like your cup of tea, check out her short stories on and Tabitha is an appealing character and the stories are loads of fun. (Note: Sisters in Crime is a group of mystery writers, not criminals!)

“The Next Big Thing” was started by blogger She Writes to help female authors promote their current work by answering a set of ten questions and then “tagging” other writers, inviting them to do the same. So, without further ado, here is my contribution:

photo by Laertes courtesy of Creative Commons

What is your working title of your book?

CHIMERA. The title is a double-edged reference, first to the French word for decorative gargoyles (chimeres: gargoyles which don’t function as downspouts). The most famous of these are the group that sits atop the gallery connecting the two towers of Notre Dame in Paris. Secondly, it refers to the notion of “chimera” as “an impossible or foolish fantasy” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1964).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
CHIMERA started as a short story for an anthology titled FISH NETS, where the story had to incorporate the idea of “fish nets” in some fashion. I wanted to set the story in Paris and started by having two fishermen discover a young woman’s body near the Seine. My main character is a priest, a “fisher of men.”
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s a mixture of urban fantasy and suspense.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I don’t always think in those terms, but one of the secondary characters is partly based on an old French film star from the black-and-white era, Jean Gabin.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A Jesuit professor’s sabbatical in Paris is disrupted when a gargoyle accosts him on the tower of Notre Dame, demanding that he investigate a young woman’s suspicious death.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
That remains to be seen. I hope to start querying agents sometime after the new year.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote it in fits and starts. The first chapter, which started out as a story for the anthology, went very quickly, in only a week or two, and then I sat on the thing for a matter of months. I realized that I really loved this universe and wanted it to become a full-length book, but wasn’t sure how to continue. The initial chapter was written in February of 2011, and bits and pieces of the story came to me over the following months, but I didn’t really sit down and start to work on it in earnest until Thanksgiving break. I finished the first draft the following May, and have since been revising it with the help of beta readers and critique partners.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s a tough one. It isn’t really quite like anything I’ve read, but I can tell you about some of the authors who have influenced this particular book. One of them is Robertson Davies. He didn’t write fantasy per se, but his books have these wonderful, almost fantastical, elements, and one of the characters in CHIMERA has a few details in his background that are a salute to one of the characters in Davies’ DEPTFORD TRILOGY.
Another element that inspired me comes from the Merrily Watkins novels of Phil Rickman: the idea of a place which focuses supernatural energies. Rickman’s novels also feature a self-doubtful member of the clergy as a main character, just as CHIMERA does.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My previous novels are all historical mysteries, and after working on them for several years, I wanted a change. I wanted something set in the present day, but something that also preserved that element of otherness which is one of the things I love about reading historical fiction. Paris is one of the most marvelous places on earth, plus it is a city that I know very well–at least parts of it. I also loved the idea of writing fantasy, but it wasn’t until I wrote the story for FISH NETS that all of these things came together.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
If you’re curious to know what the gargoyles on Notre Dame get up to when nobody’s looking and what happens when one of them recruits a doubting-Thomas priest to join their battle against an evil demon who has risen from the city’s ancient past, I think you’ll enjoy CHIMERA.
And here are the writers I tagged
Please tune into their blogs the week of November 5-9
Judith Starkson writes historical fiction.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Thurs. Nov. 8
Stacy Juba writes adult murder mysteries and contemporary romance fiction as well as books for young adults and children.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Wed. Nov. 7
Edith Maxwell writes mysteries. Her first novel, Speaking of Murder, is published by Barking Rain Press. A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die, the first in the cozy Local Foods Mystery series, will be published by Kensington in May, 2013.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Mon. Nov. 5
Mary Sutton writes the middle-grade fantasy
series Hero’s Sword as M.E. Sutton. She also writes mystery, including the
Laurel Highlands Mysteries, and contemporary romance as Liz Milliron.
Her “Next Best Thing” post will appear Tues. Nov. 6 


Message for the tagged authors and interested others:

Rules of the Next Big Thing
***Use this format for your post
***Answer the ten questions about your current WIP (work in progress)
***Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:
What is your working title of your book?
Where did the idea come from for the book?
What genre does your book fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

Be sure to line up your five people in advance.

Timeless by Gail Carriger : a review

Timeless (Parasol Protectorate, #5)Timeless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A delightful end to the steampunk fantasy series (though we’re promised a new series featuring the heroine’s daughter–Yay!). Vampires, werewolves, Victorian hats, oh my! New and unexpected depths are given to some of our favorite secondary characters and Alexia’s 2-year-old daughter gives rise to some of the funniest moments in this Woodhouse-meets-vampires world.

Ms. Carriger finishes the series with a bang: the best yet. Wonderful job of wrapping it up, yet leaving enough so that we’re anticipating the continuation of the new series (set in the same alternate universe). Though still retaining its light-hearted tone, TIMELESS also touches deeper issues in a heartfelt way.

View all my reviews

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