Series: Codex Alera #1
Published by Ace on June 28th 2005
For a thousand years, the people of Alera have united against the aggressive and threatening races that inhabit the world, using their unique bond with the furies - elementals of earth, air, fire, water, and metal. But now, Gaius Sextus, First Lord of Alera, grows old and lacks an heir. Ambitious High Lords plot and maneuver to place their Houses in positions of power, and a war of succession looms on the horizon." "Far from city politics in the Calderon Valley, the boy Tavi struggles with his lack of furycrafting. At fifteen, he has no wind fury to help him fly, no fire fury to light his lamps. Yet as the Alerans' most savage enemy - the Marat - return to the Valley, he will discover that his destiny is much greater than he could ever imagine." Caught in a storm of deadly wind furies, Tavi saves the life of a runaway slave named Amara. But she is actually a spy for Gaius Sextus, sent to the Valley to gather intelligence on traitors to the Crown, who may be in league with the barbaric Marat horde. And when the Valley erupts in chaos - when rebels war with loyalists and furies clash with furies - Amara will find Tavi's courage and resourcefulness to be a power greater than any fury - one that could turn the tides of war.
This review pertains not only to Furies of Calderon, but will speak to the strengths of the series as a whole – without revealing too much, of course. I started the Codex Alera series with minimal expectations. It’s been a long while since I’ve indulged in a fantasy series because I was beginning to find a lot of them to be formulaic and a little trite. So I was pleasantly surprised when I ripped through Furies of Calderon in a matter of days.
Tavi of Calderon is a simple country boy, living on the easternmost reaches of Alera with his steadholder aunt and uncle, and their charges. Most people in Alera have a cursory command of what they call “furies” – earth, air, fire, water, wood, and metal elementals, capable of manipulating the world around them. Tavi is 15 and still furyless – but as political sedition and an encroaching warrior tribe draw his family into the action, he finds out he is capable of more than he thinks.
In this first book, the characters are largely the typical fantasy-character archetypes: plucky hero, strong and silent protector, emotionally intelligent and secretly powerful woman, vs. sneaky traitor, skilled mercenary, and his doting evil mistress. It is very much “good” vs “evil” and characters have little moral complexity and very few character flaws. Still, they are relatable and well written, and the story moves us along enough to compensate for this problem. As the series progresses, we learn more about our cast of characters and the world they live in, which allows for a broader scope and more complex issues and development. The early books have a touch of romance to keep readers engaged (I felt a bit silly that this trick worked on me, I guess I’m only human), but by the last installments we are so wrapped up in Tavi, Alera, and the fate of the world that romance essentially ceases to exist.
If there’s one thing the author is good at, it’s writing action. Even the political and military discussions are filled with plot turns and twists and keeps the reader desperate to find out what happens next. Throughout the series our heroes are written into corners so deep you think everyone is done for – and then something unexpected swoops in and saves the day. Jim Butcher has also done his research into military tactics, as Alera uses a military force like the Roman Legions. While this hits its stride in the third novel of the series, even Furies of Calderon finishes with a massive battle for control of the Calderon Valley, and the reader sees every minute of it – the planning and subsequent panic of the characters, the bloody, visceral aftermath – Butcher gives us every grisly detail. While in some instances (especially in the first book) he gets a little too caught up in revealing a character’s entire train of thought, this can be forgiven as it allows us to follow the whirlwind of the next fight that much closer.
Butcher is best known for the Dresden Files series (you can read our review of Storm Front (here), but this lesser-known universe satisfies both the skeptical adult in me and the idealist, fantasy-loving teenager that I thought had vanished some time ago. There are plenty of flaws to pick at and I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes a number of times while reading Furies of Calderon. But Alera and its characters are engaging and well-crafted, and the pacing of the novels is outstanding. If you’re looking to keep the dull moments at bay, I’d suggest putting the Codex Alera series on your reading list.
Fun fact: Rumors abound in the blogosphere that Jim Butcher started this series on a bet – that successful writing depends on having relatable characters and that he could write a successful series based on any premise his friends came up with. The material? Roman legions and Pokémon.