Ace, 2004, 688 pages
Available in hardback, paperback, e-book and audio book formats
Take Amara, for example. She’s on a mission to find gather intelligence about a rebel group trying to overthrow the king—or as he’s called in this case, the First Lord. But shortly into the mission, things go horribly wrong, and she finds herself fleeing for her life.
After reporting to the First Lord, she’s sent off on another mission to the Calderon Valley on the northern borders of the Aleran Empire.
Even before she arrives, things in the valley are getting interesting. A harvest festival is coming up, and that always keeps things busy, not to mention that there is a truthfinding regarding a crime scheduled as well. And fifteen-year old Tavi has lost some of his sheep, among other problems.
Young Tavi has no fury to help him. For a millennium, the people of Alera have had bonded with the elemental spirits of water, fire, wind, earth, and metal. At fifteen, Tavi should have a fury but has none.
As Tavi and his Uncle Bernard go looking for the sheep, they discover something else more frightening: a Marat scout and his warbirds. The Marat are the mortal enemies of the Alerans, and before Tavi was born, a fierce battle was fought there in the Calderon Valley against the Marat. The Alerans pushed the Marat back, but the cost, including the life of the First Lord’s only son, was high. Everyone thought they’d learned their lesson. But now the sheep are forgotten as Tavi and his uncle realize they must warn the local legion Garrison of their discovery and the impending attack.
Amara arrives in the middle of a fierce storm as Tavi and his uncle are hurrying back to their hold. Tavi, hearing her call for help, goes to answer. And those are just the first sixty pages or so. Things get even busier from there.
“Furies of Calderon” comes from Jim Butcher, author of “The Dresden Files” featuring Harry Dresden, the only wizard you can find in Chicago’s Yellow Pages. His wizard’s staff is a hockey stick. Syfy unsuccessfully tried turning “The Dresden Files” into a series. I think it could have worked, but that’s in the past.
Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series, of which “Furies of Calderon” is the first installment, is a deliberate change from Harry Dresden. While “The Dresden Files” is set in modern-day Chicago, with Dresden having a smart mouth and an even smarter mouthed spirit sidekick by the name of “Bob,” “Furies of Calderon” is set in a completely different world. Butcher never names the world, but he’s created a rich one here, populated by real people, with the furies and both local and empire-wide troubles.
Even the antagonists in “Furies of Calderon” aren’t portrayed in a one-dimensional way. The chief agitator on the Aleran side has his reasons and, although he’s often shown to be brutal and calculating, he’s not fully evil. However, one of his co-conspirators does get close to being one-dimensional at times.
The Marat are a deadly menace with practices that truly curl your hair and toes, but even among them there is honor, and the Marat are willing to avoid battle, if possible.
In my research, the scuttlebutt surrounding Butcher’s “Codex Alera” series is that he wrote these after someone challenged him to write a series using two things he hates most in the world of science fiction and fantasy: the lost Roman legion and Pokemon.
Butcher does a fantastic job at making these things palatable. The Aleran Empire is obviously patterned after the Roman Empire, and his webpage says that he mixes the politics of ancient Rome with elemental animism, complete with a senate, centurions, and Roman-style names. And if the furies are based on Pokemon, he did a good job at hiding the connection, because I never saw it.
“Furies of Calderon” starts off with a bang and never lets up. From the beginning—when Amara is infiltrating a rebel camp—to the final battle, it’s full speed ahead, like a huge roller coaster with lots of loops.
Butcher does make a few missteps along the way. He uses one of the local problems more as a distraction at times and doesn’t tie it in completely in a way that works for me. And there are a few times when the traitor’s muscle is a little too influenced by what is happening to his girlfriend, and vice-versa.
However Tavi, Bernard, Isanna, Amara, and (spoiler alert here) even the ironically named traitor—Fidelias—are fully fleshed-out people who do the same dumb and stupid things we all do and then turn around and do really courageous things without even thinking about it. In “Furies of Calderon,” Jim Butcher gives us stupidity, selfishness, betrayal, humor, honor, self-sacrifice, and wit. It’s a great epic fantasy that stands on its own without borrowing from the usual fantasy tropes. I can’t wait to get back to the states to unpack my Jim Butcher books and read the rest of the series. Or maybe I’ll see if the Paperback Exchange here has other titles in the “Codex Alera” series.