Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon ProperTitle: Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera #1)

Author: Jim Butcher

Publisher: Ace

Publication Date: June 28th 2005

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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.

Confession: I’m a bit of a Jim Butcher fangirl.

Butcher’s “Harry Dresden” series was my introduction to the world of adult urban fantasy, one of my favourite genres. So colour me surprised when I realized that Butcher has an entire adult high fantasy series published that I had never even heard of! Obviously I had to buy ‘em, read ‘em, and love ‘em.

And boy, did I love Furies of Calderon. Set in an alternate Europe/Roman Empire called Alera, the novel is centred upon Tavi, a young boy living in a rural community. Tavi is an unusual boy for two main reasons: he is uncommonly quick-witted and unlike every other Aleran, he does not have a fury. Furies are magical spirits that aid human beings in accessing elemental power like fire, air, wood, and water. Despite his lack of a fury, Tavi proves himself to be an unquestionable force for good as he uses all of his intelligence and courage to save his home in the Calderon valley from a deadly attack.

Tavi’s adventure truly begins when he is swept off by the Marat, another cultural group occupying a nearby area. They are an indigenous people whose greatest strength lies in their ability to wage war. Although I really loved several Marat characters, the portrayal of Marat culture made me a little uncomfortable at times: narrating characters evoked a distinctly colonial racism by calling them savage, barbaric, and primitive. Thankfully Tavi’s chapters revealed a much more nuanced reality of Marat life and served to counteract the assumptions of other characters. I look forward to continued interactions between Marat and Aleran characters, particularly Kitai and Tavi, who I suspect are going to experience an enemies to lovers plot arc. My favourite!

Also working to protect the Calderon valley from attack is Amara, an agent of the First Lord of Alera who’s uncovered evidence that the impending Marat offensive is actually being coordinated by treasonous Alerans. Amara struggles to find respect in a para-military organization dominated by men, but she is propelled forward by her unwavering courage and loyalty to the crown. I liked that Amara wasn’t always the best fighter or the most knowledgeable person in the room; her fallibility made her victories that much sweeter.

Another standout character is Odiana, a mercurial woman who waffles between barely tempered insanity and striking lucidity. Her gleeful enjoyment of violence and cruelty contributes to Odiana’s deranged persona, but Butcher complicates her role as a villain by implying that her own experiences as a tortured sex-slave have made her this way. I actually found myself feeling quite sympathetic towards her, even though she was involved in treason and had previously tried to murder several of my favourite characters.

Furies of Calderon is an action-packed high fantasy thrill-ride from start to finish, featuring a young protagonist who finds courage in the face of seemingly overwhelming obstacles. The complex world-building and rich characters are particular strengths of Butcher’s first volume, and I can only predict improvements in the next installment. I personally cannot wait.

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