Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon ProperFuries of Calderon by Jim Butcher (Codex Alera #1)

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Ace on 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.

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

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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