Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: epic fantasy
Length: 516 pages
Publisher: Ace (June 2005)
MY RATING: 3.5 stars
Jim Butcher, known for his Dresden Files series, takes on epic fantasy in Furies of Calderon, first book in his six-part Codex Alera series. The premise: what if the Lost Roman Legion ended up in a land filled with fierce and powerful elemental spirits (think Pokemon). A thousand years before the story starts, an empire rose under the House of Gaius, that heavily resembles the early Roman Empire.
Disregarding the rather short stub of a prologue, the story begins with Amara, a spy in training, completing her last test before graduation with her mentor, Fidelias, which involves infiltrating a rebel legion camp. The military side of things is presented pretty clearly, and we immediately get a good view of how magic works in the series. Elemental spirits of different kinds called ‘furies’–wind, water, wood, metal, fire–wielded by users who are more or less gifted.
The chapters are each narrated from the point of view of a single character. Anyone familiar with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (A Game of Thrones) will catch on rather quickly. The main character is Tavi, a farm boy who is distinctive for being the only person who cannot wield furies, what Butcher calls furycrafting. He instead relies on his wits as he navigates the wild countryside where his uncle Bernard is a minor lord of sorts. Tavi clings to the idea of finishing what he started, and his problem throughout the novel is finding the herd of goats that his uncle put him in charge of. In the meantime, he thwarts a barbarian invasion and the intrigues of rebels and a few of his uncle’s rather nasty neighbors who choose opportune times to carry on with old feuds.
It’s a bit of a rough start to an epic fantasy series, with some trip-ups here and there, but it is well worth your time if you like epic fantasy in the same vein as Martin, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and so forth. Slow to start, but there is a big finish, and anyone familiar with Butcher’s other series knows that his protagonists tend to be smart, if flawed people who solve their problems by rising above and doing something so insane that it works.
Tavi is no different, but be warned that he is not Harry Dresden (and this is not urban fantasy), Butcher’s better known protagonist. Having read the first dozen or so Dresden novels, I was delighted to see one of my favorite authors writing in such a different vein. Eddings’s influence is apparent (farm boy of murky parentage is called to adventure), but Butcher weaves a faster-paced tale than Pawn of Prophesy, and one I might add with a more satisfying ending. Yet like the Dresden books, Furies plays with familiar fantasy tropes and then turns them on their heads. The premise is familiar, but Butcher wastes no time putting them in service to the story that he wants to tell. There’s an important lesson there for aspiring fantasy writers.
The other characters are for the most part intriguing, well-developed individuals. The POV chapters are handed out rather evenly to male and female characters, and each has a part to play in the bigger story that the author is slowly teasing out. I commend Butcher for his creating a diverse cast of well-developed characters of both genders. High lords and slaves, men and women are given equal billing.
If you’re into epic fantasy, the Roman Empire, or want something to read while waiting for the next Dresden book to hit the shelves, check out Furies of Calderon. The series is complete, so it also has that going for it as well.
RESOURCES: First two chapters available here.