I’ve done quite a bit of ranting and thoughtful dissertation in the past few weeks, according to my better half. So to keep things light, I thought I would do a couple book reviews of things I have been reading in my spare time.
Up first is Furies of Calderon, the first book in the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. Jim Butcher is possibly better known for his Dresden Files series, very popular with Science Fiction/Fantasy buffs, but I thought I would try out this one first. Plus, it was only $5 at Books-a-Million. (Money talks, don’t judge me!)
I will try to avoid spoiling the book while still providing enough information to allow someone to judge if they want to try it out or not. If that leaves you with a vague sense of disappointment, I apologize — but it’s a click away for smartphone and Kindle/iPad/Nook users.
Furies of Calderon is set in a familiar, if unremarkable, land where there are few modern trappings. The country of Alera is divided up into smaller parcels called “Steadholds” and led by a “Steadholder”, who watches over his people and settles disputes, etc. After reading the second book, it becomes more clear that this fictional land is much like ancient Rome in terms of access to education and governmental hierarchy (outside of the magical powers and mystical king, of course).
However, I enjoyed the premise of this book slightly more than the average fantasy fiction I find on the bargain racks. Instead of sorcery and wizardry, we find that all the citizens of Alera have furies, which are basically elementals. Some people only have one type of fury, while others may have access to two or three (and presumably four, though they do not exist in this book). The furies are what you’d expect : air, water, fire, and earth. Each fury imbues its controller with certain abilities in varying strengths according to person, including a strange side effect that allows water furycrafters to age very slowly. (Apparently no need for bat-ox here.)
The rub of this book is one of the main characters named Tavi, who doesn’t have a fury for some reason. Throughout the book, this “condition” is treated as a disability of sorts, though he seems to compensate for it with other skills. The reason that he doesn’t have any furies is never really addressed; this irritated me somewhat, but I can only assume it is covered later on in the series.
There are many other characters and they are all developed reasonably well in this 800-plus page book. Jim Butcher has a deft hand when painting these people and their reactions to others, their environments, and the occasionally crazy or impossible situations they may find themselves in. Some of the “good guys” may be a bit more squeaky-clean than one would expect in real life, but this is a fantasy book. I am always unsurprised when my knight in shining armor acts like a knight in shining armor.
Overall, this book as an interesting plot, vivid battle and action scenes, characters with just the right amount of depth, and the ability to continue on without going stale a la some other series I will get to later. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good medieval-type setting but wants something just a little different, something not cluttered up by spell-casting, wand-carrying grey beards or outcasts who suddenly find out they have more magic than all the other people (or are a king, or part of some grand destiny… you know what I mean). Not prone to flights of fancy or complete departures from physics, this is a great book to ease into the genre as well.
And as a parting note, to those who don’t read books because they’re so darned expensive : I understand. I am that odd duck who can read lightning fast, devouring 5-6 books a week if I really have the time. My favorite trick is to hit up the physical book stores (Books-a-Million, Barnes&Noble, or even used book stores) and find things on the bargain or sale racks. For $3 to $5 each, I have picked up countless hardcovers that I normally would never have read. Most of the time I’m not disappointed — or at least not mad that I paid for it — and as a side bonus, used book stores will usually give you more trade-in value for a hardcover; you can use that to buy even more books. Don’t be afraid to grab a random title for these prices; some of my favorite books were things I just grabbed off the rack because I liked the cover art.