Since I had to request the first couple of books in the Dresden Files series from the library, I picked up another Jim Butcher opus to read in the meantime: Furies of Calderon: Book One of the Codex Alera. This is the book Butcher always wanted to write – a swords-and-sorcery fantasy – but had to bide his time and hone his craft on urban fantasy first.
The land of Alera teems with life. There are the civilized people, feudal and agrarian, ultimately ruled by a First Lord but most of whom live out their lives in isolated, independent holds; and there are the savages, lurking at the borderlands, from whom the civilized people must be protected. The Alerans have special bonds with the “furies,” elemental spirits of air, water, fire, earth, wood and metal who imbue their human partners with superhuman powers. The stronger the fury, the more powerful the individual. So when young Tavi, a fifteen year old would-be shepherd in the Calderon valley, fails to bond with any furies whatsoever, he must endure scorn and ridicule, and learn to fend for himself. It’s a good thing Tavi is clever and quick because there are plots afoot in Alera, political machinations that threaten to disrupt the existing peace, and the rise of invading hordes. Tavi befriends Amara, a Cursor (warrior messenger) in the service of the First Lord, who, loyal to the core, is trying to protect her land and her Lord despite being betrayed and beaten down at every turn.
This is pretty standard, although well-written and carefully plotted, traditional fantasy fare. There are sword fights and pitched battles and Healing of wicked wounds. There are not-human beasties – direwolves and gargants (woolly mammoth-ish pack animals) and herdbanes (evil, aggressive pseudo-ostriches) and giant, poisonous spiders. There are quests and redemptions and lost heroes and fair women with secrets. The enthusiastic book jacket blurbs compare Furies of Calderon to Tolkien; Butcher’s work is not nearly as weighty as Tolkien’s, but it brings the reader into an exciting, interesting new world. It starts off with a bang and keeps building from there – I even admit to staying up ‘til midnight to finish the last couple of chapters.
I do have one very minor quibble with the book and that is with respect to Butcher’s naming conventions. Most of the characters have standard-issue fantasy names – Fidelias, Isana, Beritte, Doroga, etc. – but a few are more plebian, like Bernard, Fred and Otto. I found this jarring and strange. Other than that minor point, however, the Codex Alera has gotten off to a strong start and I will be checking in on them again to see how the series progresses.
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