Furies of Calderon review

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Furies of Calderon is the first book in the traditional style fantasy series The Codex Alera by Jim Butcher. The author is mostly known for his urban fantasy novels, the Dresden Files, with wizard Harry Dresden. I have not read any Dresden Files books, mostly because I'm not a big fan of urban fantasy, but having read good comments on Butcher's high fantasy series (spanning 6 novels which are already all out), I decided to pick it up in audiobook format.

Tavi was supposed to herd the sheep. Unfortunately, while trying to get them back with his uncle Bernard, he stumbles upon a Marat scout. The barbarians coming back to the valley of Calderon forebodes ill tidings. In Bernardholt, Isana, the water-witch aunt of Tavi, the sole boy without a fury, is taking care of some precarious business. In the west, the cursor Amara and her mentor Fidelias are looking into a rebel army force on behalf of the First Lord of Alera, Gaius Sextus. All of their path will cross, joining them in a battle that will determine the sake of the people of Calderon and maybe that stability of all Alera.

Furies of Calderon is a typical fantasy novel set in a roman-empire era like world, with the addition of furies, beasties controlled by their crafters. If you put aside those aspects, that hopefully mostly help define the book in a unique way, you could say that the first book of the Codex Alera will appeal to fan of the old days. I mean the stories with a charming farm boy probably destined for more but with an handicap that refrain his expectations. To name a few I could say something in the line of Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn or David Eddings' The Belgariad.

Nonetheless, the furies inhabiting Alera and the different kinds of witch-crafters add some significative benefits to the story without being overused. Tavi is the best example since he is furyless but can still function well enough in this dangerous world where even the elements of a storm come alive in the form of furies. Butcher created unique beasts for most of the characters but the way the protagonists use their guardians abilities to manipulate even the feelings of others is a nice asset to the story.

Isana and her counterpart Odiana have great scenes where they use their abilities as water-witch for extreme healing, to debilitate an opponent or to communicate with someone a great distance away. Beside those two, most of the cast is also shining when driven to extreme and finding ways to use their skills to eliminate a threat in a world full of betrayals (but not that much surprises...). The only people ineffectively exploited are the Marat, aside from an episode where Tavi and a Marat youth try to extract some special mushrooms from a valley infested with spider like creatures.

Unfortunately, I struggled hard with one part of the book. On two close events, an assault against a fortified city is depicted with too much details and for an overly long period of time in comparison with the rest of the story. Moreover, one of the main protagonist, completely disappear for several chapters even though his PoV was one of the most recurring and captivating. There's really a big problem of synchronization between his storyline and the others, resulting in a missed alternation of characters PoV, drowning the hype that could have been generated during the most important part of the tale.

Satisfyingly, Butcher writing is flowing nicely with a special attention to the thinking process of his characters. They contemplate the situations and take the time to speak about it. It slows the pace a bit but still, I appreciated the author skills. Regrettably, some villains (I think it's fair to call them that even though Butcher tried and mostly succeeded in explaining their motives and making them believable) have the bad habit of talking about their plans and deeds instead of simply giving the final blow.

Just a last comment about the ending. Have I mentioned that the book is traditional fantasy? Well the ending is kind of traditional too. The best comparison I can come up with is Star Wars : The Last Hope. It's nice sometimes to watch the protagonists receive honors in front of some glorious leader!

Technically, I found the Orbit books cover to be pretty generic and the Ace Books (second one) cover to be simply ugly. The physical book stands at 512 pages and the audiobook is close to 20 hours in length. It's read by Kate Reading, who I grew to love as the feminine part of the Wheel of Time audiobooks. After a couple of chapters, I was able to finally completely let go from a weird WoT feeling, and I enjoyed Kate reading (sorry bad pun) quite thoroughly.

Furies of Calderon review score :

Characterization............. 7.5 /10
World building............... 7 / 10
Magic system................. 8.5 /10
Story.............................. 7 / 10
Writing........................... 7.5 / 10

Overall (not an average) 7.5 / 10


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