Jim Butcher is best known for his bestselling urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. In 2005, Butcher decided to expand his writing tool belt and released the first book of the epic fantasy Codex Alera series, Furies of Calderon.
Furies of Calderon takes place in a land known as Alera, ruled by the First Lord (emperor) and his various underlings. What makes the denizens of Alera unique is the fact that they have access to a magic known as fury-crafting, which allows them to control earth, fire, air, and water. Tavi, a sheepherder, strives to come to terms with his lack of fury-crafting. While Tavi deals with his lack of fury-crafting, a rebel army is being raised to wrestle Alera from the First Lord.
A twist on traditional magic
As any long time fantasy reader knows, many authors use some form of the standard earth, fire, water, and air magic formula. Furies of Calderon uses this formula in a truly novel way. As noted earlier, Alerans use a form of magic known as fury-crafting, which means they can control various creatures, similar to Pokémon, to augment their powers. For example, one character has a fury that controls the wind, allowing her to fly.
The most fascinating part of the magic system is that each element gives the user a secondary effect: water users can feel people’s emotions, earth users can increase other people’s emotions, etc. Fury-crafting spices up every portion of the book, especially the battles. In every battle, generals have to take in a litany of information regarding various fury-crafters, and the bouts are extremely dynamic and unpredictable. This was best shown when a character uses air-crafting to fling back a few pots with flammable material. Butcher’s magic system may not be as interesting as some of Brandon Sanderson’s, but it definitely should not be ignored.
A Roman inspired world
From the use of spears, armors, and helmets, it is clear the Furies of Calderon was based heavily on Roman mythos. Since this is the first book in a series, the reader is not introduced to that much, but it is enough to be sated. The most interesting bit of world building is the “barbarians”—I use that word in the loosest sense—known as the marats. The marats have some standard barbarian characteristics, such as honor based killing, but do not let that first impression fool you. The defining feature of the marats is their infectious humor that will have you chuckling a fair amount.
The furyless main character
The cast of Furies of Calderon is fleshed out decently, but there is one character that stands out: Tavi. As noted earlier, Tavi is a young sheepherder who cannot use fury-crafting. His lack of fury-crafting compels people to take pity on him or call him sort of freak. Although Tavi does not have fury-crafting, he is courageous and is willing to go to great lengths to save those close to him. It is fascinating to see a clever twist on the farm boy story. Instead of being an all-powerful farm boy, Tavi just has his wit, which is a weapon in itself.
Two dimensional characters
If I had to find one fault in Furies of Calderon, it would be in how good or evil the characters are. The characters on the good side are extraordinarily good to the point of nausea, while the bad characters are malignant at times. One of the only exceptions to this rule is a character known as Fidelias who has a bit of a Machiavellian flair about him. I am certain that this dearth of moral ambiguity will be fixed as the series progresses, but it was a bit grating in this book.
Why should you read this book?
I have already heaped quite a bit of praise on Furies of Calderon, and what follows is a summation of this praise. If you are looking for a novel with a clever magic system, a well thought out world, and a courageous main character, you should read Furies of Calderon. I personally cannot wait to read the second entry in this series.