If you haven’t heard of this book, I’m actually reviewing the second of six books in the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher, better known for the Dresden Files series. So to be fair, I suppose I should catch you up on Furies of Calderon after a quick aside.
The Quick Aside
I really enjoyed this series that I first read back in 2010, I believe (possibly finished in 2011), but Dresden Files is what Jim Butcher’s known for. Dresden Files is about a wizard detective. The premise alone sounds fantastic. It’s well-written. It’s gritty and still fantastical. But I just have never gelled with that series as well. I’ve read four of the books, I’ve enjoyed them well enough, and I have no real urge to continue in the series. I pick up one of the books every year or so when I’m not 100% sure what I want to read. It’s a great series, but I like my books set in lands that don’t exist for the most part, it seems.
Back to the Point
Codex Alera is an interesting premise. It follows the growth of a nation based on the lost Roman legion, mixed with a sprinkling of Pokemon. For the Roman part, you have a nation, Alera, that is based heavily on Roman culture, so the armies still act as the Roman legions, and the culture is set up largely in the same manner as Rome, just more than a thousand years later. The Pokemon part is where we really delve into fantasy. There are furies in Alera that the Alerans alone can control (there are other races in this fantasy world of Carna). The furies are kind of like wild things that can be controlled, like Pokemon, though sometimes there are wild furies and could attack people, also like Pokemon. There are different types of furies (water, wind, earth, metal, and wood), like Pokemon. Each type of fury has its own distinct characteristics, like Pokemon, giving its controller either added abilities or the fury can act directly itself. Some furies are more powerful than others of the same type, and of course some people have more furies than others, you know, like leveling up in Pokemon. My Gameboy is reminiscing about the days of Pokemon Red (Charmander every time, yo). But this is where the Pokemon references will stop.
Ok, so we have the lost Roman legion centuries later and what it looks like as they populate a continent. There are high lords everywhere, and there is a first lord who is effectively the emperor, with an acting Senate. In Furies of Calderon, we are in the outskirts of Alera, which is basically the wild west. We follow a family of three: a brother (Bernard), a sister (Isana), and their nephew (Tavi) who is the son of their deceased sister.
Tavi will be our hero’s journey for the series as he deals with being the only Aleran without the ability to control furies, so he’s our outcast in the world he lives in (re: Harry Potter, Bella Swan, Tris Prior, etc.). We know he’ll be special, though not necessarily how.
Book 1, without giving too much away, deals with a high lord trying to usurp the throne by causing widespread devastation in Calderon Valley (Alera’s wild west) and how it will be thwarted by the family of three (oh come on, there are six books; of course it’s going to be thwarted).
Ok, stop reading here if you don’t want to know some of the outcomes of winning in book one.
Did we ditch the loser’s yet?
Sorry, I needed one more Pokemon reference.
Book 2 finds us two years after Book 1. Tavi is now an academ (i.e., student) thanks the first lord Gaius Sextus paying his way to thank him for being an awesome hero in book 1 (as for the weird name, the name is always Gaius followed by a number-related name; Sextus is the sixth in his line, his dead son was named Septimus, and the first one was named Primus). Bernard is now a count for his efforts, overseeing all of Calderon Valley. And Isana is now a steadholder, kind of like a rural mayor who oversees that area, the first woman in Alera to attain citizenship without having to do so through marriage.
Academ’s Fury is a much bigger book than the first in the series and is the biggest book in the series by a decent margin. The book follows multiple POV characters, which helps work through the book quickly because if you’re really interested in one character’s arc, you have to work through other arcs to get there. Tavi is still generally ourmmain hero, but we get the perspectives of a few other characters as well, all fighting for what they believe to be the right side.
One of the reasons I like rereading is that it changes perspective on a book. When I first read this one, I wasn’t as fond of it (the dreaded second book slump), though I still liked it. Ultimately, it felt like a detour story, though its detour is important for setting up the latter part of the series. This time around, I was able to appreciate it better, I think. You see groundwork being laid that you might have missed the first time around. In later parts of this book and the series, you start to make better sense of characters’ choices and it makes for a better story.
The good guys win, of course (we do have four more books to get through, after all). And after this, the cork comes off the series. Things will start to move a lot faster in the ensuing books.
The series is basically a midpoint between Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire (I’ll be damned if I’m calling the book series by anything other than its proper name). Butcher makes a more realistic view of life than Tolkien does, but he doesn’t get quite as sadistic as Martin does. That’s probably the best analysis of the series that I can give.
Keep you posted, sports fans.