Friday, 14 August 2009

‘Furies of Calderon’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit/Ace)


In the same way as Nate Kenyon (see yesterday’s post), Jim Butcher was known around these parts as a ‘one genre man’; namely Urban Fantasy with his hard bitten wizard for hire Harry Dresden. Shows how wrong I was...
It wasn’t so long ago that I heard of a new fantasy series (the ‘Codex Alera’) by none other than... Jim Butcher. It wasn’t as new as I’d thought either as it’s been going for quite a while in the US. I haven’t read all of the ‘Dresden Files’ but I like what I have read so I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I checked this new series out. I finally got the chance, a couple of weeks ago, when I took ‘Furies of Calderon’ on our camping trip. If this first book is anything to go by then there are fun times ahead, I’m already planning to read the rest of the book based on what I found here...

The people of Alera are at one with the elements to the extent where they can call upon the ‘Furies’ (of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Metal) to help them in their daily lives. All except Tavi, his life in the Calderon Valley is a constant torture of learning to survive without the powers that other people take for granted.
All that is about to change though. A spy has come to Calderon Valley looking to find the connection between traitors to the crown and the steadily encroaching hordes of Marat barbarians. That connection is all too obvious once full scale war breaks out and Tavi is caught squarely in the middle. With no Furies to command, Tavi has had to develop other skills of his own but will these be enough to protect himself and his family?

When I first read the blurb, on the back, I found myself cringing at the thought of reading another book about a lowly teenage boy who fulfils the potential that he never even knew he had. It feels like I’ve read far too much of this! I should have had a little more faith in the author though; Butcher has never given Dresden an easy ride and he’s not about to do that for Tavi either (at least not yet, there are a few more books to go before we find out what ultimately happens to this unlikely hero). And Tavi really is an unlikely hero... He’s already at a distinct disadvantage, due to his lack of Furycrafting ability, but this only seems to spur him on to try even harder. I also found him to be a likeable kind of guy and this made it easier for me to keep reading. Tavi wasn’t the only likeable character in this respect; Amara, Bernard and Isana are also very easy to get caught up in and even the villains of the piece are written in such a way that you end up wanting to know more about them. Aldrick and Odiana are an intriguing couple and I’m hoping that we will get to see more of them in later books.



Furycrafting is to all intents and purposes the book’s magic system even though there’s no real magic involved at all. There’s more of an elemental thing going on here and this made for a refreshing slant as far as I was concerned. The same deal went for the background setting, a mixture of ‘Roman Empire-esque’ and frontier living. I’ve never really seen this source mined, for fantasy literature, (although this may merely confirm that I haven’t read as much fantasy as I like to think, can anyone point me at books that I have missed in this regard?) and the end result was that I found myself reading more just to see what Butcher did with the material. It was all good; Butcher paints a convincing landscape that’s a pleasure to spend time in.

These are rough and ready characters so anyone expecting a fantasy tale that’s more involved (I’m thinking Bakker, Erikson etc) than the norm is likely to be disappointed. What you do get though is a story that rips along at a ferocious pace and takes no prisoners. Butcher writes a mean battle scene that had me completely gripped and the chapter with the ‘Keepers’ shows that Butcher is also able to effortlessly switch gear between scenes of war and those of creeping dread where you can be a second away from death and not even know it...

‘Furies of Calderon’ was one of those books where the pages flew by and I was glad that it was raining because it meant I could keep on reading. If this book is anything to go by then I’m in for a real treat!

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

(‘Furies of Calderon’ is published by Orbit in the UK and Ace in the US)

9 comments:

Iain said...

Graeme,

I totally agree with you about this book. I had high expectations as I am big fan of his Dresden Files novels, but Jim Butcher has really knocked his fantasy debut out of the park with Furies of Calderon.

As I got nearer the end the pages flew past in a whirl. A great start to a series, great magic system, a host of sympathetic, well realised characters and a real sense of adventure.

A good old fashioned fun read.

simon_hyde said...

I've picked this up a couple of times and dismissed it, I think a trip to the library is in order!

Icarus said...

Keep reading. The Codex books, and his writing get even better!

Becky said...

I know what you mean by judging the book before actually reading it. Recently I read "Rumer & Qix: The Race to Terra Incognita," by Kathleen S. Wilson, and found myself being a little skeptical at first. I hadn't ever read a Kathleen S. Wilson book before. However I decided to give it a chance. Wow was I pleasantly surprised. I found this author to be extremely talented- she made the book extremely exciting and imaginative!

ediFanoB said...

Like you I haven't read all Dresden novels. I read about the 'Codex Alera' series before but I was still indecisive whether to add it to my list or not.
But your excellent review gave me enough arguments to give "Furies of Calderon" a try. The only thing I need now is a copy of the book. Will look at my monthly to buy lists in order to find a place.

gaby317 said...

Graeme,

Excellent review! I love this series and am so glad that you enjoy it as well.

Tim Curtiss said...

Good book, but why no maps?

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the previous commenters that this book is a good read. The Furies idea is interesting and original. However, I was really bothered by all the spelling and grammatical mistakes that this author made: using"lead" when it should be "led," for example. And his writing is awkward in places--as when he talks about "the trod" of the horses. "Trod" is a verb, not a noun! You would hope that Butcher's editor would catch these mistakes. Obviously not!

Anonymous said...

Anon, on the chance you look back here a year later, find yourself a good dictionary and look up trod, you uneducated oaf. Invest in one before making ignorant comments. :) One can only hope you were trying to be ironic or something, somehow i doubt it, you probably just fail at the english language. Thank god you're not an editor.