Jim Butcher is the author of one of my personal favourite series of books, the Dresden Files, and he decided to branch out a little with his relatively(well, here in South Africa. Sad, hey?) new Codex: Alera series of which ‘Furies of Calderon’ is the first installment.
It tells the story of an Empire, with an aging and childless Emperor, under threat of a covert hostile takeover in an attempt to avoid complete civil war (and that’s as much as I’m going to spoil there). This involves traitors, loyal servants, friends, subjects and arch-enemies and all mixes into a delightfully intricate weave of events.
It’s fantasy so obviously there have to be different races as well as a new(at least to me) concept of magic. Butcher introduces something called Furies – earth, fire, wind, water, wood and metal are all introduced – , which are basically elemental beings that bond with Alerans to an extent. The Alerans are then able to utilise the Furies to manipulate the world – known as crafting. The different Furies obviously have different strengths and weaknesses and each one offers different unique – for lack of a better word – powers. This has some effect to the roles that people play in society – especially in military and combat. Metal crafters are generally your best swordsmen; water crafters are healers; earth crafters are good at fortifying defenses and so on. What I find really great about it is that almost all Aleran’s have at least one Fury. Magic is not some esoteric concept that no one really knows, everyone knows it and just about everyone can use at least some part of it – some people obviously better and stronger than others.
Butcher also steps away from his first-person style in the Dresden Files to a third-person style and then writes sections with different characters as the focus. This means that you get different snippets of the plot from different perspectives as the book progresses, but more importantly to me is that Butcher can focus on one or two characters per section and build each of them separately and without the bias of a “main” character. I’m not saying one style is better than the other, I’m saying that they’re different and that it’s a nice change.
A mark of a good novel to me is that you have deep characters with traits, stories, descriptions, mannerisms and all sorts of other things. Butcher did that extremely well in Dresden Files, and does a repeat performance with an added one-up in ‘Furies of Calderon’. The characters have histories and motives that drove them to the present point and they have proper reasoning for making decisions that are sometimes black and white but are mostly just various shades of grey. They’re well thought out and well written, from the young boy Tavi to the older, wiser, Fidelias, and the book deserves praise for that reason alone.
All in all, I loved it. It’s a different direction for Jim Butcher and it’s well executed and well rounded. I’ve already started on the next one, but I have my work cut out to catch up with the already six-book series.