Saturday, 15 October 2011

Review: The Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera 1), by Jim Butcher

I had intended to buy Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, but somehow the eBook version managed to be unavailable. So, I decided to get The Furies of Calderon instead, and a very pleasant surprise it turned out to be.

The book takes place in a fictional world, where almost everyone can command one or more furies. A fury is a kind of spirit, of which there are six varieties. Fire, earth, air and water are from Western elemental mythology and metal and wood (which, if Fear Effect 2 is accurate, come from Chinese myth) round out the set. Each element has its own particular advantages (and sometimes disadvantages). Air, unsurprisingly, can help someone fly or suffocate a foe, watercrafters can heal people and have a sometimes unhelpful degree of empathic power and so on.

Anyway, without giving too much away the plot revolves around the Calderon valley (hence the title), where traitors to the Crown are seeking to deliberately incite an attack by Marat barbarians. If successful, the attack would prove the Crown to be weak and undermine the First Lord’s position.

Amara, the Crown’s agent, fights to secure the valley, aided by the capable steadholder Bernard, his sister Isana and their furyless nephew Tavi.

The plot moves at a cracking pace throughout, and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Occasionally it’s easy to see one coming, but most of them are genuinely surprising without ever falling into the hateful deus ex machina trap or seeming incredible (in a fantasy-based context).

Romance isn’t my thing in books, and there’s a little but it’s actually rather well done. There’s some light relief, though a little bit more might have helped, given the plot moves at a rapid pace and there’s plenty of conflict and violence (hurrah!).

The villain of the piece is nice and understandable rather than a cardboard cut-out cackling with two-dimensional evil, and he has a pair of engaging underlings.

In addition to the furies, the biggest difference between a wholly realistic world and the one in The Furies of Calderon are the flora and fauna. Well, the fauna, anyway. There are some terrible birds called herdbane (think chocobos on steroids plus PMS), bull-like gargants and the creepy Keepers. People are essentially as we are, but the Marat are distinctive and have their own culture and somewhat differing physiology, though they are humanoid.

I’d never heard of this Jim Butcher chap until recently when I was browsing aimlessly and stumbled across his books. A few days later, by chance, a friend recommended him. The first book’s very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to the second.

Hmm. Now I think of it, The Iron Jackal’s out on the 20th. So I might order that instead. O, the agony of choice!


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