Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher
|Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher|
|Reviewer: Amit Vyas|
|Summary: Standard Tolkien-lite fare which will please fans of the genre who want something that's fun and not too taxing.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 624||Date: May 2009|
The 'Furies' of the title refer to elemental spirits of earth, air, fire, water and metal which bond with humans and grant them magical abilities. Welcome to Alera, where all the citizens have magical powers. All except fifteen year old farm boy Tavi, a native of the Calderon valley who for some reason has been unable to create any bonds with an elemental.
While out in the valleys with his uncle searching for a lost sheep, Tavi inadvertently uncovers the presence of a Marat in Calderon valley. A race of wild men who lack the ability to control Furies, the Marat instead possess an affinity to bond with the beasts of Alera. Has Tavi stumbled on the first sign of a coming Marat invasion perhaps?
Elsewhere in the kingdom Amara, a Cursor spy on behalf of the state, is on a mission to expose a possible uprising against the Aleran ruler Gaius. The mission predictably does not go according to plan and Amara manages to escape with an inordinate amount of luck. Gaius dispatches her to Calderon to secure a march against the rebels.
Does Tavi's lack of powers portend a greater destiny in store for him? He's the clichéd orphan farm boy - of course it does! Are the twists of fate going to fling Tavi and Amara together and force them to work together to achieve their goals? Undoubtedly. Never has fate seemed so entirely predictable.
The opening chapters drive the plot forward at a snappy pace but the clunking predictability of the set up made the initial 150 pages or so somewhat of a chore. At the start of a chapter this reviewer found himself playing the plot forecasting game (Ah, this the chapter where such and such happens) and was disappointed to be proven right. When the workings of a novel are too apparent, the enjoyment is marred somewhat. In going to see an illusionist its one thing to speculate on how the trick is performed, its quite another to see the lady escape through the trap door when she is supposed to be being sawed in half!
However despite the workmanlike opening, there were enough glimmers to keep the reader motivated to push through. Firstly the magic system opens up some intriguing possibilities, what with powers being available to all except Tavi and the Marat, even a simple conflict between two peasants might treat the reader to a spectacular battle sequence. The political ramifications are even greater. What kind of armies could be constructed, where every soldier could command powerful elemental magic? Secondly there is a fair amount of action at the start and it is handled quite competently. Not expertly mind you, but competently. Most importantly, the reader senses that there is perhaps a more nuanced tale to be told, once the set up is complete and all the characters are in place, and is prepared to handle the initial strain in order to get there.
Sure enough, once the barbarians are at the gate, the novel rattles along and provides the thrills that most fantasy readers are looking for. However several structural problems may prevent some readers from getting that far.
In the initial drive to further the plot, the author does not stop to explain the magic system. The reader is therefore left puzzled over questions such as why some magicians are stronger than others, whether Furies are intelligent beings or mere agents, and why they bond with humans in the first place. In keeping magic related to the elements, the reader can quickly get on board. At some point however the logical framework of any system of magic needs to be explained, in order to prevent it from being used as a deus ex machina device.
The author unfortunately falls right into said trap early on. In one scene magical abilities are used to bring a deceased character back to life. There was no previous indication that such a thing was within the scope of possibilities for Aleran magic users. Coming out of leftfield like that, this reviewer could not help wondering how many more times character death would be used as a source of cheap drama.
A similar weakness is the lack of detail regarding institutions other than magic. From the off we learn that Amara is a 'Cursor' who graduated from the 'Academ'. Wow a Cursor? Sounds interesting. What kind of abilities do they have? For some time all that is given by way of explanation is that they are spies who sometimes deliver messages. That's about it. Make no mistake, background detail should never overshadow story development. In this instance though, we are referring to a major character. What makes Amara's so special? Why is she worthy of her status as an agent of the Crown, compared to any other person who can use the same elemental magic that she does?
The characters are not quite cardboard plot devices but neither are they as fully realised as they could be. Minor characters in particular suffer from falling in to the trap of being stock types. Alaric the swordsman is regularly described as 'big'. The continued reference to his physique quickly became unnecessary. A few clues as to motivation and personality could have saved him from being a hollow killing machine.
Furies of Calderon is the opening book of the Codex Alera series. Not bad as such, but not particularly remarkable either. Meh as the fifteen year old farm boys of this world would say.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Check out Scar Night by Alan Campbell. Similar to Furies in that it is an example of intriguing world building with a story centred around a unique teenage boy. Different in that that it demonstrates far greater verve and originality.
You can read more book reviews or buy Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera) by Jim Butcher at Amazon.com.
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