Apparently I last read Furies of Calderon before I started writing reviews. That was actually the second time I read it–the first time I didn’t even finish the book, putting it down. It’s something of a slow book and a bit strange. But the second time and especially once I got into the sequels, I loved it, it’s among my favorite series. This time around, I listened to it and it’s even better as an audiobook (since it just keeps right on going through the boring parts).
If you haven’t heard, the story is that Codex Alera arose out of a bar bet. Take some random topic and write a story about it. In this case, the Lost Roman Legion and Pokemon. Sounds crazy, but it kind of works. From the Roman half, you end up with essentially a Roman empire with holds and legions that have fought to tear out a land for themselves from a variety of enemies all around. From the Pokemon, you have Furies, elemental spirits of the land, sea, and air which all of the Alerans[^Tavi] have some ability to control for various tasks: the strength of an earth fury, healing with water furies, flying with air. Pretty cool.
Like I mentioned, it takes a bit to get going, especially since the main character (farm boy / ‘chosen one’ Tavi) is the one person in the entire empire without the magical powers everyone else has. He has to depend on his wits, which isn’t all that unusual in high fantasy, but it’s rare to see it done to quite such an extreme.
Other than that, the other characters are all interesting and unique. Isana loves her family to a fault and totally has some secrets going on1. Bernard is good people™ and tough enough to go head to head with the more ‘sophisticated’ city folk that don’t believe he can do what he says he can do. Amara is a young woman who’s basically a flying secret agent, betrayed by her mentor in the very first chapter.
The world building is fascinating and despite edging towards kitchen sink status, surprisingly works. It’s fascinating how real and everyday the furies are made to feel, despite being so fantastic. Conversely, the ‘alien’ bits to the world are what really makes things interesting. You have the ‘barbarian’ Marat who seem to bond with animals rather than furies and the cultural clash you’ll get there and the wax forest. It’s just so very weird compared to everything else in the world… and there’s a reason for that. I’ll just leave that at that1.
Overall, it’s probably the weakest of the series in my opinion (although it’s been long enough I don’t quite remember what falls in which of the sequels), but still a quite wonderful book. And it’s a fully completely and refreshingly different feeling fantasy series, which is always nice to see. Worth the read…
Caveat: This is definitely an adult book. There are some rather graphic descriptions of violence, frank comments about ritual cannibalism, and long sections of the book dealing with slavery and rape. It’s certainly not a book for younger readers and if anything in the above isn’t your cup of tea, to each there own–but this is probably not the series for you.
Which I guess is even more obvious on a re-read, but you have to see that even the first time around. ↩︎