Were Furies of Calderon introduced us to the world and the Marat and Academ's Fury gave us a taste of the politics of Alera along with the threat of the Vord, it’s Cursor's Fury where we really shift to the military focus that defines the rest of the series.
A civil war in Alera plus an invasion by the Canim? Oy.
Furies of Calderon felt like fairly standard high fantasy. It had a Roman theme rather than the more common (in what I’ve read) Medieval European and elemental spirits for a magical theme, but it still had a fairly standard ‘farmboy saves the day through strength of character and good triumphs over evil’ sort of theme. There were hints of a wider world, but for the most part, it was a fairly self contained book.
Academ's Fury takes all that and really starts to dig into the world building and expand the scope of the conflict. Where we only had the hints of ‘weird’ in the Wax Forest, now we have a fully developed and quite frankly terrifying threat in the Vord. While it’s not the most original concept (the Borg among many many others), it’s well done here. You really get a sense for how alien the Vord are and–worst–how smart. They learn and they won’t stop until everything is Vord. Also, the Canim. Warrior wolf people. Pretty cool.
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.