Furies of Calderon is the first book in the Codex Alera sequence by Jim Butcher, best known for his urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. Here we meet Tavi, a young Aleran boy who has been orphaned and raised by his aunt and uncle. Unlike everyone else who lives in Alera, Tavi is unable to furycraft - that is, use the elemental furies to assist him in work and battle. Tavi stumbles across a plot to bring the Marat tribespeople - cannibals and mortal enemies of the Alerans - sweeping through the Calderon Valley, destroying the steadholders and moving against the First Lord of Alera. When he meets Amara - a spy and Cursor for the First Lord - he is drawn into an epic adventure, racing against time to bring help to the steadholders.
Ever since reading David Eddings, I have wondered why no other author has managed to capture the same warmth and wholesome adventure in a novel. But now I have stumbled on the Codex Alera. Perfect reading for winter's days and good family reading, besides, Jim Butcher has written high fantasy with heart and heroes.
I actually wrote a blog post concerning the use of the word cliche - since Furies of Calderon seems to be one big cliche. Orphaned boy - check. Magical system - check. Tribespeople linked to animals - check. All of these ideas have been done before. Many other authors have taken this tropes and tried to turn them upside-down in some attempt to try and avoid the word cliche. The strength of this novel is that Jim Butcher has embraced the tropes and cliches and concentrated instead on themes and characters.
The over-riding theme, which Butcher explores extremely well, is that of one person and one event making a difference. This whole novel starts because of one minor event - Tavi is asked by a young girl in the steadholding to steal her some flowers. Because of this he is unable to bring his sheep in. Because of this he and his uncle end up going out and stumbling across a Marat raiding force. Because of this Tavi encounters Amara, and is drawn into an attempt to bring word to Garrison, in order to protect the steadholders of Calderon Valley.
The theme is done extremely well - the interlocking events can all be seen to stem from that one small decision. It does lead to some occasional heavy-handed plot development, as Butcher seeks to bend all events to fit his theme, but overall he handles it effectively.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the characterisation. These are fully-fleshed and developed characters, with real motivations. They are dutiful, sulky, arrogant, sneaky, powerful, and many other attributes. We do not have the grit and shades of grey brought to characters by someone such as Steven Erikson, but there is a depth to these characters that I enjoyed. Amara and Tavi carry the story incredibly well - both of their subplots were of equal interest, and I never felt tired of reading about them.
There was a danger concerning this magic system that the characters would seem all-powerful and that their ability to manipulate furies would take away from their characterisation. They could have become empty magical constructs. So I was impressed that the fury magic system remained an entertaining side note to the plot rather than all-encompassing.
This book will not be for everyone. Some people will be unable to see beyond the cliche, or over-use of fantasy tropes. For me, though, it was a breath of fresh air in the current environment where we have swearing, and blood, and sex and realism. This is high fantasy at its very best, suitable for children and incredibly wholesome. I would equate it to apple crumble and custard *grin* Thoroughly recommended for those who hark back to David Eddings with fond memories.