Saturday, 4 December 2010
With that out of my system, let's crack on to the proper review. Cursor's Fury is the third novel in the Codex Alera sequence by Jim Butcher. We return to events following Tavi, orphaned child - or, rather, young man by this stage - as he takes up a political position within the First Aleran Legion at the request of the First Lord. Gaius intends Tavi to learn the process of legion life, while trying to keep him away from the actual fighting - the First Legion is newly created and going through a drilling process. However, events conspire against the First Lord, when Tavi gets caught up in leading the Legion against an invasion force of Canim, massive dog-like warriors with a curious code of honour. Can Tavi manage to hold the inexperienced Legion in the face of overwhelming odds until aid can be sent?
I don't really think I am revealing a big shock when I say yes, he can. These novels are not designed to present too many surprises, or dark endings - it is more the journey to the end of the book that provides pleasure and unusual events. If you have followed my reviews of this series, you will know that I deeply enjoyed the first novel, but was a little disappointed in the second. I am pleased to report that the third novel is better than both combined. Here, it seems as though Butcher finally hit his stride - he was no longer merely poking fun at fantasy cliches; rather, he was telling the tale of Tavi and doing it incredibly well.
Why did I enjoy this one more? For one reason, there was a deal more humour in this novel. We no longer had the poker-faced, quasi-serious delivery from Butcher. Instead we had the same delightful comedy moments that imbue his Dresden Files. There was one particular scene that made me laugh out loud, which is something to be treasured when reading a fantasy novel (I do find that sometimes they take themselves a little seriously!).
I also appreciated the shift in scene to the Legion. It provided excellent value in terms of relationships, new characters, and some brilliant dialogue. Having spent time so far in the Steadholt life, and then in the city of Alera, I am finding that the Legion is where Butcher does his best writing.
Butcher's prose is generally no-nonsense with flashes of pure poetry, and this was something I greatly enjoyed as well. It was surprising to me that this came mostly in the arena of romance! Butcher might well have a career as a romance author in front of him *grins*. The growing relationship between Tavi and Kitai is just beautiful - very touching moments as they hold each other before battle, and also very prosaic moments when Kitai will puncture Tavi's times of pride, just because she can.
Finally, I just want to mention that I was actually surprised by a particular reveal at the end of this novel concerning one of the characters - and that was just fine with me too. I like being surprised thanks to good writing, and this one made me want to go back through the novel to see whether I could spot any hints towards the character being more than what he seemed.
In fact, the only point of criticism I wish to make is that the novels are starting to feel a little formulaic. Not in terms of a central conflict being solved in the overall arc of the series, but more because each book has featured a main storyline, and then a subplot where some of the key protagonists end up going off on their own adventure. It allows Butcher to skip between them and create cliff-hanger endings to chapters, but it feels very artificial in this third novel. I look forward to seeing if he changes this formula in the fourth, since it is getting tired in my opinion.
Overall, though, an incredibly strong entry to the series and my favourite to this point. Butcher has created a memorable protagonist in the form of Tavi of Calderon and the fact I keep picking up the next book in the series when I really have commitments to read other novels shows, I think, how compelling these are. A highly under-rated high fantasy epic.