Monday 29 November 2010

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher

Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher is the second novel in the Codex Alera sequence, featuring Tavi, a young man who has been taken under the wing of the First Lord of Alera and provided with sponsorship so that he can train as a Cursor. In the course of this book, the Alerans discover the threat of the Vord, a race of shapeshifters governed by queens who aim to destroy all life in Alera. Tavi discovers that his lack of furycrafting (the ability to manipulate natural forces) is a boon in the fight against the Vord, and he steps to the fore to try and push them back.

Ugh, well, that summary took me around twenty minutes to write. Strikes me I don't want to be writing this review. Not because I didn't enjoy the book - in fact, I romped through it and immediately picked up the third book in the series. I like my high fantasy heroism, but this novel prompted me to ask the question on Twitter: "Should I write a review of individual books in a series or just provide a wrap up of the entire series?" Fact is, this review will read much like the first in the series (which can be found here).

Academ's Fury is heavier on the political intrigue and moves much of the action to the city of Alera. There is more romance and more heroism. But there is also a greater feeling of D&D to this one - it feels like a mission written by a games master for a group of role players. For instance, the Vord came mostly out of nowhere - we sort of saw them in the first novel, but they were just called the croach or wax spiders. Suddenly in this book, they are the Vord and they have the capability of destroying all life. The fact that the Marat (eternal foes of the Vord) didn't recognise the Vord in the first novel is explained away glibly by the fact that they are shapeshifters and therefore unrecognisable. I found all of this completely unsatisfying.

The characterisation is again the greatest part of Jim Butcher's writing. I loved the gentle romance between Amara and Bernard, and Kitai the Marat maiden is inspired - a sort of blend of Aviendha from the Wheel of Time series and Arya from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tavi is a very likeable hero indeed.

But with that said, this novel felt more "empty" than the first. The cliches were definitely cliches, rather than fantasy tropes used well. Kid with lack of powers finds a way to defeat his enemies; woman decides to work with the enemy faction to protect her family, even though she despises them; heroes save the day in the end. It felt very light and, although I'm not looking for gritty, I wanted more depth than this.

Ha, I've just discovered why I should be writing this review - in the process of writing it, I've found out that I actually didn't like it as much as Furies of Calderon, which opened the series. I still enjoyed a great deal about it - the furycrafting, the female characters (who are as gutsy, sly and interesting as the men), the Marat race and the Canin (which sort of remind me of the jackal-headed warriors from Ancient Egypt). Speaking of that, I also liked the soft world-building which borrows greatly from ancient civilisations such as the Romans in the form of legionares. But I struggled against the easy nature of it - the fact that I knew people wouldn't die, the fact that everyone essential would be rescued from peril in the nick of time. There was little tension or drama due to this, and therefore Academ's Fury had little impact.

Consider this a mixed review. If you read and enjoy Furies of Calderon, you will end up reading this book. It is doubtful, however, that you will be able to remember many individual details soon after the reading process. (And my conclusion is that I always need to write reviews in order to make sense of how I really feel about a book!)


  1. Admittedly, I've not read it, so I can't say as to whether it was pulled off well or not and this isn't a dig at your review, but rather genuine curiosity...

    ...but isn't a kid without powers in a world that's past him supposed to overcome his problems some way? Isn't that basically the story? It seems like complaining that a kid solves problems is like complaining that a story progresses.

  2. No, fair comment, Sam, but it seems as thought the character growth and development from being a kid without powers in a world where they exist came to a screeching halt in this book. In the first novel and so far in the third (which I'm about halfway through already) the character progression is there and you can feel Tavi having to change and adapt. In the second novel it was just all 'woe is me' and then 'but I can still beat people - huzzah!' It didn't feel as if it went anywhere.

  3. I can dig on that. When people overcome without reason or adversity, it's kind of silly.

  4. I really want to read this series. I've read some great reviews on it. This review, while it seemed obviously hard for you to write, actually served to peak my interest in the series. Too bad about the cliche's, though.

    Great review!