Furies of Calderon
The First Lord of Alera — who has no heir — is growing old, and political upheaval seems to be on the horizon. Amara, a young woman recently confirmed as a member of the First Lord’s elite ‘secret service’, finds herself caught up in the middle of the developing conflict when she unearths a plot, engineered by a traitorous Aleran lord, to bring down the First Lord by unleashing a horde of nasty, barely (or not-quite) human barbarians on the Realm. Much action, of course, ensues!
The world-building premise upon which this book (first in a series) is based is a fun one. In Alera, humans derive magical powers from special bonds with elemental beings called ‘furies’, who inhabit earth, air, fire, water, wood, and metal. The existence of the furies provides the books with much of their action sequences as well as their interest — it’s fun to watch them in action and learn about the various powers the furies give to their humans (everything from healing powers to the ability to land-surf). Butcher develops his world gradually and well, subtly revealing more about it in each chapter. His characters are also well-developed, likable, and fun to read about. And Butcher is definitely a pro at writing action scenes. Without the goofy humor that’s so central to his Dresden Files series, the action scenes in here are a bit less entertaining than Butcher’s best, but still satisfying (though the final battle got a little long for my tastes…I’m a girl, ok?). Honestly, the book was basically an action story with fairly well-done characters — it’s a bit light on plot (though there are plenty of sequels to remedy that), but still a fun read.
Morally, the book is fairly traditional high-fantasy fare — loyalty and courage are lauded, as well as dedication to duty. The central characters are refreshingly free of calculation and intrigue; though they do come across as slightly naïve, this is not portrayed as an entirely bad thing, and one gets the sense that they will mature as they develop over the course of the sequels (which I do plan to read!). As far as magic is concerned, this book is less potentially problematic than the Dresden Files, and it also shies away from the worst of the R-rated sex and violence in those books. To be honest, though, I found it a bit less charming and entertaining…I guess I missed the sarcastically self-deprecating first-person narration or something.
Content warning: This book contains some (non-pervasive) violence and gore. The nastiest pieces of violence, as well as some disturbing sexual content (having to do with rape), are not explicitly described, but enough is stated that the reader knows full well what is happening. It did make me cringe occasionally.