General impression An enjoyable fantasy. Some parts of it didn’t quite work for me, but others were very captivating, so it evens out nicely. I was a bit bummed by all the concepts that were never explained (it took me a while to figure out what the Knights Aeris actually are, for example; sure, I did get that they were very good at something (combat? crafting? something else?), and that they could fly, but my (way too) analytical mind would have liked a clearer criterion to let me know exactly who is a Knight Aeris, and who isn’t. The fact that I kept confusing the concepts of Knight in general, with that of a Knight Aeris, almost all throughout the book* didn’t help matters either). Anyway, I have become quite invested in the fate of the characters (especially Tavi’s), and I am planning to read the immediate sequel sometimes soon. A thing that obviously means that, no matter how much I may be complaining about this aspect or that, overall my impression of the book was pretty positive :)
* in case anyone is wondering, a Knight in general is someone particularly skilled at crafting and combat; the Knights Aeris are a subgroup of Knights who have air furies at their command, thus being able to fly.
The kingdom of Alera is, unlike most epic fantasies, not set in a version of our world in medieval times, but in a sort of derivation of the Roman Empire times (a thing made obvious by the names and organizations present). Each of the inhabitants of this world, when approaching his/her teens, gets to control a fury, a magical creature belonging to one of six elements (earth, wind, fire, air, metal and wood). Each class comes with a set of skills: for example those who control a water fury can heal people, and also feel their emotions; the firecrafters can influence people’s moods, and so on.
Not that any of this is clearly stated in the book, as the author seems to be a proud proponent of the “show not tell” concept. There is no infodump anywhere and, while this is generally a good thing, it can be a bit confusing at times, especially when new creatures are being introduced (and especially for myself, a non-native English speaker; at one time one of the characters called to her fury to “take care of that slive”, whereas I was quite certain that whoops, there’s (yet another) word I do not know; only when I looked it up in the dictionary, without finding it, I realized it was probably yet another of the Aleran creatures that are not to be found in our world; it turned out later to be some sort of lizard). It can also border a bit on annoying at times, such as when Tavi first meets Amara, and windmanes are suddenly introduced, leaving the reader scratching his/her head wondering what that thing may be.
You shouldn’t let that last paragraph discourage you from reading the book though, because most of the time the author has managed to do a great job of gradually introducing his world, and most of the concepts are clear enough for the reader to always know what’s happening, how, and why.
The plot is fast paced and bound to keep one on the edge. There’s only one complaint I have about it: the healers. Any wound can be healed close; while this is normally a good thing, there are some situations when it becomes a bit too much. For example one character has a rope around his neck and is pushed off a wall; one would expect him to have his neck broken, but he is fine and well later on, after having been healed. And there are more examples than this one. I am of course happy to have all my characters alive at the end, and all that, but a tiny bit more believability wouldn’t have hurt. Not to mention it detracts from the enjoyment of the plot, as one roots less for a character’s well-being if the said well-being is so easily restored :)
First of all, I am quite impressed by the characters’ ability to withstand what must be tremendous amounts of pain, as everyone gets quite badly hurt at least once during the events, and is able to carry on unflinchingly. I am quite impressed by that (since most books lack the healing ability some people in this book have, most authors do not let their main characters get hurt too badly so as not to have them impaired at a crucial moment; since everyone in Alera can be fast healed of almost anything, this author is free to inflict on his characters however many wounds he wants).
The characterisation is the forte of the book, actually, as all the characters are interesting and well-written. One of my favorites was Aldrick ex Gladius, a swordmaster who reminded me of Inigo Montoya (he thirsts for revenge and he also has a catchphrase: whenever someone challenges him, he dismissively says “You’re not Araris“, as Araris Valerian is the only one who has defeated him in a duel). Then there’s also a mysterious slave called Fade, who keeps watch over Tavi, and whose behaviour shifts wildly from that of a simpleton to an useful comrade-at-arms’s, this being one of the mysteries (the how and the why of these changes) I’m most curious about.
For me, one of the most interesting relationships in the book was the one between Aldrick and Odiana. I don’t recall reading about anything similar (at least not recently): they are both cold blooded killers, and it’s somewhat unexpected to see them call each other “love”, and Odiana purring when Aldrick is around :)
Another interesting part is the way people in the book relate to their furies: once a fury has accepted a person’s call, it becomes subordinated to him/her, obeying his/her every order and so on. A fury is not only a slave though, but in most cases it also becomes sort of a friend, both it and its master caring for the other’s welfare. I would have liked a bit more details about this part of the world (how does one come into his/her furies, for example?), and I hope I will get to learn more later on.
I am in two minds about the two romances blooming in the book, as I am not sure how believable they are, as they are both a bit sudden, but I was glad to have them nevertheless. show spoiler
Thoughts on the title I love the title because of its being so very mysterious: one has no idea what furies are or where Calderon is prior to reading the book (and by the time the title starts making sense the reader’s already hooked *insert image of author gleefully rubbing his hands here* :) )
Thoughts on the ending Argh. I hated the very last page with a vengeance*, and I think the book would have been a lot better without it. Other than that, it was a nice enough ending, especially regarding Tavi (and I am very looking forward to discovering his new adventures in the next book). I was terribly disappointed that there were some mysteries in the book often hinted at but left unsolved. Oh well, let’s hope they will all be revealed in the immediate sequel.
What I liked most The origin of the series, according to the Wiki:
At a Question and Answer session at the 2010 Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Ga, Jim Butcher revealed that the origin of the Codex Alera series was a bet. Another author bet him that he could not write a good story from a bad idea. Jim replied that he would let the other author pick not one, but two bad ideas, and he would write a good story about it. The two bad ideas the other author gave him were the lost 9th Roman Legion and Pokemon.
The Pokemon being the furies, how cool is that :)
I also loved the fact that the author has taken an age-old concept and turned it on its head: we often see books populated by normal people, with one particular character having a special, magical ability that no one else has. In this book we see the exact opposite (every person but one has magical powers), and I was very pleasantly surprised by the novelty of the idea :)
What I liked least There is one particular moment in the book that didn’t make that much sense: show spoiler
Recommend it to? Everyone who enjoys fantasy series, I guess. This may not be a perfect book but it’s quite interesting nonetheless. Expect some bloodshed.
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