Disclaimer: as you may (or may not know), I hate high fantasy with a passion. The most complaints via email I’ve received from readers is when I have eviscerated a fantasy novel in a review, saying I am “unfair” and “shouldn’t be reviewing fantasy” if I don’t like it. That being said, Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon just may have saved fantasy for me.
The book begins with a young Cursor named Amara and her teacher, Fidelias, on their way to investigate and track down a rogue band of knights. However, their disguises fail and the two are captured almost immediately. Amara is left alone in the tent while her teacher is led outside to be killed. Amara soon learns that she has been betrayed and, after secreting a dagger away from her captors, manages to escape and fly away (a Cursor is like a messenger except with the power to summon a magic element — a fury — of wind to carry them great distances). Amara realizes soon enough that she is in far over her head and flies off, struggling to find a river where she can report to the king of Alera, Gaius.
Meanwhile, a young teenager named Tavi is caught sneaking out of his house early in the morning by his uncle, Bernard. An orphan, Tavi has been raised by his aunt. Her brother, the steadholder (ruler) of Bernardholt, assists him after calmly disciplining him. As they wander out, it is made known that Tavi is Fury-less, which is a rarity in the land of Alera. As Tavi and his uncle are out, they discover that the local bully (Bittan) and his brother (Aric) and father (Kord), who is another steadholder (of Kordholt) are out, preparing to ambush a family coming to testify against them. Barnard easily dispatches them and warns them against interfering with the testimony and trial. Bittan and Kord threaten Barnard and Tavi before heading on their way. Barnard and Tavi head back out, looking for lost sheep which Tavi had been sneaking out to find before being caught. While out, they are ambushed by a Marat warrior and his two giant birds and separated. A fury-born storm breaks out, forcing the two further apart, and Tavi finds himself on the run from the Marat warrior.
Amara, meanwhile, lands near Barnardholt, exhausted from her travels and still on the run from the rogue knights. She is caught in the storm and well and, as fate would have it, stumbles into Tavi. The two stumble around until Tavi leads them to sanctuary — the Princeps Memorial, where the last heir to Alera was entombed after being slain in battle by the Marat fifteen years previous.
Butcher has something special here, without a doubt. The plot is deep, compelling, and moves the story forward at a steady pace. So unlike his Dresden Files novels, the author instead keeps everything in a third person POV while writing in a very distinct style. His characters are very believable, and you find yourself rooting for Tavi, Bernard, Amara and Isana (Tavi’s aunt) as well as the Marat warrior leader Doroga. Each one of them is very different from one another, and the difference in cultures between the Alerans and Marats makes for some very interesting interactions.
One of the best scenes in fantasy that I’ve ever written are in this book. In the scene, Tavi, who is trying to win a challenge against Doroga’s “whelp” Kitai in order to secure his freedom and prevent the Marat from overrunning the Calderon (the valley where Tavi lives), they are sneaking into the Wax Forest, a very dangerous place, in order ot secure a special mushroom that the Marat find valuable for healing purposes (among other things). Tavi, who is about to descend into the valley, suddenly realizes that his competitor is a girl and is very flustered, as any teenage boy would be upon such a startling dicovery just before a dangerous — and eadly — competition. Tavi si stammering, while Kitai simply looks on. She does not understand Tavi’s oddness towards her, and watching the two of them go at it verbally as they head into the forest — which is protected by the Keepers of Silence, a very dangerous spider-like creature — is absolutely hilarious in the midst of the terror and danger which surrounds them. This is Butcher’s strength, the humor in the face of adversity, and I am very glad to see it included in a very serious novel.
Packed with adventure, political intrigue, romance, surprises and stirring scenes, Furies of Calderon is a must-read, and one of the best fantasy books I’ve read — ever.
Definite a must-buy.
—Reviewed by Jason