by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+
In Book 5 of the Codex Alera series, young Tavi of Calderon, recently outed as Gaius Octavian—the grandson of Alera's ruling First Lord Gaius Sextus, and thereby Princeps of the realm—faces a crisis in which the antagonistic races that populate his world must either come together or perish separately. At the same time, the question of who will succeed Gaius Sextus reaches a crucial climax that will only be resolved in Book 6, First Lord's Fury.
In the previous books, we have seen Tavi grow from a spirited apprentice shepherd, through being a resourceful student and a daring secret agent, up to a gifted military leader with a knack for turning enemies into allies. And for most of that time, he has had to get by on sheer nerve and out-of-the-box thinking, while suffering the unique disability (for an Aleran) of being unable to call upon the furies of earth, wind, fire, water, wood, and metal to give him powers that others take for granted. Even now, when he has begun to manifest exceptional fury-crafting talents, he may be helpless to defend himself against the jealous wiles of high lords and ladies who will do anything, betray anyone, and murder any number of people to get power for themselves. And so his grandfather sends him on a mission to get him out of the way—a mission to escort the surrendered army of Canim invaders back to its homeland.
No sooner has Tavi's fleet sailed, however, than the land begins to face its direst crisis ever. The Vord are back, spreading their wax-like Croach, feeding off every life-form they encounter, reproducing and attacking in unstoppable swarms, and annihilating anything that isn't themselves. Now they're even worse than before, thanks to high-level traitors who have given the Vord the ability to read Aleran minds and to use fury-crafting, previously available only to the Alerans. At first by stealth, and then in overwhelming force, the Vord have begun to take over the historic heartland of Alera. Their course of destruction is aimed at the imperial capital. And so the realm no longer has time to carry on its endless skirmishing with the neighboring Icemen, leave alone the Marat horde and the Canim.
While Tavi finds out how much horribly worse things are in the Cane homeland, his mother Isana challenges the Icemen to leave their border with Alera in peace. In an even more literal sense of the word "challenge," she must also risk her life to persuade the leader of the anti-Icemen forces to leave the border, period. Only with their reinforcements does the realm stand any chance against the Vord. Meanwhile, Tavi's Uncle Bernard and Bernard's wife Amara set off on an all-but-suicidal mission behind Vord lines, to spy out the secret (if there is one) of beating this terrible enemy. And Gaius Sextus makes a shocking sacrifice to slow the Vord advance, in hope that the pieces he has placed on the board will have time to move into position for an endgame that others will have to play in his stead. Whether that leaves Tavi on the road to leading the Alerans into a brave new world—or whether there will even be a world—is a matter for the next book.
My evaluation? After my reviews of the first four Codex Alera books, I hardly know what to say that will not make me sound like a broken record. This book plays out before a fantasy-world-building backdrop that will astonish you with its inventiveness, its many-faceted detail, its sense of space and of history, and its potential to generate thrilling conflicts. It teems with likeable and hateable characters, strange creatures, individual and cultural peccadilloes that make its persons and peoples come to life. And in its central character it has an admirable young man of phenomenal charisma, whose future exploits you'll be eager to witness. The only thing slowing me down is the fact that my County Library does not yet hold the audio-book version of First Lord's Fury, read by the magnificent Kate Reading. I began the series with her, and I mean to end it likewise!