Monday, August 26, 2013

First Lord's Fury

First Lord's Fury
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

Five books ago, Tavi of Calderon was an active, resourceful, good-naturedly trouble-prone farm boy whose prospects in life were dimmed by the fact that, unlike everyone else in Alera, he had absolutely no fury-craft—that is, no control over the spirits of air, water, wood, metal, earth, and fire. While others had these powers to a greater or lesser degree—and those with the most fury-craft tended to rise to the highest positions in society—Tavi couldn't even turn the lights on or off without help. Nevertheless, we watched him grow into an admirable young hero, thanks in part to the unique approach to problem-solving that his disability forced him to develop. Later on, he found out that he was the only grandson of Alera's First Lord, and that his supposed Aunt Isana was actually his mother, who had kept his identity a secret and held back his fury skills in order to protect him from ruthless rivals. As Tavi's skill as a military leader grew, so did his late-blooming fury-craft. And now, in the sixth and last book of the Codex Alera, he comes into his full power, right on time to claim his throne and save his world from a threat to its very existence.

At the end of Princeps' Fury, Tavi was in command of a fleet of ice-ships, returning to Alera from the former homeland of the wolf-man warriors known as the Canim. After forming a temporary alliance with the Canim who had previously invaded Alera, Tavi had tried to sail them home in time to fight the all-devouring, insectoid Vord. But they had arrived too late and only just escaped with the last remnant of Canim resistance.

On their return to Alera, they find the realm overrun by another Vord horde, its surviving forces massing for one last desperate defense. Only by joining forces with all their ancient enemies, changing the way warfare is waged, and beating overwhelming odds can the survivors of Alera hope to stop the Vord advance. For the forces massing in the Calderon Valley, this will mean exploiting resources that Tavi's uncle, Count Bernard, has been building up in secret over several years. At Tavi's end, it will mean finding a way to move a combined Canim and Aleran army across an entire continent at a speed never before dreamed of. When the two forces finally meet, they must face an enemy outnumbering them by thousands of times over, an enemy that fights without fear of death or instinct for self-preservation, an enemy guided by an increasingly powerful but insane Queen who is linked to Tavi in a disturbing way, and who may already be impossible to defeat. All this to save a world that, afterward, can never again be the same as it was—or, failing that, the end of everything that isn't Vord.

In the midst of huge and grisly battles, stunning displays of magical skill and ingenuity, duels, assassination attempts, political maneuvers, deceptions, betrayals, shifting allegiances, and long-simmering crises finally coming to the boil, there is somehow also room to squeeze in an interspecies love story (Tavi plus Kitai sitting in a tree, etc.), a story of personal redemption (with the interesting twist that the man is saved from crucifixion), a rival heir to the throne (who, in an interesting ambiguity, helps save the realm while threatening Tavi's claim to it), a rampaging great fury who makes the rock giants in The Hobbit look like cuddly little fellas, and the surprise return of places, things, and tactics last seen several books ago. It ties up an amazing number of plot threads and, for once, only occasionally makes one impatient to get back to Tavi's storyline. For he is an appealing character, one who holds together an uneasy alliance of (nearly) equally strong-willed people; and much of Alera's fate depends on his fate.

Though one is sorry to see the saga coming to an end, it is a most satisfying end. And to think that I wouldn't have read even the first book if I had known, at the time, that Jim Butcher (author of the Dresden Files) wrote it to prove that he could bring a brilliant story out of the collision of two stupid ideas—specifically, "lost Roman legion meets Pok√©mon." By the end, I was actually thinking how cool it would be to see an anime series based on this sextet of novels—anyone? Studio Ghibli? Anyone?—though no film production could surpass the production values of the movie that played inside my head while I listened to Kate Reading read this complete series on CD. She is awesome. Penguin Audio is awesome. Jim Butcher is awesome. And now that I've actually caught up with his published novels—for the first time ever!—I can look forward to reading his next book as soon as it becomes available. Unfortunately for fans of this series (which, alas! is over), but still good news for me, it's rumored to be a Dresden Files book titled Skin Game.

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