Sunday, April 7, 2013

Captain's Fury

Captain's Fury
by Jim Butcher
Recommended Ages: 14+

Face it, you're going to be confused about the titles of the "Codex Alera" books. Book 3 was titled Cursor's Fury, though after about the first quarter of it, the young furyless cursor Tavi had risen to the rank of Captain of the First Aleran Legion. To be sure, he was still an undercover agent (cursor) of the First Lord of Alera, reporting to his lord about the loyalties of the legion's officers under the made-up name Rufus Scipio, as they stood off against the wolflike Canim invaders. But his mission as crown cursor went on hold from the moment the magic of the Canim ritualists wiped out his superior officers, forcing "Scipio" to take command and hold the city of Elinarch. Now, two years later, Captain's Fury picks up the plot-line just in time for Tavi to be relieved from his command and move beyond his role as captain. And though Book 5 is titled Princeps' Fury, it is in this book that Tavi is first recognized as the Princeps—i.e., the First Lord's grandson and heir, rightly named Gaius Octavian. If I just surprised you, you've missed a lot and should go back to Cursor's Fury before reading any further. Spoilers ahead!

As this book begins, Tavi has earned the hero-worship of his men after holding the Elinarch for two years against a vastly superior number of Canim. But there are some in the realm who are threatened by the young captain, especially those who have guessed who he really is. One of those people is Lady Aquitaine, who has so far supported the First Lord's war against the rebellion of Lord Kalare, but only because she intends to see her husband succeed Gaius Sextus on the throne. Thus motivated, Lady Aquitaine plants one of her puppets in command of two Senatorial Legions and sends them to reinforce the First Aleran. Senator Arnos, who makes up in deviousness and viciousness what he lacks in military skill, supercedes "Captain Scipio" in command of the Aleran forces and immediately orders an offensive, regardless of the cost in lives. His second order of business is to maneuver Tavi into getting himself arrested for treason.

Soon Lady Aquitaine, eager to eliminate any threat to her husband's ambition, instructs Arnos to do away with both Tavi and his next-in-command, a high lord's son who is loyal to Tavi. But while Arnos is busy committing atrocities against the freed slaves who have joined forces with the Canim, as well as steadholders who have submitted to the enemy occupation, Tavi slips away. Joined by a tight-knit group of trusted co-conspirators and a crew of scurvy sea-dogs, he makes his way back to the capital city. His mission: to spring the Canim ambassador from the most escape-proof prison ever constructed. One of the reasons it is so escape-proof is that Tavi designed it to be that way, part of his service to the First Lord. But now he has to break into it and (more seriously) out of it again, leading a ten-foot-tall wolf-man. Managing all this will require all the metal-craft of his fencing instructor and personal bodyguard, the burglary skills of his barbarian soulmate, the water-craft of the "aunt" he only recently learned is his mother, and the stealth expertise of his diminutive school chum Ehren. After pulling that off, all Tavi has to do is elude pursuit by Arnos' hired swords, convince a grim enemy to surrender to him when it already has the Aleran forces where it wants them, and fight a duel to the death against the deadliest swordsperson in the realm.

At least this time, I don't have to add that he needs to do all this without the ability to command the furies of wind, water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. Until recently, Tavi has had to get by without fury-craft, setting him at a disadvantage to virtually every other Aleran, which has forced him to compensate with his wits, resourcefulness, and sheer force of will. Now Tavi actually can do a few things, which gives him a certain edge—but will it be enough for him to survive?

Meanwhile, on the other front of the war that has kept Alera's legions dangerously spread out, the First Lord himself marches grimly into Lord Kalare's territory, supported only by his cursor Amara and her secret husband Count Bernard (Tavi's uncle). His task is to prevent Kalare from unleashing one of the Great Furies on the legions approaching his capital city. No one can do this but Gaius, the most powerful fury-crafter in the realm. But the catch is: Gaius cannot do any crafting until he is within sight of the mountain overlooking the city of Kalare. If he does, Kalare will instantly know his position, and it will be hard enough getting through the forests, swamps, and wildernesses of the Kalaran countryside without being attacked by the army of brainwashed fanatics known as Immortals. The elderly First Lord must therefore endure painful injuries that he cannot heal, traverse difficult terrain that he could easily fly over, hide from mercenaries and sentries and expert trackers without using his own ability to cloak, and survive attacks by ferocious beasts without using furies of earth or metal to amplify his strength. So his mission will be a bitter, agonizing test of survival, even with the aid of an air-crafting cursor and a veteran legionarre who has perfected the art of survival aided by wood and earth furies. Whether that will be enough or not will be decided by a slim margin. And what happens as Gaius approaches his goal my shock you, if not turn your stomach.

It is amazing how Jim Butcher keeps bringing it: thrilling action, throbbing suspense, complex political intrigues, and ever deeper exploration of fascinating fantasy concepts. He opens up worlds within alien worlds, plays several different kinds of magic off each other, harnesses the power of a young man of tremendous audacity and hero appeal, and effortlessly leads the reader onward through unflinching descriptions of great hardship and vile evil, challenging ideas, and intricately woven lines of motivation and loyalty. By this point in the series, one cannot help but sense a terrific destiny in store for Tavi, a.k.a. Scipio, a.k.a. Octavian, and the figures around him. What more could a book lover ask for? Nothing could improve this book except—and I speak from experience—hearing the audiobook narrated by the incredible Kate Reading.

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