Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher (Codex Alera, #1)
Furies of Calderon is sword and sorcery, political machinations and longstanding grudges, elemental familiars, interpersonal drama driving the fate of nation-states, and some really good action scenes, all kicking off one of my favorite series.
If you like high-ish fantasy stories with political machinations and elemental familiars, then this is the series for you. The action is described vividly, gruesome scenes are given an appropriate mix of description and implication, and it's the first book of a series that lives up to its start and then goes on to be even better. If you wanted to like Jim Butcher's writing, but The Dresden Files just aren't for you, try this series.
Several years after I first read it, I heard that the premise resulted from combing two disparate inspirations, Pokemon and the Lost Roman Legion. Whether or not that's true, this is a series with elemental-based creatures bonded to humans, all of whom have names of Roman derivation, who came to this place through a portal some thousand years ago... so I'm inclined to believe the internet rumor on this one.
Regardless of the inspiration behind the premise, I feel at home in this series. I love witty banter, interpersonal and national politics, and while I don't read books just for their fight scenes, I do appreciate when they're descriptive and evocative enough that I can follow the action and get a sense of the physical space the characters inhabit in the heat of battle. This sense of space starts when the book is calm and continues as things heat up, so it makes everything feel like it happened in a real place that you could visit and walk around in.
This book, in particular, needs content warnings for discussions of human trafficking, sexual assault, murder, cannibalism, and body horror of various kinds. But, to borrow language from our ratings on the podcast, these are often moderate to severe, but generally handled with care (or at least enough care). Often the depictions within the text involve someone slowly understanding the horrific implications of another character's actions (current or intended), with many of the more horrifying details either relayed flatly or heavily implied instead of described in detail. There's a lot of aftercare, and whenever it's missing, that absence itself serves a narrative purpose.
*I do feel it’s important to mention that this series canonically doesn’t take place on Earth, but there are several types of quasi-indigenous peoples in this series that are clearly inspired by real peoples. I’m not in a position to speak to whether these portrayals are insensitive or triggering, but the series does a lot of specific work to fight against the idea that they are lesser in any way. It also sets up the idea in the first place that they could be lesser, so I don’t know how much leeway the author should get for solving a situation he also created.
**After much reflection, I think that the problematic treatment of fantasy-indigenous people in this series is inextricable from the story and, as much as I personally enjoyed these books as a teenager, I don’t recommend the series.
CW for sexism, discussion of sexual assault, slavery, violence, death.
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