Codex Alera

One nice thing about summer breaks is that I can do some catch-up on my fantasy reading.

The six-part Codex Alera of Jim Butcher is about the journey of Tavi from being a furyless orphaned shepherd boy to First Lord of the Aleran Empire. Every human being in the Aleran world has control of at least one fury, which could be one of six kinds of elementals — earth, wind, fire, water, wood, and metal — but not Tavi, apparently.

Note: Spoilers here.

Book 1: The Furies of Calderon. The first book in the series introduces all the major characters. Fifteen-year-old Tavi lives with his maiden aunt Isana and widowed uncle Bernard, powerful water and earth furycrafters, respectively. They live in Bernard’s steadholt in Calderon Valley, near the northeastern outskirts of the Aleran Empire. Beyond the valley live the “savage” Marat, who had earlier killed in battle Princeps Gaius Septimus, son of the First Lord Gaius Sextus. Because the First Lord is aging and heirless, the High Lord Attis Aquitaine and his wife, the Lady Invidia, who are second only to the First Lord in furycrafting power, seek to covertly overthrow him with the help of the traitorous cursor Fidelias, mercenaries, and one of the Marat clans, but their plans are foiled by Amara (Fidelias’ protégé, who is loyal to Sextus), Bernard, Isana, Fade (Isana’s seemingly dimwitted scar-faced servant), Tavi, Doroga (the leader of another Marat clan), and Doroga’s daughter Kitai, who becomes Tavi’s love interest. Sextus rewards their loyalty and courage by granting Tavi a scholarship to the Academy, declaring Bernard a count, making Isana the first woman steadholder, and appointing Kitai as Marat ambassador.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I read this book a couple of years ago, and gave it 3.5 stars out of 5. I found all the characters mentioned above interesting, most especially Tavi, who has to compensate for his being furyless by honing his wit and determination, and who has to learn to take in stride the fact that he is a furyless “freak” who therefore didn’t have any significant friends of his age in the steadholt. His lack of resentment can only be attributed to the unconditional love he received from Bernard and Isana. I also liked the systems of magic — Aleran furycrafting and Marat animal-bonding (as each Aleran gets control of a fury, each Marat bonds with an animal such that he can communicate with the animal and also absorb the animal’s special abilities) — and how these are developed in the book.

Book 2: Academ’s Fury. Two years after the events in Book 1, Tavi is now serving as page to the High Lord while studying to become a cursor, i.e., someone trained in the martial arts and in diplomacy, and who serves as a messenger and spy of the First Lord who, in addition to having to outmaneuver the usual traitorous Lords and Ladies of the realm, has to deal with a new problem: the Vord — insect-like shapeshifting creatures that are controlled centrally by queens and that are bent on destroying all other intelligent life forms. Tavi accidentally woke the Vord when he spilled blood on the Vord nest in the wax forest while rescuing Kitai in Book 1. The High Lord, however, falls ill, and it is left to Tavi and his family and friends (Bernard, Isana, Amara, Fade, Doroga, Kitai, and his newfound friend in the Academy, Maximus Antillus) to deal with the aforementioned problems. Being furyless, Tavi has to rely on wit (and a lot of luck), and he and his friends succeed in keeping the enemies at bay.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I also read this book a couple of years ago, and gave it 3.5 stars. Tavi continues to be an interesting character who not only has to deal with the usual problems of adolescence (being bullied at the Academy; not knowing how to deal with the lovely but strange Kitai) but also has to grapple with problems of the empire (political intrigue, civil unrest, and the Vord).

Book 3: Cursor’s Fury. About two years after the events in Book 2, Tavi and Maximus, now cursors, are sent by the First Lord for training with a newly formed ragtag legion assigned to the western reaches of the empire, far from the capital and therefore from civil strife. Sextus does this to protect Tavi, whom he learns to be Octavian, son of his son, Septimus, and Isana’s sister, who died shortly after Septimus was killed. (For fear that Tavi might be assassinated once people learn of his true identity, Isana, Tavi’s true mother, used powerful watercrafting on Tavi to prevent him from sensing and developing his extremely potent furycrafting abilities.) Across the ocean from where Tavi’s legion were lived the Canim — bipedal doglike creatures who are taller and stronger than men, and who hate men (because men hate them). Little does Sextus know that the Canim will invade the empire exactly where Tavi’s legion is at, while the High Lord of Kalare openly attacks the First Lord. Despite furylessness, Tavi manages to use his wit to lead the legion against the Canim not by subduing the enemy by force (which would have been impossible given their strength and numbers) but by befriending and learning from the Canim Ambassador, Varg, who was held prisoner, and shaming and defeating the Canim shaman that led the Canim force. As in the previous books, Tavi and his family and friends (and this time enemies, particularly the Lord and LadyAquitaine) struggle against Lord Kalare and the Canim, and prevail. In the process, Bernard and Asana wed secretly, and something blossoms between Isana and Fade while Isana tries to heal Fade, who sustained a fatal injury fighting against Kalare. Fade turns out to be Araris Valerian, Alera’s greatest swordsman, who defaced himself when he could not save Septimus, his liege and friend.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I read this book last summer (i.e., in the summer of 2010) and gave it 4.5 stars out of 5. This is for me the most moving of the six Codex books. I was cheering as Tavi learned to fight without furies and using his wits alone against the Canim invaders as well as traitorous Lords and Ladies and their minions, as he inspired and transformed a ragtag group of losers (including the ex-mercenary Marcus) to become a powerful and efficient legion, and as he repeatedly showed his willingness to die for the sake his legion and his land, where the people he loved lived. This is the book which, for me, contains the best characterization of Tavi. After this book, Tavi’s character would become less and less interesting, despite his gaining more and more furycrafting abilities.

Book 4: Captain’s Fury. About two years after the events in Book 3, Tavi, now beloved captain of his legion, learns of his parentage. At the same time, however, he is removed from the leadership of his legion by Senator Arnos, chairman of the war committee and a pawn of InvidiaAquitaine, for treason, apparently because Tavi, instead of leading the annihilation of all Canim in Alera, struck a bargain with the Canim war captain Nasaug. The bargain was that Tavi would free the Canim Ambassador, Varg, and in return, the Canim would return to their land. (Tavi realized that the Canim did not really want to stay in Alera but wanted to return to their land. Unfortunately, the Canim shaman who led them to Alera burned all their ships.) After Tavi and Varg escape from prison, Tavi announces that he is Gaius Octavian, son of Gaius Septimus and heir to Sextus, and challenges Arnos to Juris Macto. Invidia commands another of her pawns, the ex-mercenary Marcus (who is actually the ex-cursor Fidelias), to kill Tavi after the duel using a Canim weapon. Tavi wins the duel, and Marcus/Fidelias kills Invidia instead of Tavi. While all this is happening, Sextus, with the help of Amara and Bernard, heads to Kalare and there destroys its High Lord (and many others in the region) by causing the volcano there to erupt. Hating Sextus for not telling them of his genocidal plan, Amara leaves Sextus’ service. It is also in this book that Isana reaches the height of her watercrafting, which allows her to heal Araris completely.

RATING AND COMMENTS: I read this book last summer (i.e., in the summer of 2010) and gave it 4 stars out of 5. The most interesting character here is Marcus/Fidelias, who, being part of the legion that Tavi led, saw first-hand how Tavi loved his people and his land, and chose to save Tavi and kill the traitorous Invidia instead. I’m a sucker for redemption. 🙂

Book 5: Princep’s Fury. Princeps Gaius Octavian and his friends Antillus Maximus and his brother, Antillus Crassus, both captains now, and the rest of Tavi’s legion accompany the Canim to their land, Canea, where they were shocked to find the Canim close to being annihilated by the Vord. It is here that Tavi and his Alerans (as well as the Canim leaders Varg and Nasaug) begin to understand the extent of the fearsome capabilities of the Vord. Aside from multiplying as quickly as insects do, the Vord can also enter and kill a body and then control that body. Moreover, the Vord has queens and various kinds of drones. The drones themselves neither think for themselves nor feel (they therefore have no fear of death) but single-mindedly carry out the task that the queens order them to do. A queen can communicate telepathically with her drones, and can also read the minds of humans and Canim alike. Despite the awesome power of the Vord, however, the valiant Alerans and their Canim friends are able to kill one Vord queen and escape the clutches of another and return to Alera, only to find that the original Vord queen has already begun there the process of Aleran annihilation/domination with the assistance of her second-in-command, Invidia Aquitaine, who now only lives because of the Vord in her.

RATING AND COMMENTS: This is one of the two Codex Alera books that I read and enjoyed this summer, and I give it 4 stars out of 5. In this book, it is the Canim and their culture, and of course the major Canim characters, particulary Varg, that I found quite interesting. I have always liked dogs, and I liked how the author developed a race and civilization of bipedal, eight-foot, and intelligent um.. dogs. Why not cats, though? Apparently, the author likes dogs, too.

Book 6: First Lord’s Fury. In the sixth and final book, Tavi, now 23, returns to Alera with his Aleran legion and Canim friends to battle against the Vord there. While crossing the ocean, Tavi almost perishes during a thunderstorm but is rescued by Alera, the great fury that personified the land of Alera and that had assisted every First Lord, beginning with the first, Gaius Primus. During the trip, Alera trains Tavi in the use of his still-growing furycrafting powers. Meanwhile, the First Lord Gaius Sextus and, after his death, the First Lord Attis Aquitaine, try to defeat the Vord in Alera by luring the Queen out of her lair, but only die trying, with Sextus dying of age and overexertion, and Attis dying at the hands of his wife, Invidia. And although the two were able to destroy countless Vord drones and warriors in the process, their strategy simply would not work, because the Vord could multiply faster than the Alerans could kill them. Moreover, the Vord had learned to furycraft. Having had first-hand experience battling against Vord queens in Canea, Tavi’s strategy is better but riskier — to infiltrate the Queen’s lair with a few powerful furycrafters and flush her out. In the end, Tavi defeats the Vord Queen almost accidentally: Without really thinking of the consequences, he summons two great furies (the great wind fury from the Sea of Ice and the fury behind the greatest volcano in Alera), which the Queen tries to bind to herself against their will. This of course angers the two great furies, and when Tavi, following Alera’s instructions, breaks the bonds that the Queen had formed with the great furies, the great wind fury so furiously batters the Queen with all her might that the Queen kills herself on Tavi’s sword.

RATING AND COMMENTS: This is the second Codex Alera book that I read this summer, and I give it 4.5 stars out of 5. Book 6 is high-octane battle storytelling. The chilling power of the Vord — to multiply, to zombify, to learn, to furycraft, to read minds, not to mention their almost impenetrable chitinous exoskeletons — would have made them undefeatable, had the Vord Queen not developed emotions. Her developing emotions and grappling with these makes her one of the interesting characters in this book. But the most interesting characters for me are those of Marcus/Fidelias and Invidia. Whereas Fidelias turned from traitor to loyal servant and friend, willing to give his life for Tavi and Alera, Invidia, in her desire to continue living, turned traitor against her race. What’s tragic is that Isana would probably have been able to heal her, and so she would probably have survived even without the Vord Queen, but with all the evil she had done, she, like Judas in the Gospels, could not believe that Isana or anyone for that matter could forgive her.

I love summer breaks!

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