Princep’s Fury marks the 5th entry into Jim Butcher’s less well known fantasy series The Codex Alera. Fantasy fans who have been skipping this series really ought to give it a try, while it isn’t quite as clever as the Dresden Files, Butcher’s talent for tight, kinectic action and furious pacing make for an entertaining read. While the characters aren’t always as vivid as everyone’s favorite Chicago based wizard they do manage to stand out from the pack of other fantasy heroes. While not a good entry point to the series (start with The Furies of Calderon) it marks another impressive, and exciting entry into this typically underrated fantasy series. Read on for more impressions…
The first thing one should know about the Codex Alera is that, unlike every other fantasy series out there, takes place in a world model after the Roman empire rather than your run-of-the-mill generic middle ages period. This lends it some remarkably unique character and feel. The magic system, which employs bonded elementals call furies, makes for particularly impressive visual displays that shine brighter in Princep’s Fury than in any of the previous novels.
While early novels focused on conflict with the wolf-like canim with minimal appearances by the insect-like vord the previous novel, Captain’s Fury, saw their move to center of attention. Princep’s Fury takes things even further featuring the first real mass conflicts between human and canim elements against large number of vord. The vord take the worst of insect life and zombie fiction and roll them into one nasty package and turn it into something not unlike the Halo’s Flood. The huge set-piece battles seen here feature some exciting action and Butcher’s flair for action really comes to forefront.
The novel follows along with familiar faces Tavi, Kitai, Amara, Bernard, Isana, and Gaius Sextus. Tavi and Kitai have taken some of the Aleran legions across the sea with the remain of the canim leader Varg’s army. Beset by bad storms they end up in hostile territory of an canim hold opposed to Varg and beset by Vord. Back in Alera proper the vord thread makes itself known and the dying Gaius Sextus must lead the remaining Aleran forces against the oncoming horde. Not before he sets Bernard and Amara on a desperate mission behind enemy lines and Tavi’s mother Isana on a truce-mission to acquire a battle-hardened legion who defend Aleran from incursions by the ferocious icemen. In previous novels I remember some section dragging, particularly the Amara/Bernard stuff, but the dire situation of most of the characters lends each section an air of tension and excitement that is undeniably compelling.
Since he is the hero of the series I found the sections with Tavi the most enjoyable. His desire to save everyone, human and canim, provides for some interesting moments and his “sideways” thinking that confounds his compatriots leads to some thrilling action. The ridiculous pace set by Butcher means we don’t get too much character development and I would really like him to explore the bond between Tavi and his marat lover Kitai a little more. Regardless it is only when Tavi is with Kitai that we get to see his more vulnerable side and creates some truly poignant moments.
Isana, who was not as dominant in earlier novels, really shined here as well and the connection between her and Tavi in terms of character and drive is revealed in full and a spectacular fashion. The icemen tribes are an interesting addition as well that certainly add some depth as well though again the pace of the novel left a bit more unexplored as I would have liked. My major annoyances came from the Amara and Bernard chapters as there “lovey dovey” back and forth is, to put it mildly, a bit nauseating. Regardless there chapters were as compelling as the rest of the novel and the revelations revealed about vord on the Aleran front are both interesting and horrifying.
Last I should spare some mention for the cursor Ehren. In the previous novel we got to see the weakened Aleran Lord Gaius Sextus through the eyes of Amara and Bernard and Ehren serves in a similar capacity here. Sick and dying Gaius may be, but Ehren’s chapters reveal more depth to both Gaius and the land of Alera than in all the other books combined. And if you thought Gaius’ actions at the end of Captain’s Fury were impressive…well, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
As stated several times above the frantic pacing of the plot leaves some stones, particularly ones involving characters, unturned but I can’t argue with the result: a breakneck, page-turner with more action, twists, and turns than any of the previous novels; all this despite the fact that Princep’s Fury is the shortest of the bunch! Fans of fantasy and of Jim Butcher should not overlook this series.