Review: First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher

First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher
First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher

First Lord’s Fury
Jim Butcher
Ace, 2009

First Lord’s Fury is the sixth and final book in Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera.  Set in a Roman inspired world whose citizens control powerful elementals called furies the Codex Alera is a fast-paced action intensive series.  In First Lord’s Fury both speed and action are ratcheted way past 11 making for an exciting, though somewhat rushed, read.  If you haven’t read any of the other books in the series yet then even reading past the blurb of the later books, or glancing at the titles, provides some minor spoilers.  Still if you haven’t read other books, or aren’t quite caught up to book six then stop reading now….

First Lord’s Fury picks up almost immediately after Princep’s Fury with Tavi, now Octavian, rushing to the aid of the beleaguered people of Alera who are crumbling under the onslaught of the vord.  Along with Tavi are the last surviving Canim under the leadership of Varg.  Back in Alera proper Attis Aquitaine has taken the title of First Lord and is leading the people of Alera in a desperate defense where the only real surety seems to be defeat.

Despite being a solid 480 pages First Lord’s Fury feels like a book half that length.  At the beginning of the novel Tavi isn’t even in Alera and Butcher really pushes the limits of credulity with the speed at which he manages to converge the geographically disparate POVs towards the final battle.  Of course, slow and steady fantasy has never really been Butcher’s strong suit.  Indeed, high action is something that Butcher has come close to mastering, and the final battle (say the last 100 plus pages of the novel) is as close a magnum opus as we’re likely to get.

Despite the seeming rush to get all the pieces into place Butcher does manage to drop a number of tantalizing ideas into the mix that I would love to see explored further.  Little tidbits such as the hints as to the vord’s origins, the idea of subconscious furycrafting, and the first binding of furies by the first First Lord are cool elements that are thrown out in passing.  Indeed the concept of Alera itself, as in the literal personification of Alera glimpsed at the end of Princep’s Fury and seen more frequently here, is explained.  Over the course of her training with Tavi we learn how she came to be in the broadest sense of the term but the specifics of her nature, and even furies in general, remain something of a secret.  In fact the notion of a physical representation of an entire nation dovetails nicely into the themes of national identity and the natural rights of man that Butcher only touches upon in the barest of ways.  Of course Butcher’s musings on the philosophical and sociological underpinnings on the world he has created take a serious backseat to the action.  In fact it is never handled at the same level as his almost seamless examination of faith and religion over the course of the last few Dresden novels.  (Side note: I find it a bit odd the religion is almost absent in this series, but maybe it’s just me)

As I mentioned the epic final battle between the remnants of Aleran society and the vord is impressive and downright thrilling in execution.  In terms of memorable battle scenes in a fantasy series it ranks right up there with the best of the best (for reference The Battle of Emmond’s Field, Dumai’s Wells, the final battle at Hogwarts, and just about everything from Memories of Ice rank among my favorites).  Even split into several major scenes across several points of view the action never relents and each different point of view manages to provide a fascinating perspective on how the battle unfolds.  It is truly some impressive stuff and a major payoff for readers who have been following Tavi since book one since the majority of the battle plan is his.

There are a couple of standout characters, other then the main crew from previous books, that deserve some mentioning.  I absolutely loved the Marcus/Fidelias point of view.  Butcher does a fantastic job of walking the line between heroic and tragic and the final culmination of his role in the story is, I think, both fascinating and appropriate.  In almost deliberate counterpoint to Marcus/Fidelias we have Invidia Aquataine.  Kept alive by a vord symbiote she has betrayed her people to side with the vord Queen and her naked ambition and self-serving nature serve to throw Marcus/Fidelias into sharp contrast.  However, thanks in part to her interaction with Isana (whose watercrafting allows her to sense emotions) she is a character that on one level you can’t help but pity.

High action and some entertaining hi-jinx, thanks in part to Tavi/Kitai relationship, make for a gripping page turner and  I can honestly say that I wish it wasn’t over.  Butcher has an undeniable ability to create memorable and ultimately likable characters that are, quite frankly, difficult to part with.  The ending of First Lord’s Fury is satisfying though somewhat rushed.  It ends with several of unanswered questions that leave the door open for future volumes while at the same time still providing a definitive conclusion.  I’m sad the series is over but given Butcher’s penchant for publishing something every six months I won’t have long to wait for the something new, and who knows, maybe next year we’ll see a new book set in the realm of Alera.  I for one will be looking forward to it.

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