Academ’s Fury is the second book in Jim Butcher’s CODEX ALERA series. It takes place two years after the events in book 1, Furies of Calderon. Tavi, who feels like a “freak” because he’s the only Aleran who doesn’t have any magical connections with the elemental spirits called Furies that inhabit his land, is now at school in the capital city under the patronage of the First Lord. In return, he acts as the First Lord’s page and accidentally becomes involved in Aleran politics.
And there’s a lot going on in Alera. The First Lord is dealing with tensions throughout the realm — unnatural weather, crops in danger, Cursors being murdered, icemen coming over the wall, women’s issues in the senate, a slave alliance, a demanding trade consortium, delegations from neighboring lands, conspiracies against the crown, and worst of all, no heir and no clear line of succession. And those are just the things that the First Lord thinks he’s going to be dealing with in this book. What actually happens is that a horde of arachnid aliens called the Vord are overrunning the land and secretly turning people into killer zombies and the First Lord gets knocked unconscious and Tavi and his friends have to hide the First Lord’s illness from his political enemies while trying to get rid of the Vord. That’s a pretty big task for a kid who’s still dealing with bullies at school.
Academ’s Fury, which follows Tavi’s adventures as well as those of the characters we met in the first book (Aunt Isana, Uncle Bernard, Cursor Amara, Lady Aquataine, Fidelias, Doroga, Kitai) is nearly non-stop action. With the new threat from the Vord, alliances are shifting as people who were once enemies must unite, at least temporarily. There’s not a lot of time spent on character development or introspection, but readers who enjoy a fast-paced story with excessively long battle sequences should be pleased. It’s gruesome in places and plenty of people die, though most of our favorite characters seem immune to death. (I keep thinking that surely they’ve got to be dead this time — especially after, for example, being impaled by a sword — but yet they live on.)
The CODEX ALERA books have high average ratings at Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible — so take that into account when reading this review — but so far I’m just not able to get that enthused about this series. I’m interested in Tavi’s story, the writing is fine (if rather ordinary), and Jim Butcher has a nice sense of humor which comes out in Tavi’s character, but I can’t seem to get immersed in Butcher’s world. I am never able to let go and forget that I’m reading an epic high fantasy story and I believe that’s because this world, which appears to be some sort of post-Roman empire, doesn’t feel like it has the weight of hundreds of years behind it. It feels like Butcher had the essentials of the plot in his mind (I can see some foreshadowing) but is building the world by making up the details as he goes along, often incorporating features from other popular fantasy epics (e.g. WHEEL OF TIME, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, FARSEER, HARRY POTTER). A few times I’ve found myself thinking “how come we’re just learning about this now?”
Another reason I couldn’t give in to the story was that every character has an amazing ability to reason out all the nuances of the other characters’ behaviors, making wild but correct guesses about motives and intentions and acting to thwart or intercept each other. Though the political intrigue is one of the more interesting aspects of CODEX ALERA, the ability of each character to out-think all the others is hard to believe. Likewise improbable were some of Tavi’s clever insights, solutions, and deeds (e.g., he easily finds a thief that nobody else can find and with no forethought or planning he breaks into the government’s most secure prison). Add to all this the cheesy sex scenes between some of the adults, and the fact that none of the female characters seem real or likable, and it’s just not easy to lose myself in this story, though I really want to.
I’ve been listening to Penguin Audio’s version of Academ’s Fury which is narrated by Kate Reading. Most readers will adore Reading’s reading (sorry!) but since I listened to her read all of the WHEEL OF TIME books, I’m afraid that I couldn’t get past the feeling that I was reading another slow-moving endless saga. Every time she read Butcher’s description of a female character’s dress, I groaned. This isn’t Butcher’s or Reading’s fault, but just an unfortunate case of classical conditioning. I tried not to let this affect my impression of CODEX ALERA, but I admit it’s possible that the audiobook narration was part of the reason I haven’t been able to become immersed in this story. I don’t think so, but it’s possible.
There is some intriguing foreshadowing at the end of Academ’s Fury and I happen to have the third book, Cursor’s Fury, already loaded onto my devices, so I’m going to give it a try.