~~Moved from GR: 6/290 left.~~
by Jim Butcher
In Princeps' Fury, the empire of Alera finally sees the face of its true enemy, and it's not the barbarian Maraat of the first book or the wolfman-like Canim of the second and third, or even the vicious Aleran slavers and upstarts of the fourth. Alera has discovered an enemy that makes all the others seem reasonable and relatively friendly: the Vord. These creepy-crawly bug critters are single-mindedly invading all of Alera, covering it in the glutinous "croach" that they draw their sustenance from, killing and enslaving the citizenry--and time is running out to stop them. Meanwhile, Octavian, Princeps of the realm, is out of reach, on a quest to return a band of invading Canim to their homeland. The high king, Gaius Sextus, assisted by the high lady Isana, the ex-cursor Amara, and her loyal husband Bernard, and hindered by the intricate, petty, and vicious Romanic politics that invade every part of Aleran society, must stop the Vord invasion before it is too late.
Princep's Fury builds on the strong cast of characters introduced in the other books. One aspect that gives this series such a sense of solidity is that the deeds of the previous generation are incredibly significant in motivating the characters and changing the tide of events, and the past is only slowly unraveled to the reader. It actually reminded me a bit of the Harry Potter series: just as many of the events in HP are fated by actions of the previous generation, the story of Codex Alera is intricately bound up with the long dead Gaius Septimus and the course of action his murder caused his allies and enemies to follow.
Another aspect I like about the series is the appearance of several strong, complex female characters. As always in Butcher's books, there is some amount of pandering to male readers with rather explicit scenes of women (acting with or without free will) as willing temptresses and completely objectified, but hey, what else is new? Princeps' Fury certainly doesn't stint on male protagonists, and that isn't to say that I find all the female characters strong or well-drawn; it's just that women in the series have an equal opportunity at personality and badassery. Kitai, Tavi's love interest, is significantly more tough in combat than he is, and although she isn't quite as good at scheming, this book has one of the few times Tavi's friends manage to one-up him. The complementary battle-couple pair, Amara and Bernard, has Amara acting as the brains and Bernard as the gentle giant muscle. The other two important female protagonists, Isana and Lady Placida, were given a lot of page space, but with mixed results. High Lady Placida fails (as usual) to live up to her name, but in this book, she also acts far outside the character she previously displayed. Poor Placida seems bound to be a foil for someone. In the previous books, she acted as the kind, upright, and down-to-earth aristocrat to contrast with Lady Invidia's amoral scheming. In this book, she acts as an intolerant firebrand to act as a foil for Isana. Isana is probably the character I dislike most in the entire series, and although she has a lot of pagespace in this book, she also comes into her own a bit, in her own way. All the same, her character strikes me as arbitrarily contradictory: she is supposed to be the kindly, understanding, forgive-all character, willing to empathize with those who may cause the downfall of the empire--yet she is more than ready to put the same empire at risk to spite enemies with about the same amount of blood on their hands. Go figure.
This book continues on the trend from the last few in letting us see into the civilization and culture of the Canim, and we also finally get a glimpse of the Icemen mentioned in all of the previous books. The only thing that is a little weird: we almost never see female Icemen or Canim; except for two female Marat, all named members of other species are male, and there is an explicit comment that indicates that Canim females are subordinate to their men. These patriarchal societies are somewhat offset by the fact that the Big Bad--the Vord Queen--is obviously feminine.
In terms of plot itself, it's difficult to say more without spoilers of past and present, but I enjoyed seeing some events foreshadowed throughout the series finally coming to pass, and I think the sense of impending apocalypse is very well-done. Fidelias gets quite a bit of pagetime, and I really like his character. There's also plenty trademark Butcher gags, for example:
"Crows and bloody furies, I told you that we were not going to play any games like that!"
Magnus blinked at him several times. "And.... your Highness expected me to listen?"
All in all, I found this book a lot of fun--bloodier and darker than the fantasy I typically enjoy, but fun nonetheless.