This review is also available on my blog, Stumptown Books
I admit that I made a huge mistake by reading this novel before any of The Dresden Files. At the time I was shuffling through my Kindle library and I had just finished one or two urban fantasy novels. I was not in the mood for another one, so I thought, Hey! How about The Furies of Calderon!? Oh poor unwitting me, picking it up, all in good faith.
My first problem with this book is where the premise came from. Although I could not find any definite evidence, the rumor is that Butcher was bet he couldn't make a good story out of a bad idea. In this case, the lost Roman 9th legion, and Pokémon. Now, I personally think that sounds pretty awesome, but I'm a nerd. I also think that Jim Butcher taking it and running with it is a testimony to his balls of steel and his writing capability. Not just anyone could make that shitty bet into a six book series. Unfortunately for Jim, and for us, the bet should have been: take a bad premise but make good characters. Good characters, in my opinion, do not always need a good story, nor do they need ridiculous situations to prove themselves the better human. The bad guys do not need to be evil for the sake of evil with some general douchery thrown in. Nor do all of the good characters need to be noble and upstanding.
The elemental powers drew strong parallels to Avatar: The Last Airbender for me. (One of my favorite cartoons!) Who knows where the cartoon writers got their inspiration, but Avatar was released in 2005, while this novel was published in 2004, so no worries there. Of course, the target audience for Avatar: The Last Airbender is 6-11 year olds, so I'm a wee bit outside the demographic there. Furies of Calderon, on the other hand, is advertized as a "high fantasy novel;" which means that sex, blood, and general world ending antics are fine. Yet in this novel those all felt distinctly out of place, like it was supposed to be written as a young adult novel but a rape scene accidentally got thrown in. Yeah, you heard me. Furies is like The Last Airbender but with more rape. When I started writing this review I told my boyfriend that I was reviewing Furies of Calderon, but he gave me a blank look. As soon as I said, "You know, Avatar The Last Rape Bender?" He walked away groaning. I started referring to Furies as that when the stupidly one dimensional and overly antagonistic local muscle revealed their propensity for said torture and rape. It was so ridiculous and purposefully overdramatic for the sake of drama that I threw the book down and had to walk away for a few days. At least the major antagonists have some semblance of a plan going for them, but the betrayer was revealed way too early in the story to make that very dramatic. As in the first chapter. Butcher, I feel, really missed out on some potential character development there with Amara. So here I am as the reader, baffled as to why local farmers rape slaves for drama, and then confused as to why a perfectly good opportunity for drama and character development was dropped by the wayside.
Whether it was an excess of drama or a lack thereof, a lot of the book was telling and not showing. The one sentence I wrote down after finishing it to remind myself of things I should say in a review was "500 pages of characters talking about how scared they are." I was badgered, harassed, and goaded into unspeakable acts of eye rolling as characters fleshed out how incredibly frightened they were, over and over again. It's not character development, it's 500 pages of characters worried about what is going to happen. Of course, it's those one dimensional "good characters" I mentioned earlier, noble and upstanding, who don't have any other traits to talk about besides either being right, or scared. If that is all your characters are capable of, something needs to be reevaluated here.
It is a trope in urban fantasy that the main character starts out already very powerful, pain resistant, tough, and disillusioned. In Furies of Calderon, however, it is the exact opposite. Not only is the main character weak, he is the only
weak character, every single other person having their own elemental already, while he has none. While reading this book I kept thinking, "NOW would be a good time for his powers to suddenly come into affect....ok how about NOW?!" This is the one positive thing about this novel, and at least it is a valid drama point. As much as I would like to know whether he ever does get his powers, I was definitely not planning on finishing the series. However, I will be begrudgingly reading more, but only because the internet informs me that it gets better.