According to the little author’s note/promo in the back of all the Dresden books, Jim Butcher’s true aspiration is to write epic fantasy, and the Dresden books are just kind of this side project that got unexpectedly successful. Well, based on Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon , he should be grateful for his side project’s success, because he’s an indifferent epic fantasist. In broad outline, the book seems like it should be good, but each element of it is marked by significant flaws.
For instance, there’s some interesting world-building reminiscent of a Dave Duncan novel (magic is done by commanding furies, elemental spirits, and every person has at least one fury and thus some augmented ability), but then there are wild inconsistencies that make it seem ill thought-out.
As an example, salt can harm a fury. So, okay, if you’re going to do battle with fury-aided people, you’re going to have salt-tipped arrows and saltapults, not to mention arming every soldier with bags of salt and salted weapons, right? But no, nobody ever thinks of doing this, except for one farmer. That’s just preposterous.
Arguably worse is that Butcher’s world has standard medieval sexism at every level up to the institutional — only men join the army or hold land. But women are often powerful “crafters”, so there’s no reason at all for this. I mean, not that sexism bows to logic, but you’d expect at least some variance from medieval norms.
Or take the pacing of the story, which is at turns compelling and maddening. At one point, a couple of characters need to cross a clearing, which is being observed by the enemy. They decide that they can’t just run across it, because they’ll be picked off before they get to the other side, so they come up with an alternate plan, one which will test the last vestiges of their depleted strength. Several pages are spent setting up this conflict. It’s a tense moment (even if secretly we know that of course they’ll make it, because that’s how books go), and then they start off across the plain... and make it uneventfully in a single sentence.
Now, yes, that’s how things work in real life, but that’s not how fiction works. If the narrator is going to spend that much time focusing on their concern and plans, then something — not necessarily what they expected, but something — has to be come out of it. You can’t just build things up and then drop them like that.
Add to that some dodgy characterization (there’s one character who is obviously not what he seems, and his motivation for continuing to seem what he seems is dubious at best), and you have a book that is just maddeningly flawed. It’s not terrible — Butcher isn’t an incompetent writer, after all — but it varies between pretty good and mediocre.
It’s hard to believe that the same Jim Butcher who wrote the brilliantly addictive Dresden books could have written this uninspired lump o’ fantasy. Where’s the whipcrack pacing, the interesting characters, the subtler than expected worldbuilding, the stylistic verve? It’s all gone. It’s just baffling.
Unless you’re hard up for epic fantasy, I wouldn’t recommend bothering with this. That said, I’m going to keep reading, to find out if maybe this is just Butcher’s nervous first novel and he gets better.