In this, the second book of the Codex Alera, we move past the starter villains of the first book and really kick the ongoing plot lines into gear. In the first book Furies of Calderon we are introduced to our 15 year old protagonist Tavi and finish with him being offered a scholarship from the ruler of Alera (Gaius Sextus) to his academy. In book 2 we start with the 17 year old Tavi still being an outsider due to his lack of magic, bullied by spoilt nobles, and having some good friends – particularly the delightful Maximus Antillar (bastard son of a High Lord, incredibly gifted, and apparently content to be lazy). All whilst also secretly being trained as a Cursor (spies, assassins, and diplomats).
This book introduces the Vord properly – alien, shape shifting colony creatures capable of possessing living beings and turning them into shells. This is the true identity of the creatures encountered in the Wax Forest in book 1 and unfortunately Tavi and Kitai woke them up. Now the Vord queens aim to take over Alera with one queen still being in the Calderon Valley and another having followed Tavi to Alera Imperia.
The plot in the Calderon Valley is secondary for me, and illustrates one slight weakness in the series. I’m just not as interested in Bernard and Amara and their romantic issues and angst over their relationship and loyalty to the throne. So having them as the B plot across books does slow down the pace a little.
But the main plot is excellent featuring plots in Alera that involve attempts on Isana’s life (Tavi’s Aunt) that result in her seeking support and patronage from one of our starter villains Invidia Aquitane, a need to cover up Gaius being in a coma due to magical overload, spies amongst the Cursor ranks, and political intrigue with the Canim people and their leader Varg (a 9 foot tall wolf man). This all culminates in a desperate fight in the palace with Tavi, Fade, the leader of the guard Sir Miles Valerian, and Max holding off a lot of Vord-possessed Canim and the Vord themselves including the queen. Eventually the day is won with surprising aid from Invidia (who made the decision that better she save Alera as she didn’t want to rule the ashes left behind by the Vord) but the Vord queen escapes and it’s become more obvious that things are not well in Alera and also just who Tavi is.
Some key bits for me in this story that I loved are:
- Max being so gifted that he could disguise himself as Gaius enough to fool Gaius’s wife, and not knowing how to cope with her anger he just goes ahead and seduces her
- Tavi discovering the thief plaguing Alera is Kitai and then using her ability to break into places to help break Max out of a magical prison (which can be breached if you have no magic)
- Having Fade’s identity confirmed as Araris Valerian because he didn’t want to be near his brother Miles. His fear was that Miles hated him as he’d broken his leg to prevent him taking place in a duel – the one with Aldrick mentioned in book 1 that Araris fought instead
- Having Miles understand that his brother had injured him to save him, and then also realise who Fade was just by watching him fight. And then his realisation as to why Araris would leave his lord’s side (Septimus, Gaius Sextus’s son) short of death and suddenly realising who Tavi was and looking at him properly
- Tavi facing down Varg with absolute confidence and Vag accepting that authority and backing down on his demand to see Gaius
- Not so much loved, but seeing Tavi beat the hell out of the spoilt sons of nobility who had bullied him was worthy of applause
- And, at the end of the book, seeing Invidia shocked and scared to find out Gaius is well aware of everything happening around him. This because Fidelias the ex-cursor has found a sea cloak in his room before Invidia asks him to go somewhere it’s needed – and he’d left it in the palace before betraying Gaius. It’s been returned and only one person could have done it…