Rail to the Chief

Just finished Butcher's Captain's Fury last night. I'm not sure I have a lot to say about it (but what I do will include more spoilers than usual; caveat lector), though I certainly enjoyed reading it.

Like the last book, I'm not sure it was titled appropriately; very little of this book was spent captaining. The largest chunk was spent on a private mission with Tavi and close family and friends.

To get to specifics, it took only a page or two of reading to find that a couple of my assumptions at the end of the last book were wrong. Only one of the scenes I'd referred to as a teaser about Tavi's furies appearing was actually a teaser. The second one was them actually appearing. And I made a remark about the commander and senior NCO of the unit going away at once being very disruptive. That will probably happen before the next book starts, but hasn't happened yet.

Before tackling the major spoilers, I want to think about a minor (probably even throw-away) remark in the middle of the book talking about how furies can be passed down from one generation to the next (alluded to in the previous book, when talking about Bernard and Amara). It kind of bugs me, as a concept, from a couple of different angles.

It would explain how the High Lords got to be as powerful as they are (and here, I'd like to point out how the definition of powerful changed greatly from Vol I to Vol II. The steadholders were presented as being unusually powerful in the first book, but in the second, they were dwarfed by the High Lords). They just accumulated furies for centuries, adding more power with every one. Ok, that part's fine. It bugs the Jeffersonian in me, but it works (well, maybe; I'll get back to a secondary issue).

But if the people on this world get used to having their furies do all serious work for them (and that's brought up many times, that most of them do), then when do they turn them over? It's kind of along the lines of a putative son asking me, "Well, when are you going to turn over your leg to me, dad?" Maybe it isn't quite that level of sacrifice, since they don't get their furies until puberty (roughly; we know there's some variation, but not how much so), but it's still pretty fundamental to their self-image.

It also begs a serious question of nature vs nurture, maybe even on more than one level. When I formed that statement, I was thinking of the difference between one's own furies (found when growing up) and those inherited. You would expect, in almost all cases, that the heir to one of the great houses would be significantly less powerful than their progenitor. It kind of makes Kalare's irritation with Brencis not make much sense; he wanted his son to be as powerful as him, but that's hardly realistic.

It would also make it a bit difficult to label someone as being a gifted furycrafter, because it would be difficult or impossible to know whether they came into it naturally, or if they just came into it.

The other sense of nature vs nurture that only occurred to me as I was writing that earlier sentence has to do with the furies themselves. Are they even slightly sentient? Do they choose the person as the person is growing up? It seems like they would have to, as we didn't hear, for instance, Bernard telling Tavi about choosing, back in the first book. But if that's the case, why would multiple ones choose one person, and why would they do it at the same time?

And getting back to the possible problem of inheritance to which I earlier alluded, why would the children of High Lords have a greater tendency towards multiple, strong gifts if they were not handed down. That is, why would Max and Crassus have several powerful furies when we are pretty sure none of them were inherited (in the case of Max, in particular, I'm almost completely certain that that is so)?

A couple of other questions also arise: If they can be passed down, is it only to their kin? (The books waffle on this one; the Bernard/Amara discussion implies yes, while the discussion about Isana and Septimus implies no. But in neither case was it abundantly clear.) Also, can they only be passed down to someone who has already manifested their furies? And what is the mechanism for passing them down? It seems like it would need to be ritualized, to some degree. (I suppose we will see about that, when Gaius Sextus passes his furies down to Tavi, probably at the end of the next book.)

Ok, I think that's enough pondering on that question. If anyone has any thoughts, then I think I will revisit it.

Getting back to the book, I liked the way most of the plot was handled. Gaius asked Tavi to try to preserve lives for a couple of months, and fails pretty seriously almost from the get-go. But he does find a way to even out most of that before the end.

One thing that's difficult, is to deal with a character getting too powerful. There's a number of problems to be faced. The most difficult of which are how to deal with the character's friends and allies. Ray Feist showed one way, where Pug and Tomas are pretty much removed from the story, because they were just too powerful for the remaining characters. Butcher's Dresden novels go a different direction, where Harry finds new allies and friends who are more powerful (with the exception of Karen, of course). The older friends and allies become bit characters, essentially.

This series seems to be trying to go another way (kind of like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, as much as I can remember of it), which is to bring up the power level of the others at the same time. This is kind of how I explain what happened with Isana in the ocean. It's also how I explain Kitai's furycrafting (which is what fooled me into thinking that Tavi's furies hadn't manifested yet, at the end of the last book); she's much too important to get shunted off to the side by Tavi's growing power.

The other things that I liked in the book were the development of Max and Crassus' relationship. He didn't have a lot of time to devote to it, but what was there was cool. I also liked Isana and Kitai talking, although I did think that should have happened sooner than it did. And the interaction between Tavi and Isana was also well-handled (not entirely so by them, but the description of what they did do); her reluctance and second-guessing along with his pain and understanding. Very well done.

Finally, I liked how Gaius handled Amara. Well, not so much liked, as thought it was well (or at least cleverly) done. I didn't even realize until I started writing this, that the hint was there about how Amara was being played (Gaius' conversation with Tavi early on, where he said that he was "going to war" didn't really gibe with what he initially told Amara. I think I assumed that what he was dragging her into was a precursor to his "going to war", rather than the manifestation thereof).

One thing I did not really like was the statement that High Lords generally step down in favor of their offspring. In the real world, this almost never happens. And when it does, how often are they allowed to live? "Only one head can know the feel of the crown", and all that. But that's a fairly minor quibble.

One bit of curiosity I have; each of the between-book gaps, up to this point, has been two years. But Tavi's trip to the Canim homeland is only supposed to last about a year. Will it end up taking several years, or will the gap just be shrunk (perhaps to as little as a couple of months)?

Overall, I enjoyed the book a great deal, and have finally bought the last (most recent?) two, so I won't have to wait for anything external before finishing the series.

Update: I forgot to mention that I'm also curious if Tavi will pull new furies from the Canim homeworld; maybe one that isn't one of the five types found in Alera?

No comments:

Post a Comment