Jim Butcher, Cursor's Fury: Book Three of the Codex Alera (Ace, 2006)

In this third entry in Butcher's Codex Alera series, three characters take center stage: Tavi of Calderon, now a Cursor for First Lord Gaius Sextus; his aunt Isana, Alera's first female Steadholder and Countess Amara, also a Cursor, secretly married to Bernard, Isana's brother, Tavi's uncle. This time around, their stories unfold against the backdrop of incipient civil war -- and worse, the threat of potential invasion by the deadly Canim.

Tavi, along with his friend Antillar Maximus, have been assigned to a rag tag new legion, one never really intended to see battle, but made up of men from all across Alera. In actuality, the pair, along with an older man, Magnus, have been sent in as spies (as have many others, no doubt). Also present in the legion are Max's stepmother and stepbrother, complicating things for the young man. And though she should be attending to Marat matters in the capital, Kitai sneaks away to join Tavi, though he's slow to figure this out.

While Tavi learns firsthand how to be a legionnaire, far away in Ceres, Isana and Lady Aquitaine, still maintaining a brittle alliance, attend a conference of the Dianic League, pushing for the abobolishment of slavery. Amara and Bernard are also in Ceres, taking some time to enjoy being man and wife. Both ventures are abruptly cut short when Lord Kalare, who, like Lord Aquitaine, has designs on Gaius' position, attacks Ceres, cleverly taking specific prisoners back to his lands so as to stay the hand of certain other lords as he presses his attack.

As the attack on Ceres intensifies, the three plot threads splinter in very disparate directions, only one bearing on Kalare's actions directly: that of Amara, Bernard and Lady Aquitaine as they fly to Kalare's stronghold to free his prisoners. Of the plot lines, this one is least compelling to read, though it will bear political fruit later, no doubt, as Kalare will not likely forgive any involved soon. Nor will Lady Aquitaine likely forgive Amara for the rather . . . untoward dissolution of the rescue party.

Meanwhile, Isana is locked in a life and death struggle of a profoundly intimate kind as she spends day after day attempting to heal the branded slave Fade (who readers already know to be more than he seems) from a poisoned wound taken in the initial assault on Ceres. From the dream-like sequences that ensue, we learn of Tavi's true birthright, and that Isana may have more to live for than she once believed, which will make her a more interesting character, in the long run. And when all is said and done, Fade need not necessarily hide behind his scarred visage any longer.

But the meat of the book, as is only proper, is Tavi growing into his role as legionnaire, learning of a Canim incursion, and doing what he must to contain said incursion in the face of certain disaster. As always, Tavi gets by on wits, and with a little help from his friends (he has no choice, though the end of the book teases that just maybe he's found a fury -- or that someone's having some fun at his expense!). Butcher keeps the action plausible, and doesn't have Tavi over-reach or rely on deus ex machina (Tavi's use of non-Fury technology when Fury use is demanded of him is a nice touch). Tavi remains a likable character, and his interactions with Max and Kitai both are genial and entertaining. The action scenes are tense and well-played out. Though you're certain Tavi will pull through, that doesn't lower the sense of danger for anyone around him.

It will be particularly interesting to see how a couple of teasing hints play out in future books -- the bond between Kitai and Tavi (is her totem humans?) and just what is Fidelius up to? And the larger question looms: what of the Canim? Presumably book four will answer that question.

[April Gutierrez]