Man and woman historically have had defined roles in a society. Breadwinner, housemaker, and the like. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher takes these common notions and discards them entirely. ‘Tis refreshing, really. Furies has the stink of an average medieval high fantasy novel at first brush, but yet comes damn near close to a Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones type epic near the end. As the song lyrics go, “times are a-changing” and in Furies that’s very much the truth.
In the first several dozen pages it’s confusing who the main protagonist is. Isana, Bernard, Tavi and Amari all take turns being point-of-view characters. What defines a main character, even? Is it winning, or likability or something as cliche as plot armor. George R.R. Martin believes that even main characters must die, but that’s hardly the norm. Jim Butcher prefers his MCs alive. Nothing wrong with that. It’s really hard to invest readers in something if their favorite characters keep dying. For purposes of the this article, main characters are really defined as who gets the most screen-time. Who gets the spotlight the most. Can a person be the hero of the tale if he only gets ten pages out of three hundred?
The main characters are as follow: Tavi, a young boy. Amara, a relatively young girl. Isana, a relatively old woman with a young complexion. Bernard, a middle-aged man. Finally, Fidelius, an older man. Butcher is careful not to reveal or dwell upon ages too often, except in the case of Tavi, a fifteen year-old boy. None of the other characters have their ages made explicit. This is a good thing, though. What’s important is whether or not each sex was considered equally viable, not necessarily age.
In this case, there are two sides to the coin of this story. On the one side, Isana is seen as a mature, intricate, capable stand-in for Bernard when things go awry. The key phrase there is stand-in. In the Codex Alera universe, women are not steadholders. That’s a man thing. Giving commands, taking care of the people, that’s in a man’s job. Women are more followers, helpers, healers, that sort of thing. Not every character agrees with this assessment, and there you have Amara. She’s a headstrong, if not naive, Cursor which is a messenger-sometimes-spy for the Crown. Her duties are manyfold and never does she rely upon her gender or sex to get the job done. Whether it’s spying on the enemy or helping an ally, she doesn’t even take her gender into account. Amara willing enters battle at her own risk, placing her body and mind in harm’s way to save the day.
It is oft-mentioned that other characters see this Amara as somewhat of a counter-flow figure. She regularly overrules, humiliates, and defeats men without giving it a lot of reflection. She doesn’t really see herself as the breakout character that she is.
That leads us to the darker side of this coin. Chivalry, machoism, whatever you’d like to call it. Men do strong thing. Women do sensitive thing. Bernard is stuck in his ways. He thinks he must protect his sister Isana, or Amara whenever she’s vulnerable. While it’s undeniably a noble intention, it’s also misguided. Isana and Amara show time and time again that they can take care of themselves. Butcher portrays both Bernard and his nephew Tavi as archetypical men. During a fury-storm which, if you can imagine, is a magical thunderstorm fraught with monsters and madness, Amara finds herself injured and exhausted; unable to continue. Tavi is then seen as her protector. He’s someone that, even though he has inadequacies of his own, is able to provide instinctual awareness enough to help out his fellow woman.
Butcher strives to show Tavi as a young man. Someone who can help those who are weary and helpless. If this at all seems overdone, it is therefore blunted by his sensitive nature. Tavi is shown as a young man full of emotion. Rage, despair, kindness, love, passion, everything that could possibly round out a blossoming young hero. He’s equal parts masculine and feminine, and it works.
The same can be said for Amara. When both Tavi and Amara are in-scene together, it’s rather difficult to put one in charge of the other. It’s not usually one following the other. I find that rather touching, really, as people aren’t boiled down to stereotypes. A man is not the product of his gender, but rather the measure of his own heart. The product of his hand. What has he wrought into this world?
Even Fidelius, the book’s resident senior, is not phased by his apprentice Amara’s strong will nor strong action. In his own way, he encourages her to fight in both body and spirit. I feel like Jim Butcher has envisioned both sex groups of the Codex Alera universe to be generally equal. A man may be First Lord, but it could as easily be a woman. And may will, further in the series. As capable as the men are pictured, they are as equally flawed as well. These women are not seen as trophies, companions, or sex-toys and that is much appreciated. While there are those villains in this adventure that would see woman as will-stripped slaves, this is not the prevailing narrative. In Codex Alera, men and women are as equal as is possible. Women can outrank men at fighting, and men can outrank women in emotional depth; as it should be.