That was my initial reaction when I heard of Codex Alera's concept and I am sure your face looks like this as well (don't deny it fellow readers, it's a normal reaction). And to answer your next question, NO it was not lame and weird, YES it was a brilliant, brilliant high fantasy book.
You're intrigued, aren't you?
Alera is an empire similar to Rome regarding the social layers, the administration and the army, founded by the descendants and the camp followers of the Lost Roman Legion. Every Aleran commands elemental forces called furies. Well, not everyone. 15-years-old Tavi of Calderon Valley is the only Aleran that cannot furycraft, which makes him a freak. An unfortunate series of events brings Tavi and his family in the center of a conspiracy and a barbarian invasion caused by an ambitious and traitorous High Lord. The fate of Alera lies in the hands of a boy whose only weapon is his wits.
“If there is any lesson to be learned from history, it is that all too often the fate of armies, of cities, of entire realms rests upon the actions of one person's decision, good or bad, right or wrong, big or small, can unwittingly change the world. But history can be quite the slattern. One never knows who that person is, where he might be, or what decision he might make. It is almost enough to make me believe in destiny.”
Jim Butcher is a miracle maker. Furies of Calderon is the engrossing, addictive first book to one of my all time favorite fantasy series. His world-building is spectacular and flawless, he created a vivid world I'd give anything to live in (just not when there is war raging, duh!). Usurpers, spies, traitors, barbarians, slaves, citizens, powerful furycrafters, men and women, adults and children, all of them are pieces of a puzzle of intrigue, politics, secrets, battles and sieges. Do you want fights? You get them. Do you want interesting characters? You get them. Do you want romance? Plot twists? Beings of immense power? You.get.them.
One of the most fascinating things about Codex Alera is that the main hero is not someone with great powers that make him unique. On the contrary, he is weak, the only one who doesn't possess any powers. But because of this weakness he uses his brain, he is resourceful and one of the smartest heroes I have ever encountered. Sometimes he behaves like a naive child, some others like a mature adult. And there is not a chance that he will not charm you.
“Tavi looked wildly around the courtyard, and when his gaze flicked toward them, his face lit with a ferocious smile."Uncle Bernard! Uncle Bernard!" he shouted, pointing at Doroga."He followed me home! Can we keep him?”
The rest of the characters, good and evil, are compelling and alluring. I wanted to kiss Bernard and kill Fidelias and become friends with Doroga (what do you mean he's a cannibal? I don't care) and fight alongside Amara and Kitai and live through them.
Codex Alera is an epic journey you will not regret!