This is the second book in the Codex Alera series. Read Furies of Calderon first to know who the characters are and how they got here.
This novel has furious action going on at several fronts at the same time, so that it's hard to keep track of everything that's happening. It's fun, but it leaves me a little dazed. Some parts of the plot are a little predictable, and the overall series story arc is a bit frustrating. We got some oblique hints in the first book, and now we get some fairly blatant hints, but only hints, as to where we're going. If it's supposed to be a surprise, make it a surprise, and if we're supposed to know the big stuff that's being planned, don't try to be coy about it. On the plus side, there was a little hint of where the world came from and why there are so many homages to Roman society, and we got some insight into the Canim, the only important non-human race so far in the story. On the minus side, there were a couple of apparent continuity errors: plot-driving stuff that was different from how I remembered it from the last book. Perhaps it's my memory. Overall, there are plenty of harrowing narrow escapes, enough places where moderately important characters don't escape that there's an appropriate amount of tension, the hero shows us that he's really quite heroic despite his handicap, and the story arc seems to be proceeding well.
I won't call it great, but it's a solid book. 8 out of 10.
**** PLOT HIGHLIGHTS -- SPOILERS ****
This isn't complete enough to be a summary, so I'm calling it highlights, but hopefully it will be enough to help me remember how this book advances the series arc.
The book takes place a couple of years after Furies of Calderon. Tavi is studying at the Academy and is serving as First Lord Gaius' page, but he still has no furies. He is training as a Cursor. In the first book, Cursors appeared to be royal messengers; now they seem to be a secret espionage corps. Tavi is the target of considerable bullying because he doesn't have furies to fight back with, but with the help of a few friends, including Max, who is a very powerful furycrafter but enough of a partier and cut-up that his black marks almost overshadow his performance, Tavi survives. A series of sorcerous hurricanes are assaulting Alera. Their fury is only blunted by Gaius himself, and Gaius pushes himself too far and goes into a coma on the eve of the politically sensitive Wintersend festival. While this is going on, back in Calderon, Doroga staggers in with a tiny remnant of his tribe bloody from a battle, and reveals that they all have really big trouble. The wax spiders from the previous book weren't an innocuous weird thing after all; they were an ancient enemy called the Vord. The Vord have the ability to take over the bodies of humans (and Canim), who become almost impervious to pain and very tough fighters. When Tavi set their nest on fire in the last book, they split into three parts. Doroga's clan took out one, a second one is holed up in Calderon and expected to do another 3 for one split very soon, and the third one apparently followed Tavi to the capital. Amara has been sent to Calderon to fetch Isana to the Wintersend festivities and gets caught up in dealing with the Calderon Vord nest. Isana has to go, but is escorted only by Serai, a courtesan, technically a slave, and secretly a Cursor, because Amara has to stay behind. They mean to get word to Gaius; but with Gaius incapacitated and unable to respond, the battle gets very dicey indeed. When all other avenues seem to be exhausted, Isana agrees to ally with Aquitaine, the traitor who intrigued with the Marat in the last book, in exchange for his sending his Windwolves to Calderon, where they arrive just in time to save the day.
Meanwhile, Tavi goes through a remarkable series of exploits in the capital, taking more and more initiative on his own but managing to barely survive, between his demands of keeping Gaius' collapse secret and his trying to rescue his aunt when he hears word of her. He recruits Max, who is a strong watercrafter, to be a double for Gaius at the major wave-at-the-crowd events. He also has to take messages to Varg, the Canim ambassador; this is where we get to see the inside of the Canim embassy and get a little bit of insight into these 9 foot tall wolf men. It seems that Varg is and remains an implacable enemy of Alera, but he wants to defeat Alera in open battle, rather than through dishonorable intrigue, so (once Tavi shows that he's willing to stand up to Varg, which really takes big brass ones) Varg drops hints. Varg doesn't realize that Sarl, his supposed clerk, is in league with the Vord, but he does know that Sarl is intriguing dishonorably. Then Tavi gets jumped by the bullies from the Academy while trying to rescue Isana, and only escapes with his life because Max comes along. Max then gets fingered for the assault and hauled into jail. To get him out, Tavi tracks down the mysterious thief he's been tracking, who turns out to be Kitai; Max is sprung from the unbreakable jail. The pack of Canim Sarl has secretly snuck in, now possessed by the Vord, attack the castle and Tavi manages to get the warning through and hold them off long enough for reinforcements to arrive. Gaius comes through the coma, and has managed to twist the political situation around so that Aquitaine must support him now to prevent a civil war that his rival Kalare would win. Strong hints are dropped that Gaius is grooming Tavi to be his heir -- but at least for now, Tavi remains ineligible because he still has no furies. This despite the fact that Tavi has managed to singlehandedly save Gaius' rule and the whole empire twice without any furycraft.