By Jim Butcher.
I can't help but notice that usually when there's an author I love who has an awesome Series A, and then starts Series B or C.... I tend to not be as into B or C. Or flat out dislike them. Or just not find them as good. I'm not sure why this is, precisely, but it's a pretty consistent problem for me. I am having a very hard time right now trying to think of an author (except for Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant) where I like their second series as much as the first I read of theirs.
In this case, I can pretty much tell you why I am not into this series by Jim Butcher in the way that I adore the Harry Dresden series: lack of snark. For an author who is very funny despite dealing with dire shit, this book is not funny. It does not have a distinctive tone to me. It sounds like every other dang High Fantasy book you ever read in your life in the 80's. It doesn't stand out to me, I am sorry to say. I very nearly gave the hell up on reading it at around the 100 page mark-- then was all, "Well, geez, it's Jim Butcher, people love this series too, is there something I'm not missing?" So I looked at the TV Tropes page on it, and it sounds like in other books there's a dramatic lot of action and So Crazy It Just Might Work developments that are a hallmark of Butcher... so maybe they're good. So I stuck with this book. And it's okay. But I did not fall in love. It was kind of same old, same old rather than anything unusual that I'd expect from this author.
The plot: In the country of Alera, everyone has the ability to summon at least one elemental fury to do magic powers with. Except young Tavi, who has yet to come into bloody anything at age 15, leaving him the only furyless person above puberty around. It's embarrassing. This should be a bigger thing than it comes across in the story, because mostly the focus is on the action: a rival people, the Marat, who don't have furies but do bond with animals and like to eat Alerans, are going to attack the Alerans after years of peace.
The first person to find that out is Amara*, a young Cursor** who finds out that her mentor Fidelias*** has turned traitor specifically because their ruler Gaius Sextus no longer has an heir and hasn't managed to produce another, so he might as well join the side of the next most powerful dude. Who is in league with the Marat to start a war. Amara gets the hell out of there and ends up in the Calderon Valley, where she meets Tavi and his uncle and aunt, and they get involved in the battle. Tavi in particular ends up in the clutches of the Marat, which... has an interesting, unusual outcome and you can see where the kid has more to him brainwise than has met the eye so far in this book. Meanwhile Amara and Uncle Bernard go to battle...and get attracted to each other. And Aunt Isara is targeted by a psychotic rival steadholder who wants to enslave her.
Honestly, it's okay. The start of it is freaking slow (I think that's kind of a weakness considering that 100+ pages in I was seriously considering bailing on the book), and Tavi takes about 3/4 of the book to start standing out as why we should care about his ass. I like Isana, Bernard, and Amara all right, though they're all pretty typical fantasy heroes to me. More unusual/intriguing/horrifying are the trio of baddies, Fidelias and the lovebirds he hangs out with. Especially Odiana, a former slave who was driven insane and while she's murderous, she's still got hidden depths going on. Later on in the book, on the other hand, there's so much action that I had a hard time keeping track of it all.
I'm giving it three stars, but it wasn't my favorite ever. Maybe later books get better.
* Note: maybe not have a character with so similar a name to the country?
** Personal guard? Courier? Spy? Something like that.,
*** Hah irony, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE.