The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors… (from Goodreads)
Publisher’s Description: Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Did you read the new Jim Butcher novel, Aeronaut’s Windless, Book One in the Cinder Spires series?
I did. I had a tough time getting into it but I eventually finished it.
That doesn’t sound promising…
I try not to compare books I review to other books, but I think I need to compare Butcher to Butcher. I was reminded way too much of Codex Alera in reading this book. Big noble houses, fighting over scarce resources, and a spider like menace that threatens them all.
I can’t bring myself to compare it to Codex Alera – despite loving the Dresden Files, I did not care for Codex Alera at all. I couldn’t finish the first book of the series, and I tried four separate times. While Aeronaut’s Windless took me a good three chapters, eventually I was fully committed.
That is interesting. Another thing that got to me was I thought the kids were way too mature. I think they are supposed to be sixteen to nineteen and just a bit too experienced and good.
That is another interesting dichotomy in our reactions to the novel as I was very comfortable with the maturity level of the characters. Given that the genre is Steampunk, we’re talking future-Victorian era level of expectations. Women were expected to be marriageable between ages fourteen and eighteen leading up to that, and with the right social status were taught the ways of court, expectations, etc. Given now that these are characters who are joining The Guard, undergoing training etc, in that Victorian-inspired setting, I was at ease with sixteen to nineteen year olds acting the way they did – but that’s just me. Did you ever read Little Women? I recall them being quite mature, the way we think of it, at that age.
When we get introduced to Gwendolyn Lancaster, and joining the guard, I had this idea she had already graduated some form of high school, was eighteen or nineteen, and was going to do this because everyone was supposed to serve. Same for the other girl, Bridget Tagwynn. I got it in my head she was at least three years older. So when it turns out she’s sixteen, I don’t buy it. It snapped me out of it and it didn’t jive with how she acted the rest of the time. Again, I’m not saying I thought she was older than twenty five but I just didn’t think how she was described was sixteen.
However, my big turn off was the cats. Maybe I’m not a cat person but all of it could have been cut, at least the perspective stuff, and I would have been fine.
There’s that dichotomy again – I thought the cats were one of the best parts! I will note, based on conversations with others I know who have read this, that you either love them or hate them with a passion. I thought Butcher nailed the cat attitudes of nonchalance, and thinking they’re better than the humans, and scoffing at the way the humans do things, and the main one’s air of self importance. I thought it was hilarious, and spot-on for how I would imagine cats to think/act/communicate, if they could in the same way we do. So I really enjoyed that part. It also provided a burst of nostalgia, reminding me of Oberon from the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, and how totally opposite the cats are from that dog.
Nope, I can’t budge on the cats. I didn’t like them. I’m not disagreeing that he captured what a cat would probably be like but I didn’t like them. I think it’s also because he spent too much time with them. They didn’t work for me.
As a moderate annoyance, I think this was more me but I didn’t get a good picture in my head of what the spires look like and how they work. This vague idea of carved/created blocks where humanity now lives but not what Habble Landing was or how it differed, other than more wood? I also didn’t get a good picture in my head of how they eat when they can’t get to the surface. Basically, daily life on the spires.
On that point we have found common ground. I agree with your annoyance at the visuals in your mind’s eye. Usually I like it when authors give you just enough to let your imagination fill it in, and I abhor when they spend three pages describing the bushes the character is passing (which is why Traditional Fantasy is often difficult for me to enjoy) – but I agree that I think he fell a bit short on providing the “just enough” for me as well.
I did find some things to like in the book. I did like the tech. I think he had some good “rules” for crystal tech and the gauntlets. I liked the Spirearch and Captain Grimm. I mostly liked the ship battles. I glazed over at times when it wasn’t clear to me but the tactics and ideas were interesting.
I agree. I also appreciated that the love story kept the Victorian approach to it, and didn’t delve into make-out sessions in a teen romance-novel way.
I can agree with that. I really liked the Victorian approach and wanted to know more about the society. I think some more history would have been better than a bit of action, such as with the temple. I’m also wanting to know why the spires don’t like each other? Again, it’s probably resources, but we were left wanting on that front. However, in this case, I was left wanting more and in a good way, hoping later books would allow him to fill in those gaps.
So, how would you rate this book?
I’m giving this a 4. What about you?
I give it a 2. With some edited content and a tighter story, it would easily have been higher.
Vagabond Vahn says…
The Good: I’m a fan of Steampunk, and while this could be argued as Steampunk-lite from the descriptive perspective, the feel was still there and pulled me in. I’m not a cat person. In fact, many cats hate me; I think it’s beard jealousy. That said, contrary to Percy I enjoyed the cats very much and appreciated the maturity level of the teenage characters given the Victorian aesthetic. Again, this is likely going to be a love it or hate it topic for most – for me, the maturity level kept the Young Adult feel away, given that all of the main characters are teenagers. As this is fantasy, I accepted and appreciated it. I thought the other characters were very thought out as well, to ensure they’d stand out against the crowd. Each character has very identifiable quirks and not only does that help when there are many side characters, but it also endeared them to me.
The Bad: I think Butcher fell a tad short on the descriptive side. I would have liked to know a bit more about the politics between spires, some of the history on the spires themselves, and especially a bit more backstory on the monastery down on the ground. I think he missed a great opportunity with that, because the characters arrived, it was building to be fascinating, and then we moved on. While I don’t dislike any of the characters as a whole, I do think Gwendolyn was perhaps the most generic – I hope to see her evolve a bit more in the next entry.
The Conclusion: This entry is a great example of what makes One Book Two so neat; Percy and I read many of the same novels, and often make recommendations to one another for additions to our reading lists. Yet here we are, disagreeing on most counts with this one. It took me a good three chapters to be brought into the world, but once in I gave myself to it and never looked back. It was a fun ride – a bit light on world building, but filled with diverse characters and adventure. Due to how many love it/hate it scenarios lie within, it’s difficult to provide a blanket recommendation. Give it a shot, see what you think.
Percy Procrastinator says…
Things I liked: Even though I didn’t like big parts of the book, the writing was mostly good. A few descriptions of daily life and a map of the spires would have gone a long way to help clear up many of my issues, such as how and what they eat, or how the energy crystals are grown. It did leave me curious enough to check out Book 2, but if the next book is still frustrating, I won’t read beyond that.
Things I didn’t like: I didn’t care for the cats. Even though he probably captured what cats would be like, it detracted from the other characters a bit too much. If he had cut out all of the parts with Rowl on his own for a short story later, I would have liked it more. It would have added mystery to Rowl’s part in the book. I also found Gwendolyn lacking personality. She was too generic and seemed to have a quality because the story needed it, not because she was fleshed out and it fit well. I think Gwendolyn and Bridget acted way too mature for their age. They seemed to be three or four years older than they were.
Final Thoughts: If I had followed the same rule for this book as I do for any other book I read for review, I would have given up at the fifty percent mark. At that point, I didn’t care about the characters and my interest in the plot wasn’t that high. I’m glad I did finish it, but I probably did only because it was Butcher. This is how it was with Book 1, and maybe Book 2, of his Codex Alera series. I guess he has earned enough trust with me, more than the other authors, that I kept going.
If you like this book…
…you might try the obvious, the Codex Alera and Dresden Files series, also by Jim Butcher. You might also like Devon Monk’s Allie Beckstrom series for the magic system she’s developed. For more steampunk adventure, try Clay & Susan Griffith’s Crown & Key series.