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The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
4.5
Book Name: The Aeronaut’s Windlass
Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher(s): ROC
Formatt: Hardback / Paperback / Ebook / Audiobook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: 29th September 2015

Jim-Butcher-BooksI should, in the interest of fairness, begin with two disclaimers.

The first is that I freaking love Jim Butcher, to an extent that would make both him and my wife uncomfortable were it ever discovered.

The second is that I really, really dislike steampunk. Of all the subgenres in fantasy, it is the one that is most likely to make me sigh and shake my head in disappointment.

So to say that I went into The Aeronaut’s Windlass with mixed feelings would be fair. On one hand, I have loved most of Butcher’s work in the past and am always happy to get more from him even when it isn’t more Dresden that he’s offering up. On the other, steampunk. Like, I know I need to keep an open mind and all, but… ugh… steampunk.

You can see my dilemma, I’m sure.

A new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…

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…

The first thing I have to say about this book is that Jim Butcher is some sort of time wizard. Every time I picked up The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in Butcher’s steampunk fantasy Cinder Spires series, I was almost immediately transported two hours and several hundred pages into the future. The simple but efficient writing style that has made Dresden so easily and readily consumable for the past decade is present here and I soon found myself about a quarter of the way through the book, wondering if I was enjoying it but still unable to stop myself.

GogglesSo why has this managed to make a good impression on me when I, by my own admission just a few paragraphs ago, hate steampunk? Probably because it doesn’t feel overtly steampunk. Sure, people have goggles and yes, there are airships, but at its heart this is a fantasy novel in a fantasy setting that just happens to have many of the same trappings that I despise about steampunk. It is a fun book with a detailed and interesting setting and a plot that is genuinely gripping.

In fact, I would say that this is probably one of the best written books Butcher has produced. Years of practice have made him remarkably skilful at writing action scenes, which is good because from the prologue straight through to the end this book is crammed full of fighting. Airship battles are just as tense and wonderfully described as the sword and magic fights, with the ships quickly becoming characters in their own right. Butcher’s experience as a martial artist shows in the way he describes the throws and movements are described and he always manages to strike the right balance between describing the action and leaving some of it to the reader’s imagination.

The characters in this book is, to my mind, stronger than that of the Codex Alera series, which also featured multiple protagonists, as opposed to Butcher’s Dresden Files series, which is told (ignoring some of the short stories) exclusively from Harry Dresden’s point of view. Often when a book covers multiple characters, I find myself fixated on a small number of them and feeling forced to trudge through the rest of the book just to get back to them. This ruined my enjoyment of A Song of Ice and Fire, which imposed one too many Sansa chapters on me rather than just let me party with Tyrion as I am wont to do.

Cat-ButcherCinder Spires, however, has a cast that I am generally excited to read more about. Even the talking cats, which I was fully prepared to roll my eyes at every time they showed up, were well written and enjoyable. As the perception shifts between characters, there aren’t any that made me sigh and hope for a short chapter. Between the feral warriorborn, the young and stubborn noblewoman, and the airship captain of questionable integrity, there are some tropes there, but each one has just enough depth revealed in this opening book to make me excited for where they’ll end up at the end of the book.

What most impresses me about this book is the fact that it manages to do so much to set up the world and still be a very entertaining read. The first book in both The Dresden Files and Codex Alera series suffered from having too much exposition to get across. The pacing on both suffered for their need to ease the reader into these new worlds. However, The Cinder Spires series shows everything that Butcher has learned in his time as one of the big names in modern fantasy. Like the action scenes, just enough is told about the setting to get me interested. Butcher clearly realises that we, as readers, will happily accept the idea of airships, giant murder-spiders, and (sigh) talking cats. There really isn’t the need to spell things out to us and the result is a book that hops from point to point without slowing down.

So no, it isn’t Dresden (though the airship captain is a decent stand in), but that doesn’t mean that The Aeronaut’s Windlass isn’t one of the most exciting fantasy books to come out this year. If you’re in the mood for pulpy action and the kind of read you can inhale over the course of a few settings, then it would be silly to miss out on this fun, character driven story.

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Rating: 9.6/10 (8 votes cast)
The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, 9.6 out of 10 based on 8 ratings
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One Comment

  1. I finished the book last night.

    I can’t agree on your happiness with the opening. The description of the “Predator” didn’t happen until halfway through the book so all those battle scenes had me imagining a dirigible or a floating warship from the Napoleonic era with forcefields like a starship. The spires weren’t given an adequate description for several hundred pages.

    The short viewpoint chapters early on piled on way too much information, much of which wasn’t of importance.

    I did, however, love the characters, and, when the plot really picked up, I kept reading.

    As to STORM FRONT, I think it’s an excellent example of how to start an urban fantasy series. I was so impressed with it that I taught a course on it for authors on how a series should be started. I’ve since posted it on my blog. It starts here if you are interested.

    http://mbyerly.blogspot.com/2013/06/jim-butchers-storm-front-part-1.html

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