This book review is fueled by David Bowie’s entire discography on shuffle. All hail the Goblin King.
Let me start by saying that I’m already a Jim Butcher fan. I love the Dresden books, although I haven’t kept up with them, and I’ve got The Codex Alera on my TBR list. Some things that stick out to me about Butcher’s writing is his strong, witty dialogue and concise action scenes. Both are in evidence in The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first in a new series titled The Cinder Spires, and yet this book exceeded my expectations.
What really delighted me with this book was the world building and character development. The Cinder Spires series takes place in a world where the planet has overgrown to the point where it is inhabitable for humans. As a result, humans live on these incomprehensibly huge spires, each with a name taken from its monarch, known as a Spirearch.
This story takes place on Spire Albion. Life on the spire is just similar enough to our own that we’re able to take the discrepancy in stride. Like vatteries, for instance. As far as I could tell, vatteries are alchemical wonders that grow various products. Bridget, one of the main characters, is heir to the foremost meat vattery. Gwendolyn is also an heir, to the crystal vattery, which makes her practically royalty. More on that in a bit. Her cousin Benedict is heir to nothing, but is his own intriguing, mostly unexplained mystery. He’s what’s known as a Warriorborn. As far as I can tell, this means he’s sort of like a Thundercat. He’s often described as “leonine”, and is super strong and agile. But, Warriorborn, while respected and appreciated, aren’t held in high esteem with the upper classes.
These three characters come together as they train in the Spire’s Guard. Sort of like a police force for the entire Spire. And wherever Bridget goes, Rowl goes too.
Rowl was probably one of my favorite characters. He’s a 30 pound ginger cat, and a prince. In Butcher’s series cats are feral, and run in tribes in the Spire’s ventilation tunnels.They tend to treat humans with disdain, if not outright malice, but Rowl’s tribe, the Silent Paws, has struck an accord with Bridget’s family, and they work together amicably.
I want to mention here that Jim Butcher has captured the essence of cat culture in the most convincing and humorous way possible. Rowl is arrogant, self-assured, and diffident. He is unwilling to admit that he loves Bridget, or that he likes it when she coddles him, and watching him battle with these facts brings much needed humor to the book.
Not to be forgotten is Captain Grimm, a disgraced former Albion Fleet Captain who’s taken up privateering. His ship, AMS Predator, is his home and a major setting for the novel. The rest of the characters find themselves as guests on Grimm’s ship after the Spirearch selects them for a delicate mission in one of the lower Habbles. As far as I’ve gathered, Habbles are the various levels, or decks, of the Spire. How many there are and what each one provides to the Spire is are unknown to me.
But, before I get ahead of myself, there are two more characters. Master Ferrus and his apprentice, Folly. They are what’s known as Etherealists. Basically, they are mages that wield the power of ether. For this story ether is an enigmatic power source. There are ether currents that allow ships to fly, creatures that produce ethersilk, which enhances ether-based abilities, and crystals which harness ether into electricity. It’s a very complex and well developed power source for the world, even if Butcher hasn’t showed all his cards yet when it comes to the stuff. But, the important part to keep in mind is that extended exposure to raw ether tends to deteriorate the mind, meaning that Ferrus and Folly are a bit… eccentric. Powerful, but absolutely batty.
So, this motley crew sets off to Habble Landing, a large, booming economic trade center, to seek out spies and combatants from Spire Aurora, who has recently declared war on Spire Albion.
You’d think it’s be pretty straightforward from there.
You’d be wrong.
The Auroran plot turns out to be much bigger than simple sabotage and warfare, as they have a powerful Etherealist of their own. Madame Cavendish is as ruthless and cold as she is crazy, and she is crazy as shit. And though she’s the main villain of this novel, it’s clear that she’s small on the scale of baddies waiting for our gaggle of unlikely heroes.
There are battles with Silkweavers, giant twelve-legged venomous bugs that produce ethersilk, which acts as webbing when fresh. So, man-sized spiders on crack. Awesome! There are multiple airship battles, and Butcher handles them with such tact and grace that my heart raced and my fingers very nearly bled as I gnawed away at them.
I will admit that the story was slow to build. There was so much world building to be done, and about ten characters that had to be introduced and fleshed out well enough that, in the heat of aerial battle, the reader would know what in all hells was happening.
And though slow, every moment was entertaining. As expected, the dialogue was sharp, clever, and funny. The dynamics between characters were natural and convincing, and I gladly read pages of conversation, hooked as if it were a matter of life and death.
This novel, the world Butcher has built, and the characters that he’s shared with us that call Spire Albion home, are all far too big to discuss here. But I’ve told you what impressed me, and shared the one potential failing of the story. There’s not much more I can say within a reasonable amount of space, except that I highly recommend this novel.
And that I hate that I must wait for the sequel!
See you soon Blogland,