Title: The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass
Author: Jim Butcher
Pages: 768 (paperback)
The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first entry in Jim Butcher’s fantasy series The Cinder Spires. Jim Butcher’s foray into the Steampunk fantasy subgenre quickly hurls the reader into nonstop, relentless action as the inhabitants of the Spires struggle for survival against their ruthless enemies. Fans of The Dresden Files or Jim Butcher’s highly underrated Codex Alera series will find a touch of the familiar along with a whole new world to explore.
Jim Butcher’s worldbuilding is impeccable, as always. He creates a unique fantasy setting that borrows a great deal from Victorian mannerisms and the trappings of European noble houses. The Spires, which our characters call home, are held aloft miles above the ground and the most lucrative trade is the production of powerful crystals that can power airships. Due to the air-borne nature of the setting, the airships are a primary focus of the story and are the centerpieces of many adventures. The grizzled, veteran Captain Grimm and his crew are clearly inspired by Star Trek, and Jim Butcher uses Trek-like terminology and tactics when he describes the vessel, the organization of its crew, and the inevitable airship clashes. He even includes a grumpy, miracle-working engineer character who is essentially a reincarnation of Scotty from Star Trek: The Original Series.
The primary young protagonist, the young and fiery Lady Gwendolyn, quickly finds herself embroiled in competition with the other trainees who have enrolled to join the Guard of the Spires. Gwendolyn’s interactions with her family, her rival from another noble house, and her talking cat (Rowl) are all approached with Jim Butcher’s characteristic wit and humor. The talking cats even form an entire civilization complete with a king and rather unique insights into the human race. One can only hope that his next book in the series will include talking dogs! Bridget, another Guard trainee, has grown up as a commoner and is sure to connect with the reader as a favorite in this world of haughty aristocrats.
A sudden attack on Spire Albion throws all of the Spire’s normalcy out the window in an instant and hurls our heroes into life and death situations at every turn. Events build organically and Lady Gwendolyn’s storyline neatly interwines with that of Captain Grimm. There are many complex secondary characters, such as the Etherialist Efferus Effrenus Ferus, who is stunningly wise and insane simultaneously. The plot is fast-paced (as Jim Butcher’s fans will have come to expect) and the climax of the book lasts for roughly the last two hundred pages as the stakes continue to rise.
I must confess that it took me longer to buy into The Aeronaut’s Windlass than The Dresden Files or Codex Alera. Steampunk is not one of my favorite types of fantasy, and at times it seemed like the influence from Star Trek was a bit too obvious (and I state this as an avid Trekker). If Steampunk is one of your favorite genres, then I imagine that you will instantly fall in love with The Cinder Spires, but enjoying Dresden does not automatically equal love of The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Overall, however, The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a unique and satisfying adventure in itself that still manages to leave room for the sequel.
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