Friday, July 22, 2016

REVIEW | The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Cinder Spires #1
Awards: Hugo Award Nominee, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  I love me some Jim Butcher.  Plus sailing ships that fly.   

SYNOPSIS:  In what appears to be a far future Earth (?), human kind has built a civilization on Spires of rock in the sky that seem to have been built by some unknown entity in the far past.  Captain Frances Madison Grimm is a free lance airship captain, a job he took up after being dishonorably discharged from Spire Albion's navy.  Gwendolyn and Bridget are from completely different different backgrounds but both are new recruits to Spire Albion's guard.  The lives of these three characters come together when the leader of Spire Albion calls on them to perform a special mission after a rival Spire, Aurora, launches an attack.  Far from being a simple escalation of tensions between the two spires, the forces at work driving these two spires to conflict are mysterious and dark and perhaps originating from the surface of the ruined planet.  All that Captain Grimm, Gwen, Bridget and a few other of their ensemble cast know however, is that they must defend their Spire at all costs.   


This was overall a pretty satisfying book and from my perspective (I haven't read his Codex Alera series), a departure from Butcher's other work. I don't totally understand or see the big picture of the world he creates here but I really like it nonetheless and it feels like it is laying the foundation for some epic reveals and narrative twists in future books. There is just enough detail to get on with, give context and uniqueness but without bogging down the narrative with too much description and world building.  I thought it very well done for my tastes though it may frustrate folks who really enjoy intricate world building.

As far as is revealed, it is a far future of our world, bordering on dystopia.  Humans live in the air on giant spires above a planet where the surface has been somehow corrupted.  The world has a strong steampunk flavor with the society being somewhat feudal in structure but they have access to electricity by harnessing etheric energies using crystals that are grown.  There are different spires that don't always get along with each other and each spire has many separate levels called Habbles that operate somewhat independently though all are under a single spire ruler.

One aspect of the book that got me very excited was that is has an ensemble cast with two main groups operating separately before the story weaves them together. The story is told from six different points of view and Butcher does an acceptable job of making this work though it's not perfect. I definitely had my favorite POVs and got a little impatient from time to time when the story shifted.  The holy grail, and it is truly magnificent when it happens, is to suck the reader in so hard to every single storyline/POV that you're almost equally excited at the start of each new chapter (the earlier installments in The Song of Ice and Fire come to mind).  The Aeronaut's Windlass didn't hit that sweet spot for me but it was still a heck of a lot of fun and I'm pleased that Butcher went with this type of storytelling (which may be my favorite).  

I think where the book struggled the most for me was with the characters.  Oddly Gwendolyn (and Benedict) were my favorites which is a not what I would have expected.  I think Gwendolyn was the only character that came off as individual and unique enough under the book's structure - she had a personality that stood out and she and Benedict had a sense of humor and fun banter. Benedict, while not a POV character (though I kinda wish he was), is interesting because he is a warriorborn, meaning he is part human, part feline. We spend a lot of time with Captain Grimm but to be honest he was kind of boring - very proper and bursting with integrity and valor.  I feel like Butcher spent a lot of time trying to convince me how awesome Grimm was instead of giving him an interesting personality. Bridget also was a little boring though she is the type of character I would normally love.  I also can't forget to mention Rowl and his clan who are definitely the most interesting and fun characters.  Their cats, you see, that talk, and are bad-ass.  Butcher nails what a cat society might look like and it's fun that Rowl, Bridget's constant companion and protector, is one of the POV narrators.  Regardless, all the characters are perfectly likeable enough to carry the real star of the show which is the world-building and story.

The plot is actually fairly straight-forward but hints at complexities to come.  Butcher's strength, in the Dresden Files at least, is creating fast-paced plots that leave you breathless and frequently cheering.  The Aeronaut's Windlass doesn't quite reach Dresden levels of awesome chaos but it trundles along at a respectable pace and kept me interested.  Honestly, Butcher had his hands full in this book - establishing an ensemble cast, a complex society and world AND keeping the plot pumping along.  As a result, perhaps not all the elements are as strong as they could be but they're not bad and I am definitely excited for what's coming next in the series.

FINAL VERDICT:  An enjoyable first installment for a series I have high hopes for!  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: The Bibliosanctum | Reading Reality

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