Written by: Jim Butcher
Published by: Roc
Release date: September 29th 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Steampunk
Source: BookExpo America 2015
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
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…
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…
So here’s the deal. I’m feeling sort of burnt out writing reviews lately (as are a lot of us blogger-types, I think). So, I want to sort of approach this as though I’m NOT writing a review. I just want to talk (type?) at you about this book for a bit. Because I love this book.
First, some backstory: I’ve been a fan of Jim Butcher since way before I started blogging. I binged what I could of The Dresden Files throughout 2010 and into 2011 — same with Codex Alera. (Thanks, Goodreads, for keeping track of those dates for me, lol.) If you don’t know anything about them, Dresden is urban fantasy, and Codex Alera is straight-up fantasy. They remain two of my all-time favorite series (despite my seeming lack of ability to catch up with Dresden, urgh!!!).
So when I say I was excited to hear that Jim Butcher was working on a new steampunk series, which he described as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets Sherlock meets Hornblower with airships and talking cats — you must understand, I was flipping excited. He mentioned it at a book signing I attended back in late 2012, and from that moment I needed it in my life.
I was able to pick it up at BEA ’15, which was surreal. But of course, I put off reading it, because isn’t that what we always do with super-highly-anticipated books from favorite authors? Either read them the moment we get our hands on them, or WAIT. FOREVER. Really, I just waited until about a month before release, but still.
All this to say, when I did get around to reading it, I went into it with a different feeling than I do with most books. I sat down knowing (like, 100% knowing) that I would hugely enjoy this book. I sat down trusting — knowing — that the worldbuilding would be great, that the characters would be great, that the plot would be great. And a mindset like that, one that just lets you fall into a story and turn off your analytical “what am I liking/not liking?” brain, is pure bliss. It means not having to worry about “am I liking this?” and having your only issues be ones of “omg, what’s going to happen next?!” or “oooh, I can’t wait to see how this plays out.” It means not worrying that characters might not be well-developed (Butcher’s characters are some of the best); it means not getting impatient with a longer book because you want the worldbuilding or plot explained faster (you’re content to wait); it means knowing that any and all payoff at the end will be worth it.
I love it when I’m right.
I can count on one hand the number of authors whom I trust like this. Butcher is one of my favorites for a reason, and this book encapsulates that reason.
Pssst, for those of you looking for the actual review-part of this post, here we go . . .
One of my favorite things about Butcher’s books is his worldbuilding, and this one is no exception. The worldbuilding in The Aeronaut’s Windlass is phenomenal. Butcher is one of those authors whose worlds spring from the page fully formed, instead of building slowly to clarity. There’s no info-dumping, really, because the world (obviously) exists around the characters you follow through the book, and you learn about it as you need to, not all at once with a primer in the beginning.
Essentially, humanity lives in these huge “spires,” — cylindrical constructions that are two miles high and about the same wide. Things really kick off when Spire Albion comes under attack from neighboring Spire Aurora — there’s a war brewing, but the scope isn’t limited to that impending war. There’s some sort of evil lurking behind the scenes, and though the beginnings of this cross-spire war are the main focus of The Aeronaut’s Windlass, you can see a larger threat in the periphery gearing up for later books, and it is pretty creepy.
The characters are all fantastic. There are a lot of them, and Butcher does a fantastic job as usual with making them all wonderfully realistic and well-developed. Eventually, the entire group of main characters is thrown together in a mission assigned to them by the Spirearch of Albion, a top-secret mission that none of them fully understand until later.
First, we’ve got Grimm, a “disgraced” fleet captain who now captains his own private vessel, Predator. MY FAVE. He’s essentially Hook from Once Upon a Time except not quite as roguish. Which might be a negative, for some people, but he’s also got an intense sense of loyalty and honor and an air of command (hello, airship captain) that I looooved. Here have a quote:
“Predator is not property,” Grimm said in a calm, level tone. “She is not my possession. She is my home. Her crew are not my employees. They are my family. And if you threaten to take my home and destroy the livelihood of my family again, Commodore, I will be inclined to kill you where you stand.”
Then there’s Gwen, a young noblewoman who, when the book begins, has decided (against her mother’s wishes) that she wants to begin her year of service with Spire Albion’s guards (basically a year in the military). She’s the sort of noblewoman-character who I thought might rub me the wrong way — she’s a bit haughty, and sometimes overly-bold, but she’s also incredibly intelligent. And you know what? I ended up loving all of those qualities. Butcher’s characters are so well-developed that qualities that might grate on me, or that might end up making a character annoying, turn into qualities I understand in the scope of that character’s history. I love that.
Bridget is another main character — and she was one I knew I would love from the start. She’s shy, and doesn’t want to want to do her year of service with Albion’s guards, but her father convinces her to go — by telling her she gets to take her friend Rowl along with her. Bridget is completely wonderful — practical and reserved but with absolutely no shortage of courage. I desperately want to be BFFs with her.
There’s also Benedict. If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that there was not. enough. Benedict. (There’s never enough Benedict.) On top of being quite the formidable warrior, he’s also incredibly sweet and loyal, and I loved him. He’s Gwen’s cousin, and he’s already served in the guard for some time before Gwen and Bridget join up. Gwen and Benedict are very close, and it was really awesome seeing such a strong bond between the two — close-family relationships aren’t usually that prominent in the books I’ve been reading lately.
Aaaaaaand then there’s Rowl. I mentioned Rowl earlier — that he’s Bridget’s friend? Yeah, well, Rowl is a cat. And a full-fledged character in his own right. One of my absolute favorite characters in the book, in fact (who would find me and kill me if I said anything less). Oh, how does one even go about describing Rowl? Well, he talks, for one. And Bridget speaks cat, and Rowl is able to understand all the humans, so he’s not your normal animal-sidekick type of character (he’s also definitely not a sidekick). And… he is a cat. That’s really the best way to describe him. He is 100% pure feline sass — a prideful, holier-than-thou, deigns-to-associate-with-mere-humans cat. And he’s glorious.
The plot and pacing are fantastic — there’s just as much aeronautic swashbuckling as you could ask for in a book this size, and even more adventure besides. There’s murder, mystery, mayhem… even a little spark of romance…
What? You didn’t expect me to go an entire
review Not Review without mentioning a ship, did you? There’s a ship. I love the ship. I 100% ship the ship. It’s just a hint in this book, but I am 100% positive that it’s Going Somewhere and I am so excited to see where it goes.
Anyway, once things kick off, there’s never a dull moment. And that’s somewhat despite the fact that a lot of this book is essentially setup for larger series-spanning plots. As I said earlier, though — when it comes to Butcher, I know without a doubt that he’s got a plan. Did everything get resolved and tied up with a pretty bow? No. The ending doesn’t feel like an ending so much as its own beginning. But the book-specific plot wraps up very well — and I am more than happy to wait for the rest.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a fantastic start to what promises to be — to what I know will be — an amazing series, and I am so excited to see where it goes.