Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut’s Windlass / Cinder Spires, Book One.

I read this book initially in March, and I came back to it again before reviewing it, because honestly, I wasn’t sure about it. Now, having read it again, I find myself liking it more and more.

Jim Butcher is skilled at creating worlds, and this one is a world where humans live in Spires, which are complicated structures, lifting above the surface, from which Scary Things Emerge. Spire Albion is home of “the good guys,” and Spire Aurora is home of “the bad guys,” which is fine. The key to this world, though, is that there are airships which fly like ships do on water, except in the air.

The main characters are Captain Grimm of the airship Predator, and his crew, as well as a few plucky teenagers who are part of the SpireArch’s Guard. I like that there are several strong female characters, who simply kick ass. Jim Butcher understands that modern sci-fi/fantasy has to include strong female protagonists. One of the main characters is a cat, who is prince of The Silent Paws, and the sections that are narrated by the cat have a lot of snark, because cats have so much disdain for all things human, naturally. The characters are well developed, the plot is well thought out, and the villain is a rather proper lady who is mildly terrifying. But this world and its characters are not as compelling to me, and I just can’t put my finger on why.  This book lacks the humor, the spunk, the Jim-Butcher-y-ness that makes a Jim Butcher novel a Jim Butcher novel. Maybe the essence will come in later books, and I’m willing to read them.

Let’s be clear: Jim Butcher has created some of my favorite characters in fiction. Harry Dresden and Karrin Murphy, from The Dresden Files, and Tavi, Isana and Bernard from The Codex Alera. I love these books, and reread them about once every three years or so – the worlds are so rich and the characters are so fleshy, flawed, and real. But this book lacked something I can’t really put my finger on.

Lastly, I don’t get steampunk. This might be the whole problem of me not getting this book, because one of the reviews on the back cover says something like, “Jim Butcher? Steampunk? You had me at hello.” If someone would kindly explain this to me, I would be grateful.