STARRED REVIEW
September 29, 2015

A brave new world for Jim Butcher

By Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher's exciting new series is a steampunk-steeped, Napoleonic naval battle-flavored series called The Cinder Spires. True to the steampunk genre mandate, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has plenty of goggles (worn out of necessity, not mere fashion, natch), airships and Old World, aristocratic political structures.
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Occasionally, Jim Butcher likes to write about things other than wizard PIs in a noir-tinged Windy City. His first departure from the 15-book (and counting) Dresden Files series was 2004’s Furies of Calderon, the first of six books in the Codex Alera series. Now comes The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first entry in a new, steampunk-steeped, Napoleonic naval battle-flavored series called The Cinder Spires. True to the steampunk genre mandate, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has plenty of goggles (worn out of necessity, not mere fashion, natch), airships and Old World, aristocratic political structures, known as Spires.

The author wastes no time establishing and gathering his ensemble. By the end of Chapter 8, The Aeronaut’s Windlass has introduced us to Bridget, scion of a once-prominent noble house now on its last legs; her cat, Rowl; highborn Gwendolyn Lancaster and her fighter (“warriorborn”) cousin, Benedict; the grizzled Captain Grimm; and master etherealist Ferus and his assistant, Folly. Not long after that, this particular fellowship has been bound together and sent off to stop the mysterious force behind a very coordinated and deadly series of attacks on Spire Albion by its rival, Spire Aurora.

If much of the initial setup of the book seems rushed (and some of those names, cartoonish), well, they are. If anything, the opening chapters are a reminder of how tough seamless world building can be, especially when you don’t have a fully realized environment premade by, well, reality, as is the case with the modern-day Chicago of the Dresden Files. The initial presentation of Spire Albion relies heavily on a mashup of steampunk clichés and England-versus-France naval intrigue circa the Napoleonic Era, but thanks to the swiftly moving plot, these shortcomings aren’t anywhere near fatal.

With each page turned, the distractions lessen as the characters are fleshed out by actions and interactions. Butcher’s skill in presenting and resolving extended action scenes on multiple fronts also does its part in keeping the reader’s attention. By the end of The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the only question a reader is likely to have is the most important one for any series debut: What is going to happen next?

Michael Burgin writes about movies for Paste magazine. He lives in Nashville.

 

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The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

By Jim Butcher
Roc
ISBN 9780451466808

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