Okay, I confess. I finished this book back in February, but there hasn’t been much time for reading or reviewing since then, but this one deserves to be discussed. I am going to try a slightly different formula for the review, though, so let me know what you think in the comments or on Facebook.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher is probably best known for his Dresden Files series, which is urban fantasy. He has also written the Codex Alera, a six-book series that I would describe as more traditional (arguably epic) fantasy, and one of my favorite series of all time, although many people don’t even know these books exist. Therefore, I was super excited when I saw The Aeronaut’s Windlass on the shelf at my local bookstore. Based on the jacket cover, this promised to be something more along the lines of the Codex Alera and away from his urban fantasy roots.
In a nutshell, the plot of Windlass is about the intrigue and events that bring unlikely allies together in order to prevent their Spire (what amounts to a Kingdom in this world) from falling prey to one of their more militant neighbors. I think the sheer number of POV characters is what makes me feel this is epic fantasy, but perhaps the word “Steampunk” could be better used to describe Windlass. And there are a LOT of characters. I remember at least five different POVs in this book (Captain Grimm, Gwen, Bridget, Rowl, Folly, and more). And yet, it works! Each of the characters reads very differently, so you don’t get confused as to whose eyes you are seeing through. One particular character I would like to draw your attention to is Rowl. Highborn among the Cats on Squire Albion, Rowl has the haughty attitude you see in all cats: fierce independence, arrogance, and the sense that you exist only at his leisure. Rowl reminds me very much of my own cats. I could totally see Mu plotting my death if I were to call her a “little scavenger.” He isn’t just a gimmick character, either. On two occasions, Rowl saves everyone’s life at great personal risk to his own.
On that topic, I think it is important to point out that there are no token characters in this book. Each character has a role, especially when they’re ill-suited for it. And I loved them all the more for their daring and swashbuckling when hopelessly overwhelmed.
I honestly can’t remember what Butcher named his world (and I am too tired to find it), but I do remember many of the lavish details. First and foremost, the Surface is a poisoned and unfriendly place; an area where everything wants to kill you, even the air. As a result, all the remaining people live in the Cinder Spires, massive vertical towers of ancient and powerful construction left over by a precurson culture. Trade occurs using airships that navigate using crystals of power that allow them to ride the ether, the energy that transverses the world.
One of my favorite things about this book is also probably one of my favorite things about the Codex Alera. In both cases, Butcher shows himself to not only be creative when thinking up how the physics, science, and magic of his worlds work, but also the tactical and strategic ramifications of those discoveries and actions. The ether and etheric crystals and the characters’ understanding of how they work and their dangers play key roles in the decisions made, but at no time does the reader feel left behind or unsure as to the motivation. And it is is all done so unobtrusively that you don’t even realize he’s feeding you exposition with the plot points and dialogue.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, I think you really ought to check this one out. It’s the first in a new series (the number of books is unknown to me at this time), so it may be next year or later before the next one comes out. I know I’ll be waiting.
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