Early Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher (Cinder Spires #1)


The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher // VBCThe Aeronauts Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1)
Jim Butcher
Published: Sept. 29, 2015 (Roc)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

Reviewed by: Margaret

Rating (out of 5): 4 stars

The Aeronauts Windlass tells the story of a disgraced airship captain, three teenaged cadets, a madman and his apprentice, and a cat, who try to save their home from an invading army. I loved Captain Grimm and want to know more about him. I respect his understanding of what everyone else needs him to be, but I’m also rooting for him to find something for himself. I liked that Gwendolyn and Bridget didn’t suddenly turn into Supergirl or become damsels in distress. They both knew their strengths and used them to their advantage. And I loved the addition of Rowl the cat’s POV. It’s clever and often funny, but it’s also integral the story.

I was expecting a steampunk novel, but The Aeronauts Windlass is actually much more complicated than that. The Albion society does have the historical feel that you normally find in steampunk. The High Houses of the aristocracy form a governing Council for the Spire. Gwendolyn displays a typical Victorian obsession with etiquette. There are airships and a few of the other expected gadgets as well. But the world is basically post-apocalyptic. People can no longer live on the planet’s surface. It’s covered with vegetation and strange feral animals. Everyone has lived in the Spires for thousands of years, some spending their whole lives indoors.

The first airship battle is straight out of Star Trek—just replace the Enterprise with a flying pirate ship. Grimm’s Predator has an energy shield which they call a shroud, laser cannons, and a chief engineer whose “Aye Captain” is followed by a rant about everything that could go wrong. (In my head he has a Scottish accent, but that part’s not actually in the book.) The ship is even powered by crystals that may not be able to handle the stress of evasive maneuvers. The crystals are grown in vats just like all of their food, which sounds a lot like cloning and added to the sci-fi feel for me.

I was thinking the story could just as easily be set in space with the Spires as rival planets or space stations until I considered the ether. Airships and other steampunk gadgets are often powered by ether, but the way Butcher’s ships use it is more complex than anything I’ve seen before. Some people are also able to channel etheric energy, but doing so makes them insane. The etherealist Ferrus seems the stereotypical eccentric old wizard type with his mismatched clothes and inability to open doors. His apprentice Folly reminds me of Luna Lovegood. Her friends learn to understand her and accept that she sees things that others don’t. And Folly sees some very disturbing visions of the future. They suggest an evil force working behind the scenes, but it’s all quite vague. I’m wondering whether the magic-like elements become more prominent in future books.

My only complaint is that it took me a while to figure out the terminology. I would have liked a glossary or a map of the Spire at the beginning to explain some of the terms. Because of that confusion it took me a little while to really get into the story, but once I got going I didn’t want to put it down.

I believe that The Cinder Spires is planned as a trilogy. This first book only covers the beginning of the war. I still have a lot of unanswered questions, mostly about the possibility of a Big Bad lurking behind the scenes. I want to know more about the history of the Spires and the mysterious Builders. I also want to see how the relationships develop between these characters. There’s a particular couple I’d like to get together—fingers crossed.

Sexual content: none

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