With “The Aeronaut’s Windlass” ($27.95, Roc) Jim Butcher introduces us to a very different world from the ones he’s worked in before.
In this world, people no longer live on the surface because it’s too dangerous. Instead they live in spires, which rise high above those dangers. Travel and trade between the spires is done in airships powered by lift crystals. One of those belongs to Captain Francis Madison Grimm, a disgraced naval officer of Spire Albion turned privateer. Grimm starts the story a bit down on his luck with a busted ship and limited ways to repair it.
Bridget Tagwynn is the last heir of a once-mighty family that has now fallen into obscurity. When she joins the Spire Guard for a year of mandatory service required for children of the aristocracy (along with her cat protector Rowl), she runs afoul of a son of a powerful family, and finds a pair of unlikely allies in Gwendolyn Lancaster and her warrior-born brother Benedict Sorrelin Lancaster, children of one of the spire’s strongest families.
That small dispute quickly fades as Spire Albion comes under attack from rival Spire Aurora in a battle that will throw the three young adults and Grimm together as they take on a mission from the SpireArch himself.
When you have an author that has a long-running and successful series like Butcher does with The Dresden Files, one of the challenges, I think, is that readers are reluctant to jump into a different world with that author, particularly when that main series is still going strong. It’s not because we doubt the author’s abilities in that new world, but because we want that old, comfortable one. I have to be honest and admit that I’ve never finished Butcher’s Codex Alera, even though I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of it. For the same reason, I was late in picking up “The Aeronaut’s Windlass.”
I wasn’t hooked right away. Though Grimm is the central character of the story, our initial introduction to him didn’t pull me in. Beyond the coolness of basically being an air pirate, I wasn’t convinced until Bridget and Rowl entered the picture. It was Bridget’s story that created an emotional connection for me to the book, and let’s face it, Rowl is really the star.
It’s hard for me to say that, too, because I’m not and have never been a cat person. Having a child who is, though, has introduced me to their world, and I think Butcher does a spot-on job of personifying and portraying the feline personality. If the cat living at my house could talk, I’m guessing she’d be a whole lot like Rowl.
Butcher’s style is stellar as always, and though he’s referred to the Cinder Spires as steampunk, it didn’t really strike me as such. There are elements of steampunk to be sure, but to me, it’s more of a fantasy set in a bit of a different milieu. There seems to be as much magic as machinery in the workings of his airships.
Whatever you call it, though, it’s good stuff. Though I was a little slow to be drawn in, as the book came to a close, I didn’t want it to end, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter. Until then, here’s hoping we get the next Dresden book at some point this year, and I really should finish the Codex Alera.