The first book in Jim Butcher’s new Cinder Spires series is everything I could hope of High Fantasy Steampunk. A new world to explore full of cultures, politics, airships, mystery, intrigue, war…if it seems like I’m gushing, I am, and will continue to do so. I got utterly lost inside this book and it was fantastic. This is what I crave from a book, to forget I’m holding a book at all.
1—A World Without Infodumps
Building a world is hard work. Effectively communicating that world to others is even harder, but Butcher does so seem-lessly—as only a master of craft can make such difficult work seem effortless. (Please forgive my terrible pun, I’m writing that at 5am—as noted in the title—after a long day on five hours sleep. I promise no such terrible puns mar the book I’m writing about.)
Information is given only as and when needed, with enough detail to make things make sense but get in the way of what’s happening. These details get built on later, as and when needed. The result is an expanding understanding of the world, without having to feel like I’m doing more homework, which is the effect infodumps tend to have on me.
Speaking as an author-in-progress myself, an author’s job is to deliver a story, not a dictionary, and Jim delivers his story well.
2—Distinct Character Voices
This is imperative in a book with more than five POV (point of view) characters. Gwen sounds confident and rock-certain. Captain Grim has a pleasant baritone (I literally hear character’s voices in my head as I read them) with astute and practical observations. Bridget is quiet and direct, often afraid and all the more courageous because of it. Rowl is proud and even more confident than Gwen, a feat only possible because he is a cat. Folly is lyrically mad. And Espinosa is an honorable man in dishonorable warfare.
Every character is themselves, with a unique perspective on the world. The thought-patterns of each, as well as the words they speak, convey them unmistakably. I am in awe. Jim butcher managed to make me sympathetic to a character I wanted to hate. That’s impressive. And that’s the power of well done POV.
3—Fantastic Airship Battles
Were it not height title impropriety, this subtitle would have not only an exclamation mark, but several. The battles are brilliant—shining in my mind as brightly as the blasts from the etheric cannons. I can hear the ship singing as she engages the enemy, feel the core energy pulsing, feel the exhilaratingly cold wind on my face. I can see the ships turning on their axis, maneuvering around and higher and lower as they seek advantage on one another.
There is blood and there is cost, in lives and damaged ships. I hear the crewman screaming as he falls into the mists. I feel the sparks given off as the ethersilk burns around the ship. I stand at the bows with the Captain as tries to outhink his opposite and get as many of his crew back safe—get his home back to the Spire in one piece. And I know that he may fail—that his success means the failure of another Captain trying to do the same.
Seriously, go read the book.
4—Satisfied and Hungry
My only completely hard rule for any story is that it must be satisfying. And as a story, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is. Not for most of the characters—oh no. But then, it’s the beginning of a war and no one should be happy to face the mistmaw again. Not a happy ending, but not frustrating either. Rather, it leaves me hungry for the next book, as it should.
But I am still satisfied to close this book and read it again later. No important thread is forgotten in the denouement, to blow loose in the wind. Each thread will continue on into the tapestry being woven but still rests for the moment, waiting to be picked up. I think I should leave off this metaphor now. You get the point.
I know it says Here There Be Spoilers in the site’s tagline, but to do that properly I’d have to give a whole synopsis of the book. I’d rather get some sleep.