The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the latest offering from Jim Butcher. You may not be entirely familiar with the title of this one, but if you’ve listened to the podcast, you will have heard the name in conjuction with some of his other works (The Dresden Files and Codex Alera). If you know about Butcher’s work, then just telling you that The Aeronaut’s Windlass leans more towards his Codex Alera series than his Dresden Files series tells you right off whether or not this is something for you. If you aren’t familiar with his works, then I’ll give you a rundown the best I can.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first entry in a new series called The Cinder Spires. It falls squarely in the realm of fantasy fiction. It contains a good bit of your traditional sword and sorcery as you would expect from fantasy fare, and it comes with more than a little bit of a steampunk bent. Airships and goggles and steam powered machines abound in this world, but that is just scratching the surface of what Butcher is creating. We are introduced to the world, and actually end up spending nearly the entirety of this book, within just one of the Spires that make up the last habitations for humanity. The surface is unihabitable due to the toxicity of the air and the presence of more than a few creatures that are more than a little adept at killing and eating humans. So life takes place within the confines of the Spires or in the skies above and between them aboard one class of ship or another.
The cast of characters that we meet over the course of the story is diverse. Everyone from nobility like Gwendolyn Lancaster, the scion of the most powerful house in Spire Albion, to a simple vat worker, Bridget Tagwynn, and a little bit of everything in between: Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster, a warrior-born(half human, half beasts bread for combat), Captain Grimm, a privateer and captain of a merchant ship, Ferus and Folly, an etherealist and his apprentice. Butcher does a great job at creating the various characters. He gives each of them a complete and distinct personality. Since the perspective shifts from character to character in the telling of this story, each of them having distinct personalities and perspectives is important in the weaving of this tale. Each of the characters develops in their own way over the course of the tale, with not a single one of them ending up in exactly the same place that they started. Granted, some, such as Gwendolynn and Captain Grimm undergo larger changes during the course of events, but it is logical due to the fact that their worlds are the ones that undergo some of the greatest changes that they have to adapt to.
The story itself isn’t foreign to readers of fantasy fiction. A selection of unlikely companions are thrown together due to circumstances beyond their control and set on a mission that, while they may not all have the same motivation for, each of them understands is vital in preserving their world and way of life. It is fast paced and builds over the course of the telling. It is descriptive and detailed without becoming bogged down in an overabundance of exposition. Butcher is quite adept in this method of storytelling, and it shines through here. The pacing of The Aeronaut’s Windlass is faster than that of Codex Alera, his previous foray into the sword and sorcery fantasy genre, but it does still lag when compared to a Dresden Files story. It was engaging and engrossing without being so heavy that you have to put it down in order to mentally process all of the detail and description.
I have to say that I would gladly recommend this one to any fans of steampunk world and/or sword and sorcery fantasy tales. If you happen to be a Jim Butcher fan, then you have an idea as to the writing style and the types of characters that he has a penchant for creating. Here is my disclaimer to all of those fans though. If you absolutely loved the Dresden Files, but couldn’t get any joy from The Furies of Calderon or any other Codex Alera novel, then this series likely isn’t for you. If you enjoyed Codex Alera, but that first entry was a grind for you, then you will enjoy the increased pacing of Windlass. Regardless, I think that The Aeronaut’s Windlass is well worth a read.