The Aeronauts Windlass by Jim Butcher
While I’m definitely more of a fan of the Military SciFi genre, Fantasy titles still have a very large place in my heart. Especially when those titles are written by some of the more exceptional authors in the field like Jordan (sadly deceased), Sanderson (alive, kicking & publishing like a dervish) and Butcher.
Jim Butcher is actually best known for his magical detective-noir novels – the Dresden files – which I have not read, but I have heard are really good. I was introduced to him via his Codex Alera series – the first of which (Furies of Calderon) is reviewed here – which I loved. His characters were extremely well thought out and written, the magic system was first rate & the motivations of the villains were very well thought out and conceived. Overall it was excellent series and one I’ve enjoyed through several re-reads so I was really excited to see his new series available via the Overdrive app & my local library!
My initial thoughts were that Codex Alera was somewhat simpler to understand – a Roman legion was propelled to another land via a gate of some sort and here they survived and adapted. They didn’t come with magic but they learned to “tame” the local furies and came to preeminence in their local area.
Aeronaut’s Windlass is a little bit more confusing – something happened (which by the end of the book is still not clear) & humanity lives on “Spires” that were created by the “Ancients”. These stone pillars have been inhabited for hundreds (if not thousands) of years and wood is an extremely rare, expensive and in-demand resource. Airships, however, ply the currents between spires which are powered by gems of varying sizes and power. These gems not only serve as the engine for the airship but also power the cannons that are used in duels between different ships. Smaller gems are used for individual weapons in the form of gauntlets & it seems that while they are rare, they are common enough that all guards have them – basically in this universe, these gauntlets act as a replacement for the guns we’re used to.
The story in a nutshell
Aeronaut’s Windlass takes us to one specific spire and a group of people that you could best categorize as the American’s or British with their dependence on free trade and commerce. This group has developed not only their primary spire – where the nobility resides – but also a more commercial hub that is fast becoming the richest place in the world.
When another spire decides to attack, a group of young guardsmen are thrown into combat with a disgraced former captain to save their homeland from the foe. The captain – cashiered from the navy for cowardice is anything but and while the guardsmen might seem a disparate lot – they have everything they need within themselves to make the difference … especially when you add a mad sorcerer and his apprentice to the mix!
Unfortunately, the “enemy” is not idle either – a company of marines, a traitorous captain, and a witch might seem a large enough threat by itself, but when you add in venomous monsters that can kill with a bite, creatures with carapaces that can reflect all but the strongest of shots and monsters the size of a mountain to the mix … well, let’s just say that the odds don’t look good!
Fortunately for our hero’s – they have Rowl and his kin!
What I liked and didn’t like
I loved, loved, loved Rowl. Having the cat as an actual speaking character in the story was excellent. He was believable and perfect and I absolutely adored his parts of the story. I actually really liked all of the characters, to be honest – they all had decent motivations and reasons for their actions and were all believable. Perhaps the only character I didn’t really understand was Rook … having him in this story almost seemed unnecessary and his inclusion seemed to just be required as a placeholder. He didn’t really bring anything to the story either positive or negative aside from perhaps explaining why Grimm was a disgraced Captain.
I guess if there was anything I didn’t really like – it would be the magic system … Codex Alera – the system made sense. Same with the Wheel of Time and the Way of Kings and Mistborn. Here nothing is really explained about how the gems work and why they do. If they are “grown” in a vat, why are the ones grown by the Lannisters so great and couldn’t anyone do it if they are as valuable as they are? Why is humanity living in the spires in the first place? What is “etheric” energy and how does it work? Why are the creatures and monsters so mutated and dangerous and where does the wood for the ships come from if it is so expensive? Lots of questions and I hope that they get answered in future volumes.