Friday, November 27, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

It's always with mixed feelings that I read the first book in a new series by a beloved author. I've been following Harry Dresden's adventures for so long. Butcher's Furies series was pretty decent, too. Now, according to the reviewers, he's ventured into steampunk, but I really don't quite categorize it that way. It's simply a fantasy novel, set in a new world, with elements of technology mixed in liberally.

Humans live on a number of Spires, far above the surface of the world, where ferocious creatures kill and consume any who end up there. They sail between the spires in airships given lift by crystals which absorb or emit ethereal energies. Similar crystals can be used as weapons. The crystals are grown in vats, and best crystals around are produced by House Lancaster, a noble family of Spire Albion.

A scion of that House, Gwendolyn Lancaster, has determined that she should defy her mother and family, who expect her to attend school, and enter the Spirearch's Guard instead. She and her cousin Benedict are assigned to the same unit, though he is a bit more advanced in his training. They are joined there by Bridget, a daughter of House Tagwynn, which has fallen on hard times, though they are still Spire Albion's prime supplier of vat-grown meat.

The story begins as a war is flaring up between Spire Aurora and Albion. One of the early casualties of that war is Captain Grimm's airship Predator, which is rendered unable to fly after an early skirmish. While his ship is in the repair docks, a sneak attack by Auroran commandos takes place, drawing Grimm and his crew into the conflict, and throwing him into close contact with our young heroes, Gwen, Benedict and Bridget, not to mention Bridget's feline companion, Rowl.

Rowl is actually a more important part of this story than one would expect. Cats in Butcher's new world of spires and airships are a far more dangerous group of predators than our domesticated version - one might think of them more in the light of lynxes and bobcats and such. The thing that has not changed between the worlds is their inflated sense of dignity and worth, and their amazing ability to do exactly what they please, without ever worrying about pleasing their humans. It is, after all, our great privilege to serve their each and every whim, you know.

Butcher liberally seasons the story with Rowl's thoughts and opinions, such as:

"A moment later, an acutely unpleasant sound of metal striking metal sliced across the deck. It was one of those human noises that had been, he felt sure, created for no purpose whatsoever but to annoy cats."


"Though, now that he thought about it, he (Rowl) was the most important member of the party. Any glory gained was rightfully his in any case."

The Auroran attack turns out to have not been simply driven by a motive to destruction, but by a quest to obtain something from a library in Albion which contains important information, key to winning the war, perhaps. The Spirearch decides that he must send some of his trusted Guard to discover the Aurorans' goal, so he recruits the captain and our young heros and heroines for an undercover mission to find the truth, adding a pair of etherealists, Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly, to the team. Etherealists have the ability to use the energies that power the crystals with their minds, instead of using devices to do so.

Lots of action, and a pretty good start to a new series, but I still miss Harry Dresden.

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