Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: fantasy, steampunk
Series: The Cinder Spires #1
Published: September 2015
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…
Jim Butcher and I have had an uneven relationship for years. Up until this novel, I could love (Codex Alera series) or leave (Harry Dresden) his work. And then I read The Aeronaut's Windlass and I didn't (and still don't, months later) know quite what to make of it or how I feel about it. I mean, I should love it. It should have worked for me in so many ways on so many levels. And yet.... I didn't. It didn't. There were some bright spots and characters, but on the whole, it's not the author's best work.
Don't get me wrong. I mean, I liked the novel okay --- I finished it and I wouldn't finish a 630 page novel I did not like. I just kept waiting for the worldbuilding to hit the sweet spot, the characters to gel and connect, or a favorite to emerge, or the plot to engage on a more than superficial level --- something to coalesce into the awesome I'd seen before in the author's world of Codex Alera. And for me? It just never happened. Sink or swim fantasy worldbuilding is often my favorite -- but this was a sink or swin fantasy without learning how to hold your breath. Butcher just LAUNCHES into this mad world and I couldn't grasp the cultures or the interpersonal relationships, which means he was trying too hard and it was too convoluted.
There are good bones here and I think I can get where Butcher wants me to go, if I give the inevitable sequel a try. It's a large commitment and while book one wasn't what I had hoped to find or what the author is capable of, I do think Butcher can pull together a more coherent sequel with The Olympian Affair. This one started out strong, but loses steam midway (and it's just soooooo long). On the plus side, it's undeniably full of ideas, creative applications of steampunk, and some very memorable characters.