Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Steampunk
Series: The Cinder Spires Book One
Buy on Amazon!
Jim Butcher is known to readers around the world as the author of The Dresden Files and The Codex Alera. Having successfully crafted two series’s, one of which is still on-going, Butcher has opted to create a third and arguably his most ambitious – at least in terms of scope.
Mists have made living on the ground impossible for humans, now they take to the skies living in giant cities in the clouds called spires. In Spire Albion, peaceful lives are shattered when they are attacked by Spire Aurora. As the two Spires begin to wage war a greater evil lurks beneath the surface.
Worldbuilding in Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass’s is his strongest suit. Cities in the sky, giant flying and canon wielding airships, intelligent talking cats, weaponized magical orbs, and insane psychics are only the beginning. This has all the makings of a great new steampunk series. Despite the steampunk visuals, Cinder Spires feels a lot more like an epic fantasy, and oftentimes as I was reading I was reminded of The Wheel of Time … minus the whole separation of genders thing. Epic fantasy is a genre Butcher first tried to tackle but with no success in his early career, the results of which I presume can likely be found as ash at the bottom of his fireplace. I feel like this effort is an attempt to realize that dream.
There are a lot of characters and shifting viewpoints. At times it feels like we don’t get to spend sufficient time with all of the them, and some of the development does feel lacking. Butcher is able to circumvent this by having nearly all of his major plots converge early in the story once Aurora begins their attack.
Gwendolyn Lancaster is the only daughter from one of Albion’s wealthiest families. She rebels against her mother to join the Service, the group that guards Albion from its enemies. She joins her cousin Benedict, who has been with the service for awhile, and is a warriorborn – which basically means he has enhanced strength, fighting abilities, and some cat-like abilities. Gwen and Ben fight like an old married couple, but they are quick to stand up to bullies which soon lends them in the company of Bridget. She’s the only daughter of House Tagwynn, a once prosperous house now on its last limb. Bridget is a large woman that can speak “cat.” It’s through her we hear many of the arrogant translations of Rowl, the son of one of the cat tribes leaders that occupy Albion. Rowl keeps Bridget as his pet human, and it’s with him that the cat societies of Albion are explored. Butcher’s humor is on full display when dealing with cats and cat societies, and this remains one of my favorite parts of the entire read.
On the other side of Albion readers are introduced Captain Grimm, an ex-Fleet Captain who was forced to resign for being a coward. He currently Captain’s the Predator, a smaller fighting ship that sabotages Aurora’s trading routes. When his ship gets damaged badly during a fight gone awry, his return to Albion finds him forced to make a risky deal in order to pay for the necessary repairs. During his return he is introduced to the etherealist Ferus and is young apprentice Folly. Etherealist, for all practicalities sake are essentially the wizards of this world, albeit they’re very strange. Folly in particular talks to a jar of crystals about everyone she’s talking to, instead of directly talking to them.
Interspersed between these two groups of heroes, readers are introduced to Espira, an Auroran Major, that allows readers to sympathize with the enemies cause. At the very least this angle makes sure to paint Aurora as more than “the forces of evil.” This is definitely the arc that suffers the most from lack of development. For those out there that do like a classic fantasy villain, there is Cavendish, an evil etherealist that is accompanying Espira and pulling his strings so to speak.
Butcher manages to include a lot of action scenes which is atypical of many “first in a series” fantasy books. It’s these scenes that keep you reading long past what you intended. The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a promising beginning to the Cinder Spires series. This does have the potential to be turned into a super-epic, even though only three books are currently guaranteed by the publisher. If you’re looking for a fun steampunk with an epic fantasy feel, this will hit the spot.