The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Narrated by Euan Morton
The Spires rise to immeasurable heights over the mist-covered surface. Humanity dwells within the Spires, sheltered from the dangers without. Airships ply the skies, and the aristocratic Houses rule their Spires, fostering alliances and building trade and science. Spire Albion has long been in a cold war with rival Spire Aurora, and Captain Grimm, still loyal to Albion despite being dismissed from his commission in the Spire’s armed forces, uses his ship, Predator, as a pirate vessel to disrupt Aurora’s trade routes as much as possible. Gwendolyn Lancaster, along with her cousin, warrior born Benedict Sorelin, are new to the Spire Guard, as is Bridget Tagwynn. Bridget’s family is a low ranking House, and she is fulfilling family duty by serving in the Guard. She brings along a cat, Rowl, who has chosen Bridget as his human. Together with the etherealist Ferus and his apprentice, Folly, they embark on a mission from the Spirearch of Albion to find and stop a massive threat to not only Spire Albion, but the entire world of the Spires.
I listened to this as an audiobook, narrated by Euan Morton. The narration is well done, and enjoyable to listen to.
I enjoyed the book. It’s very different from Butcher’s Dresden Files series. This one is much lighter with less dark undertones. Those who expect the Dresden atmosphere will most likely not enjoy this as much, but I thought it was a nice change of pace. There isn’t a huge, deep plotline here, nor are the characters completely nuanced and developed. There is a fair bit of light-hearted humor, and perhaps a bit of a dig or two at society in general. It reminded me a good bit of Gail Carriger’s books, which I also enjoy immensely. It has swashbuckling action, snappy dialogue, some political maneuvering and intrigue, and an almost whimsical tone that makes it an easy read (or listen).
There are spots in the middle where things do drag a bit, with not much going on except characters talking in order to draw out the exposition. But when the action begins, it is fast-paced and carries the story along well. The final battle is quite lovely, if you can call a battle lovely. Characters are interesting and fun even without being deeply drawn. There are the ones you expect: the strong, smart, fearless female lead with a penchant for speaking before thinking that gets her into trouble at times, the strong, silent (mostly) warrior-protector, the eccentric old magician, the calculating genius antagonist. And there are plenty of side characters who are pretty much just what they seem-soldiers, aeronauts, mother, mentor. And then there are the cats.
Oh, the cats. I am convinced Butcher must have been raised by cats. These creatures are intelligent and independent, not unlike some other fantasy stories involving cats in the main plot. They can communicate with certain humans who understand their language, but they never stoop to learning the human one. They have their own societies, clans, and hierarchies. Some, such a Rowl, will choose a human to be theirs, and are loyal to and protective of that human, much as we are with our own cats. They might even be said to have affection for certain humans, although the cat would never admit to such a thing. They are convinced of their superiority, are sure that when things go right, it is because a cat was involved, and when they don’t, it is because the humans insist on not listening. In other words, they are cats. And a perfect addition to the cast.
It’s not perfect, but very few books really are. It can seem a bit light on plot and development, but for the type of story it is, it’s quite good. Light fantasy, enjoyably humorous, with a varied if not deep cast, this one was a delight to read.
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