Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Aeronaut's Windlass, by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book in Jim Butcher's The Cinder Spires series.  This one is a book for pure enjoyment. I would say it's a sort of fantasy steampunk novel, with the setting specifically designed to support a navy.  The ships fly, but in every other way it's a naval adventure novel.

It's something of an ensemble cast, told from several points of view.  We have a noble scion, a noble whose house has faded, a captain with a stormy past (dishonorable discharge for cowardice, but that is of course not the real story) and others I am forgetting.  The culture is high British Empire, much honor and glory and commerce.  This novel focuses on the inhabitants of the Spires, incredibly durable constructs from centuries earlier, built to escape the dangers of the surface of the world (earth?).  The people live in "habbles", (I think sort for "habilitations"), layers of the spires divided by the same material as the exterior.

The focus of the novel is a war between Spire Astor and Spire Albion.  Albion houses the protagonists.  Power in this world is generated by tapping the Ether, through crystals (safely) or having the talent of Etherialism (leads to madness).  The main evil character is an etherialist, opposed by one on the good side.

The book is pretty much cotton candy--perhaps not masculine enough, make it beef jerky.  Fun to consume but doesn't threaten to change you.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and can give it a solid 3 stars.

This book bears comparison to Fran Wilde's Updraft, nominated for a Nebula this year.  The settings have a lot in common--two cultures that somehow contrived to build skyscraper dwellings in order to escape surface dangers.  They are both effectively imagined and interesting places.  Updraft's bone towers are organic and their complexity is readily apparent.  The Spires are made of stone and seem simple, though I imagine they are not.  Updraft seems much more original to me, with more potential to go somewhere.

This book is also the last of the Hugo award nominees I read this year.  I have to say that all of them were very much worth reading.  The Fifth Season got the nod, and I can't disagree.  Some of the shorter categories may have been crapped upon, but the novel nominations were solid.

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