One of my all time favorite authors wrote a steampunk story. I fan girled. I got to meet him and get an autographed copy of said book. I fan girled. Then I read the book…and I sighed. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass.
It isn’t what I would properly call steampunk. It had a lot of the same themes as steampunk: a highly stratified society, aeroships, aether, copper/brass doohickies. It was not clear whether this was some sort of alternate earth time line or some alternate planet. A no point were any recognizable human countries from the Victorian age mentioned.
All humans, and cats, live in these giant Borg cubes (and yes, that is straight from the horse’s mouth) called Spires. They are 10,000 feet high by two miles wide. Each level in the cube is 50 feet in height and referred to as a habble. The top habble occupied mostly by the top families, who are rather like the English nobility.
The main power source seems to be crystals rather than steam, which I thought was cool and not nearly as noisy. It doesn’t seem like women are at all treated like arm candy, which is pretty opposite of Victorian England, you must admit.
Cats can communicate, but only if the human is “smart” enough to realize that they’re talking. They’re also assholes but…so are real cats. There is also a caste (not really a caste system but the best word I can come up with at the moment) of humans called warriorborn. From what I can tell, they’re some sort of half-human, half-cat like creature as cats call them half-souls.
I think my favorite characters are the ethrealists, which are mad to a one. And by mad I mean Mad Hatter sort of mad. They’re powerful but doofy. Master Ferus, one of the ethrealists, has a problem with door knobs. He can’t open them. It’s a nice little running gag.
Since the book only came out about a week or so ago, I’ll just give a brief overview. So possible SPOILERS here.
This book features five people other than the ethrealist Master Ferus: Captain Francis Madison Grimm (often called the grim captain by Ferus), Gwendolyn Lancaster of House Lancaster (who control the crystal vatteries in Spire Albion), her cousin Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster, Bridget Tagwynn (who speaks cat) and Folly (apprentice ethrealist).
Gwen and Bridget are new inductees into the Spirearch Guard of Spire Albion (there are several Spires, not just this one). The Spirearch is like the king and the guard are his, well, guard. They’re the police force and the fighting force for the spire. Benedict has been a guard for two years already and is enjoying being one up on his cousin on the reg.
Grimm is the aeronaut with a bad past. He was drummed out of Fleet for cowardice, even though it clearly wasn’t him. He was the patsy. Still, he has his own ship, The Predator, no matter how badly damaged so he’s his own man.
Due to a surprise attack from Spire Aurora, our unlikely allies are gathered together by the Spirearch as the only people he can really trust. Mostly because they’ve all given them lip at some point, I think. At any rate, he has a mission for them to Habble Landing, where the majority of the Spire’s commerce takes place. Habble Landing, naturally enough, houses the docks and is the likely place for any further Auroran attacks.
The writing is good. If I didn’t know who had written it, I probably would have guessed Jim Butcher. But. It wasn’t what I would term a good steampunk novel. I would really classify this as just a fantasy novel. I think that’s where my disappointment stems from. I’ve read and enjoyed so much steampunk that I have an expectation of what it should be like, and this book isn’t it.
I would say that if you want to read this one, go into it thinking of it as a fantasy novel and not a steampunk novel. Don’t box yourself into a set of expectations. However, I would also say, wait until it comes down a little in price if you want to buy it. Rating: B-. I’ll probably read any follow up books, but I’m not sure if I’ll read this one again.