My partner’s excellent review went up yesterday. We both read the book, and we can’t waste a good second opinion. We can’t even waste an average second opinion.
I’ve always enjoyed the aesthetics created by Steampunk. It lends itself to cosplay and fun parties.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass certainly has that or a similar aesthetic, and from what I’ve seen, the glorious cosplay has already begun. but I would argue that this book isn’t necessarily Steampunk, or at least not any more Steampunk than Final Fantasy VI is.
I would argue that this book is a sort of “Crystalpunk.” (If I coined that, someone should mention me on Wikipedia some day). Crystal-powered technology, as it exists in The Cinder Spires, is unique. Crystals directly power everything from weaponry to magic to airships. Some crystals are a thousand years old. They come in all sorts of differing strengths. Some are large, some small. Some flawless, some junk. There is an entire industry around the creation and sale of these crystals, and a natural pecking order for who gets which ones and for what price. It is a clean technology, though the creation process–crystals “grown” in vats, left for even a thousand years to complete the growth–there might be some sort of un-noted runoff.
It is the creation of this sort of background economic aspect that makes the world of The Cinder Spires series seem more realistic. This sort of description and thought is what separates the engaging stories from the ones that are not.
The aesthetics of the series are somewhat Victorian in nature, though we have some new stuff here, too. We deal with lots of tea drinking and maritime creaky ropes and ships, but then we have these spires, many miles tall and two miles across, housing hundreds of thousands of people. Each spire acts almost like a country. The spires trade with one another, go to war against one another, have treaties and visiting dignitaries and are known for different specialties. Sky pirates attack ships traveling between them. The spires have standing armies and fleets of military vessels. And the maritime feel of this is a hell of a lot of fun. This is where a reader might feel like they wandered out of Jim Butcher and into Patrick O’Brian territory.
This book is more Codex Alera than Dresden Files, but it isn’t either one of those. The first book here takes its time to build a world, but also throws us into a story. We have kidnappings, explosions, and invasions. Magical combat, aerial combat, hand-to-hand combat. We learn a bit about living above the ground. Nobody lives on the ground, or at least nobody as far as we know. This is an entire world standing above the earth; there are creatures down there, creatures in the sky. There are things everywhere that might want to gobble the humans up.
We have some fun characters: Gwendolyn, the spunky, tactless upper-class soldier; Grimm, the stoic, mysterious Captain of the airship Predator; Bridget, the lower-class, strong, country-girl-in-the-big-city soldier; Rowl, a prince among cats; Folly, an eccentric etherialist (though all etherialists are eccentric) with some witty lines and disruptive magic; Benedict, the warriorborn cousin of Gwendolyn, perhaps part-cat, or just cat-like.
There are several villains, some revealed and some not. Cavendish reminds me a bit of Effie Trinket meets Dolores Umbridge. She’s obsessive-compulsive, dresses like a cupcake, and has a thing for manners. Please be polite to her. Or die painfully. We also have a few backstabbers, some wonky lopsided warriorborn sadists, opposing forces attempting to disrupt harmony. There are ravenous spider-like beings from the ground that pose a danger to all who live above. There is a greater evil, one we know only a bit about, a puppet-master of sorts.
Also, talking cats. Cats with their own culture, their own hierarchy, their own way of showing disdain and respect. It is really hard to beat talking cats, honestly. The rest is gravy.
This book opens a window into a new world, and it does it well. It gives us heroes to root for, villains to want to stab with a fork, and action to take our breaths away.
The book can be purchased at Amazon or probably just about anywhere books are sold.