The Aeronaut’s Windlass

io9CoverWhen it was announced that Jim Butcher was writing a steampunk novel, most people’s reactions were one of “shut up and take my money.” Now that it’s come out and a few people have had time to dig through the four hundred page novel, how does it live up to the anticipation?

The Steampunk

The novel is set apparently in the future. The world has become uninhabitable. At some point in the past the Master Builders created spires to support cities formed from clusters of glass bubbles known as habbles, far above the ground. The only transport between cities or habbles are via airship. The airships are powered by crystal technology, and some have sails as well as engines.  These crystals are power sources, and can also be used to power gadgets and weapons used by various characters throughout the story.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is definitely fantasy steampunk, with magicians, giant spiders, Victorian-esque aristocrats, and pirates. It has a very Star Trek meets Peter Pan flavor to it. The worldbuilding is flawlessly detailed. There may be less brass and leather than the steampunk aficionado is accustomed to, but the verminocitors, sky battles, and monastery libraries more than

The Plot

morning-smSpire Albion has been involved in a cold war with Spire Aurora for a number of years. At the start of the novel things are beginning to heat up. Aurora drops a shipment of troops into one of Spire Albion’s habbles, and the ruler of the spire puts together a crack team to find them and make sure they have a really bad day. This team consists of three junior spire guardsmen, a talking cat, a magician and his apprentice, and an ex-military airship captain and his motley crew.

They quickly find out that they’re up against more than a rival spire’s military. There are giant alien spiders, a creepy telepathic Miss Manners, and a lurking great evil orchestrating things from the surface. There are monks to consult with, secret books to obtain, tunnel to hide in, ship’s systems to rebuild, relationships to form and trust to establish. Butcher does a masterful job taking a handful of strange, seemingly flat characters and turning them into an ensemble cast that keeps you both entertained and breathless with anticipation. The novel gets off to a slow (very slow) start but it picks up around the middle, and by the end you’re wondering how it’s possible to take the intensity of the Dresden Files and apply it to this many characters.

The Aeronuat’s Windlass is the first in a new series that’s reportedly going to be every bit as long and complex as the Dresden Files. Now that the exposition and world building is out of the way, perhaps the next book will be easier to get into than the first. If you’re a fan of steampunk or nail-biting action, this book is highly recommended. Even if you think it’s a bit dry at first, stick with it. The ending does not disappoint.


Katie Lynn Daniels is the author of Supervillain of the Day, and the mastermind behind Vaguely Circular. She blogs about science and things that are peripherally related to science. You can read all her posts here.


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