Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files are some of the fastest-paced books I’ve read. Set in modern-day Chicago, the intensity of these fantasy-noir novels ramps up almost immediately and barely leaves you time to catch your breath as the story hurtles forward. Sometimes they’re a little too fast; I often feel a bit exhausted after finishing one. So when I picked up The Aeronaut’s Windlass, the first book in his new Cinder Spires series, I wondered if that frenetic speed would carry over.
It doesn’t immediately. The first few chapters—while not dull—focus on establishing the main characters and fleshing out the alt-Earth setting. Some of it’s familiar: the main religions seem to be Christianity and Taoism (called the Way), and the inhabitants speak with a variety of Britishisms. But this world’s surface is prowled by bloodthirsty monsters, and humanity has retreated to massive, multi-leveled Spires erected by long-gone Builders. Iron and steel rot if they aren’t coated in copper, and the atmosphere is pervaded by an etheric energy that can be harnessed to fire crystal-based weapons and send nautical ships airborne. (Captain Grimm, an honor-bound privateer, feels like a steampunk-fantasy version of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey. Needless to say, I enjoyed him.)
The story takes off soon enough, though, when a rival Spire carries out a sneak attack on Spire Albion and lands a small force of marines. The main characters then band together to stop the invaders from completing their mission. From there, the pacing quickly begins to resemble a Dresden novel, with crisis after crisis and setback after setback.
It’s a lot of fun.
The prologue is over-the-top, and I’m not sure I needed the chapters from the talking cat’s perspective (yes, cats talk in this world). I also wish we’d learned more about the villains’ schemes so that the heroes could do less reacting and initiate their own plans. But this is clearly meant to be a long series, and the mysteries that go unresolved—like why Grimm was kicked out of Albion’s fleet in his youth—are forgivable inducements to read the next book.
There’s only one problem: the sequel isn’t out yet! I hope it comes soon. I’m ready for another tale of aeronautical warfare to leave me breathless again.
For more reviews like this one, sign up for my monthly newsletter.
If you've already read The Aeronaut’s Windlass, I'd love to hear your thoughts! You can leave a note in the comments section below or drop me a line on the contact page.
If you haven't read The Aeronaut’s Windlass yet, you can get it on: