Well known for his Dresden Files series about a Chicago wizard in increasingly convoluted conflict with various vampires, fairies, and other supernatural beings, I’ve read that Jim Butcher really saw himself as a swords and warhorses sort of fantasy writer before Harry Dresden took off.
The Cinder Spires, first in the Aeronaut’s Windlass series, came out in 2015 and Butcher fans snapped it up. It’s categorized on Amazon as Steampunk, though that seems like a stretch to me. In Butcher’s world, everyone lives in spires and airships far above “the deadly green hell covering the surface of the world.” The world’s power sources are magical crystals and “etheric” forces people access with webs and fabrics made from silk spun by incredibly deadly and horrible surface creatures. While a cool concept, it doesn’t seem to fit the Victorian, steam-powered, mechanical fantasies I associate with Steampunk. Obviously I’m quibbling because most fans don’t care.
This is a long book – 522 pages in my epub version. I checked it out from my public library and was only half done when the book expired. So I checked it out again. By that point I was ready to skim forward quickly to see what happens to my favorite characters.
The book is chock-a-block with Butcher’s trademark battle scenes – the characters get ambushed a lot and the battles are long and detailed. Even in the Dresden series I skim thorough the battles – they simply go on too long for me.
Most of the characters fit easily into a swords and magic fantasy – brave, noble, and attractive, born in Noble Houses (are there no democracies in fantasy worlds?)
I found the less expected characters were my favorites. There are tribes of talking cats and one in particular, the warrior tom Rowl, protects “his” human – who is the least typical of the Noble House characters. Rowl offers refreshing and often funny critiques of the brave/noble/attractive characters and human actions in general.
There are also wizards who feel and control the ethereal forces – forces that drive them mad in various ways. One wizard can blast his opponents to pulp but can’t figure out how to make a doorknob work. An apprentice, Folly, was fun to watch as she comes into her powers and the others learn to accept her odd ways.
Bottom line, if you love fantasy battles with magically-powered humans and monsters, this book is for you – there’s one battle after another. If you prefer stories about more unusual characters, you’ll find them too, and can skim through the battles.
What others are saying.
Only a few percent of readers leave reviews, so with over 1,400 reviews on Amazon Butcher’s book is wildly successful. Eighty-eight percent give four or five star reviews – “rousing and action filled.” Even some of the three star reviewers say they’ll read the next book in the series. Others found the characters too predictable or the story line disjointed. Proof, I guess, that no book pleases everyone.
My stories stay on the science-y side of science fiction. Join the first Mars colony in our near future. This is a colony where you might live one day. Start with Glory on Mars and join Emma – a setler with second thoughts who wants to explore in her robotic walkabout suit – but the hostile planet and troubles from Earth endanger survival. Read all four across the colony’s generations.