Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Straight on til morning

While The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher is not a new Dresden File, it's still one heck of a lot of fun. (To be fair here, Butcher's Codex Alera was also quite good, even without a modern wizard narrator.) And hey, I'm not Annie Wilkes; I'm sure waiting a while for a new novel in either series will be fine.

Anyway, setting: We're on an unnamed planet covered in mist, where humanity lives on on giant spires with Habbles (giant platforms) holding residents at various heights up and down the spire. Most of this particular book is set on Spire Albion, starting on Habble Morning (where most of the great houses are as well as the Spire's political head) and on Habble Landing, a double decker platform where most of the commerce in the spire transpires.

Great ships fly on Etheric currents, including Captain Grimm's privateering Predator. When we meet Captain Grimm, he's busy trying to privateer a Spire Aurora merchant ship which turns out to be a dreadnought in disguise. Badly damaged, Grimm gets...um... conscripted into service for the Spirearch. Not before we learn hints of his shady past, however. Seems Grimm got drummed out of the fleet for cowardice, although it's alluded that there's a heck of a lot more to the story. On his way to meet the Spirearch, however, he gets attacked in the ventilation tunnels by some kind of surface creature, which in turn introduces us Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly. The two are etherealists, two folks who interact with ether in ways that most normal humans don't. They're also slightly mad.

Rounding out the eventual troupe in service to the Spirearch, we have Benedict and his cousin Gwen, as well as Bridget and her feline companion Rowl. Benedict and Gwen are of House Lancaster, which grow the etheric crystals that power pretty much everything in the setting. Bridget is of the lesser house Tagwynn, which grows meat. Rowl is a cat, with his own set of house rules that really don't involve the Human houses. Benedict is Warriorborn (or half-souled in the cat's terms), which seems to convey feline characteristics, greatly increased metabolism, and increased strength, dexterity, and stamina. (For D&D folks, he's a min/maxed twink.)

Spire Aurora ends up sending in a landing of Marines as an expeditionary force to recover certain items as well as cause chaos. While the leader Espinoza seems to be a fairly normal guy, the real leader, Madame Cavandish, is an etherialist who once apprenticed under Ferus. Her lunacy is a strict adherence to polite manners, thus making her likely to destroy people for not offering tea during parlay.

There's a heck of a lot going on, as the party winds up on Habble Landing trying to find the Aurorans as well as the plots of the Auroroans themselves, with the bulk of the book being pretty much about 24 hours of time. We get glimpses of possible future romances between the principles, as well as a vision of a greater evil through Folly's visions.

As stated above, I rather enjoyed this, even if Steampunk isn't my usual thing. But, as usual, Butcher delivers a strong plot, engaging narrative, and characters who are breaking out of the stereotypes they start out in.