Science Fiction

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

aeronaut's windlass

(Long absence again! Can’t promise anything. But – here’s a post for now!)

So I wasn’t going read Jim Butcher’s latest, because it’s steampunk and steampunk really isn’t my thing.  But my mom bought it for me – she knows I love Butcher’s work and very kindly always preorders his stuff off Amazon for me – and I’m so glad she did.  I wouldn’t have given it a chance otherwise and it’s certainly worth reading!

The Aeronaut’s Windlass takes place in an alternate world, where people live on giant, man-made mountains – Spires-, forever under ceilings that cover all the living space.  They travel from place to place via crystal-powered ships (and wear goggles to protect them from the sun.)  The crystals are powered via ether, a magical presence that flows through the world – very much like the Force. The basic premise is that one of the Spires, which struggles economically, has decided that conquering one of the more prosperous Spires (where the heroes reside) is their path to economic success.

Overall, it’s a really fun and light read.  Pure escapism – I was totally absorbed in the book and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  Like most of Butcher’s work, it’s fast-paced with lots of action and a multifaceted plot.  There’s strong hints of plot points that I’m wildly curious about – Butcher introduces a lot and gives a strong base for further books and intrigue – but I know that we can depend on him to follow through and incorporate everything in future books.  I’m super excited about the next book in the series!

In the Dresden Files, Butcher has a definite tendency towards info-dumping, but here it’s actually handled quite well – he reveals things very naturally and the reader has the enjoyable job of puzzling together how the world works.  There are about ten different viewpoints he switches between – maybe more?  Some of them are much more heavily emphasized than others, but though Butcher does it well, if multiple viewpoints are not your thing, this is not your book.  (It’s in third person, not first, if that’s influential.)

My biggest critique is that it’s so fast paced and switches between so many viewpoints that I don’t feel the characters were developed as much as I would’ve liked.   The hardcover was probably 700 pages, so there was a lot of room for worldbuilding and plot development – and the multiple characters’ viewpoints all wound together seamlessly to provide a cohesive plot.  But because there were so many characters, and because Butcher is aiming to develop complex characters with room for growth, there wasn’t quite enough room for character development at the level that I would’ve liked.

That being said, I did enjoy the characters very much! There’s a fair number of female characters, now that I think about it, and they all have important roles to play.  Most importantly, all of the characters whose viewpoint we used were complex and interesting, if not explored in depth.  I want to know their backstory, or see how they develop, or both!  Though a few of the secondary characters tend towards the archetypes – the villains, for instance, are chilling but not terribly original – it’s forgivable in the context of the main characters.

Most of the main characters are late teens, early twenties.  They have a wide variety of strengths and interests and I like that they have lots of room for growth without it actually being a coming-of-age story – the focus is how all the characters weave together, not the growth of one particular character.  Also, in contrast to his previous two series, there is no “Chosen One” (either obvious or implied) in the story and very little room for one to develop. I’m a bit worn out on the chosen character stories, so it’s a nice relief!

My favorite character by far is Captain Grimm, one of the main-main characters.  He’s captain of the Predator, a mysteriously overpowered ship that’s the fastest in the sky.  He’s a good man – not a conflicted good man, but someone who does the right thing because of conviction – but isn’t boring or particularly stereotypical. He longs for freedom, but is not willing to pay any price for it.  Butcher alludes to a mysterious, semi-tragic backstory that I presume will be revealed in the next book or two.

Overall, if you’re into sci-fi/fantasty/steampunk escapism, good world-building, and fast-paced action-packed stories, this is definitely a book I would recommend!  If you’re looking for a deep, introspective read, an in-depth character study, or a totally new take on the sci-fi/steampunk world, this, sadly, probably isn’t your read.


Cold Days

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Okay, this book technically isn’t out yet, but thanks to my bookstore connections I borrowed an advanced reader copy.  I promise there will be absolutely no spoilers (and don’t ask, because I’m not telling) and I will try as hard as I can not to give anything to infer from.

This is the 14th book in an urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher.  It follows the adventures of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing wizard, as he battles vampires, werewolves, fairies, fallen angels, ghosts – you name it, and it’ll probably appear at some point in the series.  Non-Western mythologies make appearances, too, though the majority of the series is heavily based on versions of things found in European mythologies. (This is a long, but planned, series, so it’s quite exciting as we’ve passed the midpoint and things are beginning to come together in the past few books.)  If you like urban fantasy, this is a series you should check out. Butcher does a great job of combining escapism fantasy with the occasional flash of thought-provoking brilliance.  His characters are somewhat pulled from the whole “Good/neutral/bad” spectrum but they’re still fun to be around – if you don’t do a lot of roleplaying games or read a lot of fantasy this will not be noticeable to you.  His dialogue is witty and funny, his plot lines are mostly tight and connected, and it is one of the most entertaining worlds I’ve ever entered through a book.  And, hey, occasional thought-provoking flash of brilliance! The books start off dark and get darker, mind you, though they never lose their sense of humor and the inherent fun in reading them. (I’m looking at you, Animorphs.)

First off, this is one of the best books the series has put out in a while. I love this entire series, mind you, so that’s not a backhanded compliment.  This book is just one giant piece of epicness.  One of the things I like best about Jim Butcher’s writing is the way he manages his plot lines – so, so well.  Rarely does anything not get followed up and throughout the series small plot points convincingly lead to other ones. Normally I find long series irritating, because at some point it feels like the author is just throwing things in to keep things going, but Butcher doesn’t feel like that even at book 14.  Like the other books in this series, this one is soundly based on the events beforehand.  The books tend to be a wee bit exposition heavy, so I assume you could read it without having read the others.  I say assume because I’ve read this series so often I don’t think I can separate myself from the backstory.

The one thing I will tell you about this book is that Butcher is on top of his game with nerd culture and cult classic references, so bone up before you read it for maximum enjoyment.

The book has plenty of action – a Harry Dresden trademark.  If you haven’t read them before, be prepared for battle, bloodshed and unclear/uncomfortable moral decisions. If you have read the series, the blurb of the book and the ending of the last book lets you know this book is dealing with faeries.  I love the Faerie storyline(s) and the book did not disappoint! The reader – and Harry – gains more information about the world of Faerie (and, man, is it cool!).  One tiny piece of information I had already predicted (c’mon, Harry, how could you not get that?) and the rest was unexpected but made complete sense within the realm of the story.  Expect – anything.  The ending is fantastic and you will be trying to figure out what happens next when you reach the last word.

To be fair, Butcher is not a brilliant writer. His plots are excellent, as is his world-building, but I wouldn’t read him just for his writing style and command of the written word.  His characters are getting more complex as he goes along, but if I didn’t like them so much I would be inclined to admit they can be a wee bit stereotypical at times. (Nonetheless, they are all hugely enjoyable! Hugely enjoyable!) These books are mostly for escapism and fun, dashed with moral dilemmas and sprinkled with thought-provoking fare. I really, really enjoy them.  So much. (Also, I read this book in one evening/night because I kept on wanting to know what happened next. Arg!)