Butcher is off to a rousing start with the first volume of his new fantasy series. I’ve been waiting to read it, putting it off hoping the next one would come out, but I thought this year I would make an effort to read all of the Hugo nominees before the awards ceremony, which is next month. This is the last one (aside from Leckie’s latest, but I put that trilogy down halfway through the first book — just couldn’t get into it), so I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Title: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1)
Author: Jim Butcher
Narrator: Euon Morton
Immersion Reading: NOT recommended due to price

This was a very good book, but it was mildly disappointing for a couple of reasons. The main thing is that I was expecting a little more after all the hype. Butcher’s a great talent — he’s on my Favorites list for a reason. But it’s almost as if he sat down and said “I’m going to write a Brandon Sanderson novel now,” and then did so. I get it, Sanderson is a terrific goal to set, but in my opinion Butcher should stand on his own ideas.

That said, the setting here is entirely original, and it is absolutely fascinating. The airships and spires make for a wonderful backdrop for what is essentially a misplaced space opera. A space opera, you say? Why yes:

  • Everyone lives in space stations (called “spires”)
  • Futuristic weapons and shields abound
  • Tech-driven ships provide trade and travel between spires
  • Emphasis on military discipline and ranks
  • Massive battles with big-ship tactics
  • Nation/state politics providing wartime setting
  • Simple, melodrama-style storyline (not bad, mind you, just… uncomplicated)

In short, it’s a space opera. It just happens to be set in an atmosphere. The goal here is clearly more space opera than, say, Horatio Hornblower — there’s a little of the master and commander thing going on here, but not too much. But it’s an adventure story, start to finish. There’s little of the mystery that abounds in Butcher’s Dresden books, or for that matter his first fantasy series (Codex Alera). Also, a vast cast of characters distributes the point of view, again quite unlike Dresden or Alera.

But that’s not to say that this wasn’t a fun read. It’s first-rate, top-shelf action/adventure storytelling, and if the plot is a little on the shallow and obvious side, well, at least it’s rousing good fun. Some of the action scenes, particularly in the second half, are quite eye-opening.

There’s also a fun twist in the characters of the story: One of them is an intelligent cat. This creates an almost alien-like difference in perspective that’s entertaining as well as interesting. It’s not a major emphasis of the book, but it does take over several chapters and makes for some fun reading and helps propel the story through an otherwise mundane second act.

Regarding the narration, Morton does a good job with the audible version, though nothing really calls it out for particular mention. This is a good one to go ahead and settle for the cheaper ebook, if you can get it that way. I ended up snagging it from the library because the prices for both ebook and audiobook are still quite high on this one. There’s also no discount for adding the audio to the ebook yet, and I can’t recommend paying full price for both. Stick with the ebook, IMO.