The Aeronaut’s Windlass

A captain cashiered for cowardice, now the most successful privateer in the sky. A motley crew of young cadets from the Spirearch’s Guard entrusted with a mission that should by rights go to older and more experienced heads. A sinister tea-drinking sorceress who will murder you if you are impolite to her, but you have no idea what her standards of politeness involve. A sentient cat willing to take insane risks to look out for the humans in his care. These are just some of the characters you’ll find in The Aeronaut’s Windlass. It’s a very fine book indeed.

Aeronaut's Windlass

Jim Butcher has, over the past decade, become my favourite author among the new generation of excellent fantasists. His Harry Dresden books are on my auto-buy list. Truth to tell, since the death of David Gemmell, they are probably the only books that are. I guess I will be putting this series on the list now. It’s that good.

It’s a steampunk fantasy novel set in a world of flying ships and fortified skyscraper cities called Spires. Two of those cities are about to go to war, although only one of them knows it. The place soon to be struck is the home of our heroes. Behind the attack lurks an ancient implacable evil. It has a sinister master plan and that can’t be good.

The characterisation is, as you would expect from Butcher, excellent. The jokes are funny. The action is stunningly executed. The setting is interesting and original and there are enough concrete details to make it believable. You care about the characters, who are engaging and human, even the villains.

Standouts are the egotistical sentient cat Rowl, convinced that all humans are his pets and that the whole world exists for his pleasure, the tea-drinking sorceress Madame Cavendish and Captain Grimm himself, a tarnished Hornblower in an aeronaut’s uniform.

The book is a masterclass in how to construct an action adventure fantasy, opening with several brilliant hooks and building a relentless, cinematic climax, escalating things all the way. I’ve you’ve read any of the Dresden books, you’ll already know how well Butcher manages these things. This has the added bonus of having a wide-screen baroque fantasy world behind it, and well, flying ships. Those would have got me through the door even without Butcher’s name on the cover. Brilliant book. You should read it.

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