The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've honestly not read that much steampunk, but those that I have read all seem to blur together with common airship themes, nobility and rank curs, Victorian style duels, and plain adventure. As an entire genre, it suffers in my mind as becoming old hat. Perhaps if this novel had come out a decade ago, I'd have been so damn impressed and enthused with the whole idea that I'd have enthusiastically endorsed it regardless of a decent story, especially if the characters were bright and delicious.
I was anxious. I'm a big fan of Dresden Files. But then, I loved his Codex Alera, so having seen him treat epic fantasy as well as UF, I started with a bit more forgiving outlook.
So how well did Butcher pull this off?
I think it ended extremely strong. The taste of things to come is Very exciting, but of course, without strong characters, that would be meaningless. It isn't meaningless.
My initial reactions to the novel was a bit more turbulent, with more than a few fractures in my Aetherial Crystals.
None of the characters started very strong. They seemed very workmanlike, like a standard template, and it took a while before Gwen or Grimm or Bridget or anyone else started to grow on me. Of course, that's probably because Butcher decided, for good or ill, to develop everyone primarily by their experience on stage. Captain Grimm is a notable exception, and he happened to be the one I liked best, first. Gwen just seemed like a major disaster in the making.
All of this improved as the story advanced, hitting quite a few standard steampunk tropes along the way, and by the time the swashbuckling and the monster killing was fully under way, I was fully invested.
But the best part of the novel was the ship, the Predator, and the aerial battles, from the chases to the larger naval battles. I've never been that fond of military actions, but perhaps it's merely a function about how well they are written. These were done very entertainingly.
I may be alone in disliking one aspect of the novel:
Yes, anthropomorphic cats. Intelligent spies, war-like nature, and upset at how inconstant those damn humans are. Okay, that last part was funny. The rest just never struck me as that great. Furry meets steampunk. I WANT to think it would be a good mash-up, but I was left kinda cold.
That being said, the novel became quite good by the end. I'll definitely continue the series later.
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