Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Ronin Reads – The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass


Imagine a world where humanity takes refuge in enormous stone spires that reach to the sky from the harsh, destructive creatures on the surface. Congratulations, you have entered the world of The Cinder Spires, where airships rule the sky, strange energies flow into the minds of a special few, and cats hold an empire under humankind’s nose. While far from idyllic, the inhabitants of Spire Albion still lead comfortable lives. Two of them, Gwendolyn Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn have even stepped out of the shelter of their great and noble houses to join the ranks of the Spire Guard… and not a moment too soon. The Spire is soon beset upon by enemies from a neighboring spire with enough precision to suggest a hidden enemy within their walls, forcing an unlikely group to be assembled by the ruling Spirearch to root them out. So join Captain Francis Grimm of the Predator, Gwen, her warriorborn cousin Benedict, Bridget, her arrogant cat companion Rowl, the etherialist Master Efferus Effrenus Ferus, and his apprentice Folly as they dive into the depths of Spire Albion to battle enemy marines, vicious creatures from the surface, a mystical, mysterious, and deadly benefactor that seems to be in command, and perhaps something far darker and more sinister that may actually be pulling the strings.

Ah, Jim Butcher, my old friend. I both love him to my core and jealously despise him for the same reason; he so goddamn good at what he does. He’s currently mastering modern wizardry with The Dresden Files, successfully melded the Roman Legion, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Pokemon (of all things) with The Codex Alera (which, admittedly, I haven’t read yet), and now he has taken his foray into steampunk with The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Only that’s not completely true; while it has the general aesthetics, mannerisms, and overall feel of steampunk, steam powered devices are not prominently featured until the climax. The majority of devices, from shipboard protection and propulsion to the ranged gauntlet weapons, rely on ethersilk and whatever can be refined from it. Still, I suppose that etherpunk doesn’t have the same flair to it and all the other necessary elements are still there.

The world of the Spires, despite not having a giant appendix and map at the end, feels remarkably fleshed out and practically alive. This is particularly remarkable as, when you get down to it, there are only three or four major settings in the book: the prestigious Habble Morning, the busy and money-driven Habble Landing, the fleet shipyards (all in Spire Albion), and the open sky aboard the Predator. Apart from that, there’re only glimpses of denizens of the other Spires on visits and mentions of other goings on in the world, yet it’s enough to fill in the blanks with your imagination and reveal a living, breathing world. Sure, I’d love a map or some kind of series bible, but for a first book in a series, being able to convey this level of immersion is stunning.

Of course, an immersive world doesn’t mean squat if the characters don’t hold up. Fortunately, with no exaggeration, Butcher has really outdone himself in the character department. The Dresden Files has been going on for fifteen books and through that, we have gotten to know those characters quite well. After one book of The Cinder Spires, however, I feel like I know all of these characters through and through. Every one of them is unique and fully three-dimensional. Grimm seems to fit to a mold more than others, though it doesn’t hurt his character at all. Even Major Espira, one of the commanders of the enemy marines, gets a few passages in his perspective, fleshing him out as he rationalizes the actions of his men while simultaneously dreading the one who commands him.

Going through all the different perspectives is enormous fun, each one offering a unique and colorful take on the events and the world around them. My favorite has to be the cat Rowl; he’s so high on his own ego that it’s endearing. He shills out the bare minimum of complements and is obsessed with showing the utmost poise in front of others, constantly acting bored despite what he really feels and looking at humans as some kind of gimpy, graceless apes. And every time I read his passages and dialogue, I think to myself, “Yeah, this actually does sound like something a cat would think.” How often do you come across a story that so faithfully captures the mindset and feel of a cat or any animal?

As per standard with Jim Butcher’s stories, there’s plenty of action, comedy, terror, and emotions woven together in this literary tapestry and, of course, they all work beautifully. One of my favorite jokes is when Espira’s superior is getting bandaged up and he tries to avoid looking at her alluring bits of exposed flesh… by which he means her bare neck and shoulders. The ending itself is a breakneck action set piece that goes on for several chapters and every single bit of it put me on the edge of my seat and forced me to keep turning the pages (another common staple of Butcher’s works). The ending chapter feels a bit abrupt, but not so much that it feels the story ended too soon. If anything, the bits it set up leave me eagerly awaiting the next installment.

My life would be a far bleaker one without the works of Mr. Butcher and it’s gratifying to see that he can come out with new ways for his creativity to run rampant. This new world is so fascinating that part of me hopes this isn’t just a trilogy because every bit of time spent in this world is absolutely gratifying, as is spending time with the people that inhabit it. This is the kind of book I hope to read every month, entertaining, engaging, and with a whole lot of effort put in. Steampunk fan or no, this should be in your collection if you value good literature. It’s creative, it’s fun, it’s action-packed, it’s Jim Butcher at his finest.

And if you find yourself wanting to listen to this as you read the last few chapters, you are my kind of person.

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