I have never read Jim Butcher before, and I’ve had mixed luck with things that Patrick Rothfuss recommends. I decided to take a chance with The Aeronaut’s Windlass, and I liked a lot about this book. It has a good story, an interesting world, some relatable characters, and the possibility to be a really good fantasy series. But the more I think about it, the more I start seeing a lot of little problems that add up.
The general narrative is action-based, with political intrigue, the threat of monsters, a somewhat mysterious supernatural-ish evil force behind it all, a villainess who may or may not be as in control as she seems, and a core group of likeable heroes who may be the only hope the world has. But, it seems like there’s a lot of pages spent on a short amount of time. The majority of the action (600 pages worth) apparently takes place over a few days. The first 150 pages cover what seems to be a few weeks, so it seems like the action of the main story should take longer than it apparently does. Maybe it’s just me, but the imbalance doesn’t quite work. There’s too little time to get to know the world and characters before everything starts happening.
The main cast of characters is pretty interesting and fun as a group. The one thing that bothered me is that based on the beginning and conclusion, Gwen is supposed to be the main cadet heroine, but she doesn’t do a whole lot. Benedict, Bridget, and Rowl do a lot more, and they’re more interesting for it. Gwen is also the least developed of this set of characters; she’s a somewhat spoiled, though good at heart rich girl from beginning to end, and the heart-to-heart she has with Grimm at the end does nothing to make her any more interesting or even sympathetic. Bridget and Rowl are the two we see the most of, and they deserve it. Rowl is a talking cat (sort of), and Bridget is his human (her cat name is Littlemouse). Benedict doesn’t get a lot of development, but what some of the others say about him makes him interesting, added with what he does say and do. Captain Grimm and his aeronauts are the standard honorable rogues with a lot of talent and luck. The figure-head ruler, the Spirearch, is clearly smarter than everyone seems to think, and Ferus and Folly the etherealists (ie- ‘magicians’) are as eccentric but powerful as you’d expect.
All of the right plot ingredients are also present, but again, there’s something that could be a little bit better. This world has everyone living is towers (Spires) which function as autonomous countries, and there’s a war brewing between Spire Albion and Spire Aurora. The only things that live on the surface of what is presumably Earth are monsters too scary to talk about much. How humanity ended up like this is unclear, but it doesn’t really matter too much, except that Folly discovers that there’s someone/something behind the visible villainess, Madame Cavendish, and this mysterious power is an almost complete unknown. The total lack of information about the real problem is a little bit of a problem, since it can’t build up suspense if there’s nothing known about the threat. Clearly, there is one, but who knows at this point equals who cares, so nothing then means no one.
Since this is book 1 of a series, I can overlook some problems, but I really do hope the pacing gets evened out, the characters get a little more even, and there is a little more detail about the mysteries of the world that need solving. Since it’ll be a while before the next one comes out, I might just have to look into the author’s other two series.