The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher is the start to a new fantasy series. No other books in this series are out yet, but I’m sure there’s gonna be at least a couple more. This was super fun, but highly forgettable steampunk. I’ll probably pick up the next book when it comes out, but I don’t need it right away. It’s a pretty typical Butcher fantasy, I was very heavily reminded of his Codex Alera books, right down to the insect-ine enemy.
The book is set in an alternate world where humanity has taken to living in towers, because something dangerous lives on the ground. In order to get from tower to tower, people fly on wind ships. The book introduces several characters, most of whom are NOT the airship captain mentioned in the back of the book summary (irritating, especially because they’re female characters), but are instead royal guards in training. And I’ll be honest, the world building kind of falls apart for me here. See, women serve alongside men in the military and can do all the jobs. But Butcher wants to have the same kind of patriarchal societal structure of early Victorian England (or earlier. I would honestly put this book in the height of the age of piracy instead of Victorian, it’s just that steampunk is so defined by Victoriana). It’s a disconnect that doesn’t quite work because these two things work against each other and disrupt the world building. I was watching Lindsey Ellis’s most recent video on The Hobbit movies, and she dives into this a bit. You can’t have a patriarchal society that treats women like delicate flowers (or freaks out when a competent, knowledgeable woman is in the engine room) but also let them do all the things that men do, like get challenged to duels of honor. It’s really aggravating because it’s pretty obvious that Butcher wanted all the fun of the 1730s but didn’t want to deal with the sexism of that era so he just kind of ignored it. It’s fine I guess, just lazy.
I just got sidetracked, didn’t I? Right, so royal guards in training and an airship captain. They get roped in to looking into some mysterious thing happening in one of their Spire’s other cities. And there is danger and fighting and airship fighting and crazy magicians and giant spiders. Oh, and talking cats who reminded me a lot of Krosp, the Emporer of All Cats from Girl Genius. Actually, Girl Genius is a pretty good comparison. There are even a race of animalistic humans that reminded me of the Jägermonsters. So yes, if you combine some elements from Butcher’s Codex Alera with everything from Girl Genius, you’d have this book. If you liked those stories, you’ll probably like this one.