Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1)



Genre: Steampunk/Fantasy


Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

“Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

“And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…”


First I think I’d like to point out that, despite what the synopsis would have you believe, the book is NOT all about Captain Grimm. I’m not even entirely certain that Grimm gets the most chapters. The other point of view characters include:

  • Gwen Lancaster, presumably the heir to the great Lancaster house. A bit snobbish sometimes, but her heart’s in the right place.
  • Bridget Tagwynn, a girl with a fairly strict moral compass, lover of cats. (She can actually TALK Cat, because in this book there’s actually a language.)
  • Rowl, a cat. My personal favorite. His chapters embody the superiority you’d expect from any cat. If you’re a cat person, you’re probably going to love his chapters.

So perhaps the synopsis doesn’t properly explain the story in its entirety. I’ll try and explain it briefly. The setting seems to take place in Earth’s very distant future, where the ground isn’t inhabitable but long ago these Spires were built, and that’s now where people live. The Spires are split up into different “habbles,” which are basically the different floors of the Spire. Spire Albion, where our main characters are from, are attacked by Spire Aurora, and Grimm is asked to take Gwen and her friends (including Bridget, Rowl, and Gwen’s cousin Benedict) to a lower-level habble to do some reconnaissance.

That’s the basic premise.

As for how I felt about this book… I wanted to like it. I really did. It’s really obvious that Jim Butcher did his homework in terms of world-building. You’ve got crystals and ether and electricity, and a civilization that has invented items to work with those things. You’ve got the ships that can ride in the air. You’ve got creatures from “the surface” called silkweavers, and people called the warriorborn, and the etherealists who are a bit crazy but also pretty powerful when they’ve got an ether source nearby. On and on it goes, and they all follow the rules that Butcher sets up in the first portion of Aeronaut’s Windlass.

Along with that are the characters. All the female characters were written as strong and fairly complex, even Mirl the cat. I normally like readers who are morally gray, and while that wasn’t really the case here, I didn’t mind it so much. It was actually kind of refreshing to see these characters – who, don’t get me wrong, DID have their flaws – with a pretty strict moral compass.

There were also a handful of chapters from the “villain’s” point of view. Interestingly enough, Butcher wrote this character as morally gray as he could. I didn’t necessarily mind this, because having a completely nasty character as your villain is pretty cliche at this point. Still, towards the end of the novel, it felt like Butcher was trying just a little too hard, but that’s pretty small compared to the whole of it.

Anyway. Butcher does a fairly good job handling info dumps, mostly thanks to Bridget, who is almost as clueless when it comes to how everything works as we are. There are a few places that felt a little info-dumpy, but for the most part, it was fine.

My biggest issue, unfortunately, was the slow pace of the novel. This was a 640 page novel, 100-200 pages longer than my average selection, and a large percentage of that felt like it was sort of just… trotting along. Most of the scenes felt necessary, enough so that you didn’t really mind the semi-slow pace, but the book didn’t REALLY kick up speed until the last… oh, maybe 200 pages or so?

I think there were a lot of scenes… chapters, even… that weren’t particularly necessary. Or, they might have been, but we didn’t need a detailed account of what happened at that point; a summary would have done just fine. That would’ve made the narrative a lot tighter, and more intense.

As a side note, I mentioned before that Cat is an actual language. According to the story, cats communicate verbally, as humans do. But, fun fact for you, I think it’s worth noting that, in real life, cats generally communicate through body language and use meowing as little as possible. Especially wild cats.

Taking all of this into consideration, I would rate this three out of five stars, mostly because of the pace. I didn’t hate the book, but it was hard to motivate myself to read it, especially during the middle. If you’re a person who likes steampunk, and who prefers to read their books in several short sittings, you might like this book. But if you’re a person, like me, who prefers fast pacing, this probably isn’t going to be for you.

Favorite quote:

“But I’m just… I’m not like him [her father, a brave and honorable man].” (Bridget)

“No,” Rowl said. “That’s what growing up is for.”

— Chapter 3, page 37


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