"The Aeronaut’s Windlass" & "The Olympian Affair" By Jim Butcher

Review by Terrance McArthur

Destroy the world, but build it back as miles-high towers. Fill the skies with crystal-powered airships. Throw in a Horatio Hornblower-styled rogue captain, a wolverine without metal-bladed hands, a strong-willed Princess Leia type from aristocratic lineage, and genius/wizard etherealists cursed with personality quirks along with their powers. Oh, and add in talking cats (They don’t really talk any more than they always have in their own way, but some of the humans are able to speak Cat.). Put it all together, and you have The Cinder Spires, a fantasy/steampunk/sci-fi series from Jim Butcher, creator of the Dresden Files and Codex Alera stories.

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The first Cinder Spires book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, came out in 2015, but Dresden projects, pandemics, and life got in the way of Butcher’s writing. Now, it has been re-released to prepare the world for Volume Two, The Olympian Affair.

Windlass introduced us to Spire Albion, a city tower/spire, and Captain Grimm (unjustly drummed out of the Albion air navy)  of the AMS Predator, a privateer sailing above the mists where mist sharks soar and the dangerous surface where creatures roam. Noble born Gwen Lancaster wants to serve in the ruling Spirearch’s Guard. Raw-boned Bridget Tagwynn, whose father owns a vattery that grows meat, has to join as part of her family’s obligations, but she gets to bring Rowl, her counselor/friend/cat. Bridget meets the warrior born Benedict, whose vertically-slit golden eyes and powerful body are intimidating. Madame Cavendish, an etherealist helping the rival Spire Aurora, is up to no good. After Predator is damaged in battle, the Spirearch has it repaired, and Gwen, Benedict, Bridget, and Rowl are assigned to it for a special mission, one that involves attacks by another navy, fire, a mass of monsters, and battle after battle.

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The Olympian Affair occurs two years later, as ship, humans, and cat travel to another Spire for a trade conference, seeking allies for the not-yet-declared war, amid the mystery of Spires suddenly stripped of human life. Instead of a military adventure saga, Predator and company tread into mystery territory, trying to unravel whodunnit, whatdunnit, and whydunit. This time, magic and diplomacy play a larger role, and cats are at the heart of the answer. Treachery, surprising love, and nasty baddies have their day. There is humorous whimsy, the cats prove to be as frustrating and fascinating as they are in real life, and the adventure is exciting, combining duels, monster attacks, and 3D ship-to-ship warfare that includes pages from submarine movies like Run Silent, Run Deep.

Butcher has been a major name in the urban fantasy genre since 2000, and his Cinder Spires books take on steampunk and science fiction tropes and give them a few good twists. Here’s hoping the wait for the next book takes less than eight years.

You can click here to purchase book one, and here to purchase book two.
Terrance V. Mc Arthur is newly retired as a Librarian in Fresno County, California. He is also a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and maker of pine needle baskets. On top of that he writes stories that range from rhymed children's tales to splatterpunk horror. He's an odd bird, but he's nice to have around.

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