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Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities January 17, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, Science Fiction, Whitehorse Star.
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Bookends: Warfare among the Spire Cities

By Dan Davidson

April 27, 2016windlass-copy

– 996 words –

 

The Aeronaut’s Windlass

By Jim Butcher

ROC (Penguin Group)

630 pages

$35.95

 

Jim Butcher is certainly best known for the 16 volumes chronicling the adventures of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only publically advertised full time wizard. That one’s got four or five volumes still to go, and is narrated as a hard-boiled private eye first person story.

Along the way he wrote the five volume Codex Alera. Each volume contained the word, beings that bonded with the various groups of humans, and some other beings, who had somehow ended up on this strange, almost sentient, planet. Codex had a clear beginning and end, and was primarily the story of the boy who grew up to become the ruler of the human dominated portion of the world.

It was told in an entirely different style, from many different points of view, and had much more in common with high fantasy and myth structures.

Now we have a new series, The Cinder Spires, of which The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the first volume. This is an entirely different narrative stew, bringing together elements of steampunk science fiction, fantasy and old style swashbuckling adventure fiction. I had not gone far into this Christmas present when the name Rafael Sabatini popped into my head. Sabatini produced titles like The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood over a half-century between 1902 and 1949 and I once had half a dozen of his books on my shelves.

This new series takes place on what must be an alien world where humanity lives well above (miles above) the deadly green surface of the planet on massive towers, called spires, made time-out-of-mind ago by some powerful beings who don’t seem to be around any more – though it’s early days yet, and they may turn up. Spire material is basically indestructible, though that can’t be said of the human created additions to the basic pattern.

The surface of the planet is very hostile to spire dwellers, filled with numerous deadly creatures, especially some large spider-like beasts. Yet humans must go there, because wood does not grow on the spires, and wood is needed for so many things, particularly the crafting of the ships that ply the skies for trade and for battle.

It’s a very class stratified society where social and work roles seem to be pre-determined. Living beside the humans there are the cats, very intelligent cats, who have their own clans and their own priorities. Most humans are not really aware of these things, though they are aware that some members of the warrior class share a certain amount of feline DNA and have cat-like attributes. Some others can actually speak cat and communicate with their companions.

And don’t ever think of that relationship as having anything to do with pets, not unless you reverse the ownership status.

Much of the technology of the world is powered by crystals. By means of these they use airships, that look very much like nautical vessels. They lift, have motion, rise and fall in the sky, by means of these specialized crystals, which also act as the power source for portable blaster weapons called gauntlets, and well as the larger force cannons with which the ships may do arial combat. They also provide force shields, without which arial battles would end rather quickly.

In addition, there is magic, exercised by etherialists, who pay a stiff price in some form of mental, physical or social functioning as they use their power. Old Ferus hauls around a collection of odds and ends that makes one think of a homeless person with a shopping cart. For some reason, he can longer use doorknobs properly. His apprentice, Folly, cannot speak directly to other people, but must address her comments to the bag of crystals she carries.

As the story progresses, we do meet one other etherialist, a particularly evil woman who seems to be Darth Vader to Ferus’ Obi Wan Kenobi. We also learn that there may be sentience, besides that of cats, in other places we might not have thought to find it.

The individual spires may be at peace sometimes, like rival city-states, but this book opens in the middle of the beginning of an attempted invasion of Spire Albion by another spire, and this conflict rages throughout the book, never really letting up.

There are a number of viewpoints here. We begin with Gwen of House Lancaster, who, it seems, is defying her noble mother by choosing to serve in the spire’s military. Next up is Captain Grimm, of the airship Predator. He was cashiered from the spire‘s navy for reasons we learn later, and his ship is what we would call a privateer. Soon we meet Bridget, daughter of another family of note, but one that has fallen on hard times. She, too, is bound for the military life, along with her inseparable companion cat, Rowl. That he calls her Littlemouse gives you a clear sense of who he thinks is in charge.

We spend most of the book seeing the action through the eyes of these four, including the cat, though there are other viewpoints along the way, including some from those we would have to call the enemy, one of which is Grimm’s former wife.

This was a book that was a lot of fun to read, so I spun out its 69 chapters by only reading one of two of them a day. This was difficult, as it is Butcher’s practice to deliver a lot of cliffhanger chapter endings, and the next page usually takes you to a different set of characters.

In an interview, the author says he’s planned this series in trilogies. He’s got a three book contract and can pull off an ending there if need be, but he’s also got a general outline for either six or nine books. I hope he gets to write them.

 

-30-

 

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