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Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve found your next read, that is, if you like captivating, unique, funny, and intense stories, and also talking cats. And if you don’t like those things, I recommend “Hop on Pop” as an alternative, because seriously, who doesn’t like talking cats?

Seriously, this book might be the best fantasy/steampunk/pirate story since Firefly went off the air. And it’s definitely better than sliced bread.

Let me back up: what’s it about? The Aeronaut’s Windlass takes place in a world in which all of humanity lives in giant, heaven-scraping Spires, and where the earth below is dangerous and possibly toxic (sort of an inverse of the Wool Omnibus). As such, commerce takes place in the sky, via huge airships. Our story follows Captain Grimm, of the slightly piratanical Predator, as well as the aristocratic Gwen, the “warriorborn” Benedict, the addled and mystical Folly and Master Ferus, and the hardy Bridget and her prince-of-cats companion Rowl. Basically, this odd collection of characters is pressed into service to protect the Spire from an unknown Enemy and try to prevent all-out war.

Because Captain Grimm is the one on the cover, most people may want to see this as his story–and believe me, he is wonderful, even if nearly a straight-up transference of Firefly‘s Captain Mal–but each character truly has an arc of their own, and no one is much of a supporting character. Yes, even the cat, who is both different from every literary depiction of a cat I’ve ever read and exactly like my own beasties.

Author Jim Butcher is already known for his writing skill and his vibrant characters, but I don’t know that he’s ever had so much fun. You can feel his grin through the book, and I occasionally wanted to nudge him in the ribs–“I see what you did there!” He’s just having a blast, and it’s infectious.

But that’s not to say the book is all happiness. Though I often had to stop to read a line aloud to my husband to share the laugh, I also told him that if a certain character died–or if all of them died–I wasn’t going to forgive him. It’s that intense and the stakes are that impossibly high.

What I really liked, though, was that no one was unnecessary. Even characters lacking in obviously beneficial skills discovered in themselves the ability to do something that proved critical to the mission as a whole. And I just wanted to give each of them a hug afterward.

I can’t wait for more of this series, and odds are pretty solid that I’ll reread it again soon just to get back into this fantastic fantastical world.

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Review: Skin Game

Skin Game (The Dresden Files, #15)Skin Game by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Dresden Files series, by and large, is fun, but lately the books had gotten a little…heavy. (There was brooding…a lot of brooding.) I had started to feel like maybe Butcher was struggling to find realistically scary foes for his super-charged wizard to deal with, and all the gloom and doom was feeling oppressive.

But not Skin Game. For this book, our friendly-ish neighborhood Chicago wizard gets back to some good old-fashioned problem solving, and it’s a joy and a relief.

(Spoilers below!)
After months of isolation on the jailhouse island, Dresden is antsy for action…and he’s learned a few new skills (Parkour!). But the ability to leap tall objects in a single bound isn’t really enough when it comes to stealing from Hades himself while trying to avoid being killed by an arch-nemesis-turned-temporary-coworker. With the help of old friends and a bit of divine intervention, Harry is up to the challenge.

(ok, clear from spoilers here on out)

This book was a nice change of pace because several characters who had been on the bench for awhile finally got to come out and stretch. I still miss some of the original old gang, but for the most part, we got to revisit a lot of characters who had been unavailable or at least busy elsewhere. Butcher clearly put a lot of thought into the effects some of Harry’s actions would have on even his closest friends, and it’s good to see folks with their own distinctive character arcs. (It would have been all too easy to have everyone else stay the same–is is the (Harry) Dresden Files, after all.)

This book reminded me what I liked about the Dresden Files, and I’m happy to be back on the bandwagon.

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