Book Review by Douglas Soule: Head in the Clouds: My Review of The Aeronaut's Windlass

By Douglas Soule on October 31, 2015 from Book Review via

Jim Butcher, writer of bestselling books like The Dresden Files and Codex Alera, has begun a new series with a novel of unsure quality, a mixture of mediocrity and entertainment.  The Aeronaut's Windlass started off like a box of chocolates. After a few consumed morsels, I had to set it down and wait a while before repeating the process. The dialogue, unfortunately written to mimic a Victorian style, is clunkier than last month’s milk. Each character spoke with such varying degrees of absurdity, that it’s perplexing how any editor would allow this, even from an author as distinguished as Jim Butcher.
Based in Spire Albion, a city floating miles above the ground that is accessible only with the aid of flying ships, this story definitely had an interesting concept. Yet despite impending war with rival Spire Aurora, I felt no care for the fates of either two nations. Unlike what Tolkien did with the fields of the Shire, or what J.K. Rowling accomplished with the castles of Hogwarts, I received no feeling of home from this floating city. Its possible destruction left me with very little anxiety. This lack of enthusiasm also manifested upon the characters.
Each character offered different personalities and quirks, none of which were particularly open for engrossment. These characters were represented by a typical, blossoming love relationship between two major characters, a ship captain who cared much more for his crew than I cared for him, a plethora of others who played key roles in a plot that didn’t seem to advance until the ending, and a cat named Rowl who was actually the most intriguing character, and he knows it.
Cats in The Aeronaut's Windlass are incredibly intelligent, cocky, and vital to the storyline. They can communicate with humans using a language called- you didn’t guess it- Cat. Inhabiting the ventilation shafts of Spire Albion, these felines have formed their own competitive societies, much like that of the humans, a species which they consider inferior. Rowl is a perfect example- purrfect, if you will- of how an author can execute a silly premise, crafting it into something that fits inside the pages better than the central story- of human warfare- itself.
Jim Butcher did not completely butcher the first book of his new series, though it took a while- three hundred and fifty pages, give or take- to come to this conclusion. When conflict arose, the reactions of the characters became more authentic, and even their ways of speaking transformed, as if Butcher had a change of heart on how he wanted to write them.
The plot’s pacing was sometimes quick, events occurring rapidly, action pulsing along with the explosions of fired cannons. After the energetic spurts, though, there were inevitable, interminable passages that dragged along like a van with no rear tires. Thankfully, when the story reached its midpoint, I found my hands moving increasingly quickly, hastily flipping pages, craving to know what would occur.
Despite my eagerness to learn of the next page’s content, the outcomes of each strife were, while not entirely predictable, definitely not unforeseen. During each battle, I never expected any of the main characters to be meet with a fatal wound. And had any of them been introduced to a premature demise- whether this is the case or not you’ll have to find out yourself- I wouldn’t have cared any more than for the death of a pestering mosquito. Less, actually. For at least the appearance of a smashed mosquito fills onlookers with satisfaction, not the emotional detachment experienced when one of the characters was precariously balanced between life and death.
By the end of The Aeronaut's Windlass, regardless of the flaws, I find myself willing to embark on another adventure in Spire Albion and beyond. This beginning story was the prologue to a series that has the potential to be well-renowned across the world. If the prospect of venom-drooling monsters, gauntlets that discharge lethal projectiles, flying ships, and smart-talking cats piques an interest in you, not only are you an awesome individual, you may also enjoy an excursion into Jim Butcher’s newest world. If not… well, I still recommend you give it a try. “It’s the journey, not the destination,” some say, and in the case of this book, they are surely wrong. The ending brought a prospect of discord to come, a hint of chaos far greater than a war between two floating fortresses could ever concoct. I hope to be there when it occurs. I hope to be with the characters, fighting alongside them, my eyes not dully trolling over the words as they did for more than half of the first book.
I'm counting on you, Jim Butcher!

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