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Fantasy Round 42: The Aeronaut’s Windlass


The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a new book from Jim Butcher (the author behind The Dresden Files) and it is nifty.

It’s also the first book in a planned nine-book series (called The Cinder Spires).  My plan is to buckle in for a wild ride.

Also: not too many spoilers here, so go right on ahead.

Not shown in this picture are the lines and buckles that any sensible airship captain and crewmember uses to avoid falling overboaord or getting concussions when exciting things happen. (Also, exciting things happen.)

Not shown in this picture are the lines and buckles that any sensible airship captain and crewmember uses to avoid falling overboaord or getting concussions when exciting things happen.
(Also, exciting things happen.)

The Cats Are Awesome

For starters, they’re sentient.

Second, they still act like cats.  They view themselves as superior to humans, and the main character who is a cat, Rowl, has a pet human (in his opinion).  Cats are very independent, and hate being referred to as pets.  But still appreciate milk.

One of the most entertaining parts is a dominance contest between two cats… which is performed by deliberately ignoring each other.  Whoever acts interested first, loses.

The feel of the culture works nicely.

For bonus points, the cats do have thumbs, although they’re still less dexterous than humans.  I note this in particular because there are real cats with thumbs (sort of; it’s a form of polydactyly).  Cats with thumbs are associated with sailing ships in particular; I suspect that this relates to the similarities of airships to sailing vessels.

Speaking of which…

Lovely Excuses For Steampunk

Iron rots.  Or rather, there is iron rot, which causes any iron or steel not covered in a protective coating of copper or bronze to rust away in only a few days.  Guns suffer from this problem as well — collapsing due to iron rot when the protective copper cladding wears out.  (Although, it should be possible to make guns using only, say, bronze, which wouldn’t suffer from this issue…)

Which helps explain the relative popularity of magic-crystal-powered blasting gauntlet devices as a high-power alternative.  Magic crystals power just about everything, via their interaction with the ether.

Similarly, the goggles are important — both for protections from sun and wind, and for guarding against etheric currents outside of the Spires where people live.

It short, we end up with a nicely magical steampunk setting.

Is This A Post-Apocalyptic Future?

It’s a good question.

There are references to the time before the Builders created the Spires, which are the only safe places to live above the wild, dangerous jungles on the surface.  Wood is expensive, because it only grows on the surface.  The Builders created the crystal works and vat farms that support life.  An inn references a mythical creature known as a “horse.”  The vat farms permit both vegetable and meat products to be grown inside the spires, in ways oddly similar to high-tech things that I usually associate with deep space travel.

There are also references to loss of knowledge — there are no printing presses, for example, and also the inability to repair the manufacturing facilities for crystals if they are too badly damaged.

The resulting mixed-up tech is… fascinating.  Further, the names of the different spires — Albion, Aurora, and Olympia, for example — reference things on Earth, with bonus points for using different languages at different spires.

I am very suspicious.  I’m reminded of The Sharing Knife series, by Lois McMaster Bujold, which has a similar fascinating, yet distant and uncertain, backstory.

I’m really interested in figuring out more… but I guess we’re all going to have to wait for the next book.

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