Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher

Let the 2016 Hugo nominee reading begin!

I'm starting with The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1) by Jim Butcher.

This book was on both the Rabid Puppy slate and the Sad Puppies list (where it was in the top 5 books listed).

I attempted to read this book when it was new, well before the nomination period opened. I was annoyed, and bored, and I put it down. It made the nominee list, so I've given it a second chance. I'm not going to give the plot synopsis here - you can click the link above for the Goodreads page.

Spoilery thoughts behind the cut.

First, let me tell you a tale of the first time I tried to read The Aeronaut's Windlass. I downloaded the audiobook for my drive to Austin. I love the Dresden Files, both the books and the tv show, so I was really excited about the new series. Rick had already read the book and said I would LOVE the cats.

Part way through my trip, I had Siri text Rick. "So far, they've been describing an air ship for 30 minutes." Keep going, he said. I kept going. I had Siri text Rick again, "Are you trying to trick me?? 1 hour of air ship description now and counting." (There may have been a little colorful language in there too.) "Are the cats really going to be worth this??" Keep going, he said.

So I did. The cats are entertaining. I do like them. Everything else about the book, however, was boring me, annoying me, or both. I'm not sure why the lengthy air ship descriptions were so annoying. I love the lengthy space battle descriptions, with all its physics and stuff, in the Honor Harrington series. (The Honor Harrington series also has cats. Better cats. Hmm.) Couldn't decide whether I just wasn't as interested in magic air ship battles? Or is Steampunk just not my thing? Eventually, I decided I didn't care why. I was just bored.

What really annoyed me, though, were the characters. The females were all children who have to be manipulated into doing their duty and the right thing, and taught and protected and guided. The male characters were competent and more like real people, ranging from older cadets to the authority figures. In fact, apart from a brief glimpse of a mother who was manipulating her daughter into doing the right thing (because SHE had to be similarly manipulated when SHE was young), ALL of the characters so far were male except for two young cadets and a young apprentice.

Irritated, bored, I decided life was too short, and I moved on to other books.

Hey, look! It's on my Hugo ballot now, so let's give it a second chance, and try to listen with fresh ears.

The early air ship descriptions were much less annoying the second time 'round. Ah, look, there is some action going on, after all. A little bit of action in that hour-long descriptive sequence. The characters are still irritating, but keep going, let's see where we go with this.

Hm. Another female character! A glimpse of her, anyway. She seems to be an evil witch archetype from a Disney movie, deadly evil and so overly concerned with proper manners she might kill you over a slight. Ok....

The rest of the characters are continuing on deeper along the paths that annoyed me on the first read. The cat lady farmer's girl, the bossy manipulative know-it-all aristocratic girl, the mad little waif apprentice girl, all three very child-like and needing constant guidance and reining in. And then there is everybody else, and everybody else is male. Yes, before you comment, some of the men are archetypes as well. The wise old wizard. The wise and benevolent leader manipulating things from behind the scenes. The derring-do ship's captain who appears to be in disgrace but is actually a man of great honor. The older brother-type. The jack-ass looking for a duel. None of the characters, male or female, are very interesting, and I'm having difficulty caring about any of them.

I'm nearly half-way through the book, and lo! Another female character! Ah, yes, I can see her archetype coming before we even meet her. Yes, she's the ex-something of the brave and good captain, and she has repeatedly taken him for all he's worth without a bit of guilt or remorse and is probably here to do the same again.

And.... I'm out. 

The magic system is interesting. I'm curious why we wound up living in Spires and what's in the mist and why is the surface so poisonous. I'm curious why cats are living with us and no other animals of any other sort AT ALL. I'm mildly interested in finding out where the plot is going, but, I'm nearly half-way through the book and it doesn't feel like very much has really happened yet. Overall... Bored. Annoyed. Life is too short.

Did you love this book?  Please tell me what you loved about it in the comments. I'm willing to give it a third chance if there's something really interesting coming in the second half of the book. 

Up or down ballot (note for myself): Down, and below No Award. Any story I don't want to finish always goes below No Award. Stories I've read before nominations and chosen not to nominate will usually go below No Award, unless they strike me differently on the second read-through.


  1. I just finished listening to The Aeronaut's Windlass. The stereotypes didn't bother me a huge amount and there's a scene of Bridget later on that I really liked. However, the book never wowed me. I'm probably going to place it above No Award but below everything else. (This surprises me a bit because I had a really hard time with Uprooted and I was expecting to place the Butcher novel above it.)

    1. You know, honestly, I don't think the stereotypes would have bothered me much if the story had grabbed me at all. Certainly Dresden Files is full of stereotypes, but I mostly don't care at all. The story grabs me and We're Off!!

      Sorry to hear about Uprooted! I really enjoyed that one, in audiobook version. Couldn't put it down. Very much looking forward to re-reading it.

      I'm really not looking forward to picking up Seveneves again. I've loved other Stephenson works, but I tried Seveneves twice already (before noms were in) and kept putting it down.

      Listening to the Jemisin now.

      Have you already read all 5 novel nominees?