My rating: 3 of 5 stars
More like a 3.5. I didn't like this nearly as much as I did the Dresden Files but infinitely more than I did the Codex series. I liked a lot of the characters but that said I did feel the 600+ pages of this read.
For those of you who hate info dumps to explain fantasy worlds, never fear. There is none of that here. In fact it borders on not giving us enough information to make what's going on clear. You are fed dollops of information here and there and some of it later than is probably necessary. What I got from it is, wood is rare (so I assume the spires are made of stone), that the spire ‘habbles’ (levels? Towns? Hell if I actually know. I’m going with levels) are up on these spires and the surface of the planet is unlivable and utterly dangerous. (I’m wondering now just how big are these spires and where the heck is food being grown from.) In fact this is the second steampunk I’ve read in the last couple of months that had this arrangement: humans live up in the sky. The surface is deadly. And there’s a mist (in Butcher’s book, fog in the other one I read) that has deadly things in it. Naturally it has all the steampunk elements, the air ships, the goggles, the ‘ether’ etc.
For those who hate first person point of view (I know so many who won’t read the Dresden Files because of it) this is third person. LOTS of third person. There’s no head hopping. Each person gets their own chapter but holy heck there are a ton of characters and no one character seems to be the ‘lead.’ If I was pressed I’d say it was Grimm (the captain on the cover) and possibly Gwen but in many ways it’s a very equal sharing between about six good guys and three bad guys. So cast of characters on the side of good: Captain Grimm, disgraced Fleet captain now running a privateer ship, the Predator. Gwen Lancaster, new guardsman trainee. She’s from the wealthiest of family. She comes from privilege and self describes as arrogant, blunt and headstrong. Benedict Sorrelin, her “warrior” born cousin (we don’t know much about the warrior born. They are stronger than total humans and have a dangerously high metabolism. They have cat eyes and cats describe the warrior born as ‘half souls.’ So what the heck is going on here isn’t clear). He’s the cool competent warrior type. There’s Bridget Tagwynn, whose family is now longer wealthy and powerful. She grew up in the vattery which seems to be a butcher’s shop. She didn’t want to go to the guard really but she is an only child and every family has to send one. Rowl, the prince of a cat clan. Yes, cat. They are sentient and talk in their language which Bridget “Littlemouse” to Rowl can understand. And lastly the two etheralists (they seem to be able to channel and use the ether as a weapon, to heal, to see the future but the price seems to be their sanity), Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly who seems utterly mad. On the other side are two Auroran (i.e. the enemy) Marines and their etheralist, Madam Cavendish who has a taste for tea and terror.
It’s hard to review a 600+ page book since I couldn’t read it fast and I’m probably forgetting some of it but it comes full circle with it opening with Grimm in an airship fight with two ships and ends the same. When circumstances throw Grimm and his badly injured ship into a position to aid Gwen, Bridget, Benedict and Rowl and basically save Spire Albion and Spirereach (i.e. the king, Addison) both Addison and Gwen’s father offer him something he can’t refuse for his help in doing one small task. If he functions as a windlass (the only mention to the title which really doesn’t seem to fit the book) and shuttles Master Ferus and Folly with some guardsmen (i.e. the aforementioned heroes of the book) to a lower habble and keep them safe.
Really. That’s the whole plot thread for a 600 page novel. Of course the Auroran invaders aren’t going to allow for this to happen. So there are a lot of action scenes. In fact the last 250 pages is pretty much one long battle scene. That said it’s also slow starting. Sorry, it just really is. The characters are interesting though and that’s what carried me through. Plot wise it’s fairly simple Cavendish is being used to bring down Albion (whether or not Aurorans are more than a tool to do this is yet to be seen) and Grimm, Benedict and company have to stop them. I don’t want to ruin the surprise of why Cavendish is having them attack this habble but it was interesting.
I’m obviously greatly oversimplifying things here but at the end of the day it’s good guys vs bad guys in an epic pitched battle(s). I liked Grimm a lot and I think I’m supposed to be a Gwen fan but I actually liked Bridget more. (I like that none of the women in this really need rescuing even though just about everyone is held hostage at one point or another in this thing. They are strong without being bitchy. In fact in most cases no one even bats an eye at a woman doing anything a man is doing in this and I appreciate that). Gwen becomes more interesting late in the book but yes she is a bit too over the top with the whole duty and charging ahead without thinking thing (but she is a teenager so…) Bridget is more down to earth and I found myself rooting for her more. Folly, on the other hand, in small doses is one of the most interesting characters in the book. Her madness and insight make her best if she’s a side character because too much of it would be too much if you ask me (She reminds me of Drusilla on BtVS a lot). Rowl is probably the best defined of all the characters. Butcher captures the essence of cat in Rowl.
I’m interested enough to read the next one in the series but man, I have to admit it as an adult I’m finding it difficult to find the time to wade through books this long. That makes me sad.
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