Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)

Title: The Aeronaut’s Windlass | Series: The Cinder Spires #1 | Author: Jim Butcher | Publisher: Orbit | Publication date: September 29th 2015 | Num. Pages: 630 | Genre: Science Fiction, Steampunk

5 stars – A fabulously steampunk novel set high in the sky


Jim Butcher, the number one bestselling author of the Dresden Files, begins a new series set in a gloriously imagined world of noble families, marvellous technology and magic-wielding warriors.

Since time immemorial, humanity has lived inside the Spires, habitats towering for miles over the dangerous, monster-infested surface of the world. Captain Grimm of the merchant airship Predator was dismissed from Spire Albion’s military in disgrace – now his ship and crew are all he has, and he’s fiercely loyal to both. When the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a choice – take on a clandestine mission for Albion’s leaders, or stay grounded for good.

And even as Grimm undertakes this perilous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…


The Aeronaut’s Windlass has been something I’ve had for a few months but I’ve been putting it off and putting it off as I didn’t like the authors other first book Storm Front, book 1 of the The Dresden Files. My fiancé has been telling me to read it over and over again and I’ve always put it off after a bad start to Dresden, however, a Facebook group I’m part of told me to read it and gave me several reasons why.

First and foremost, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is steampunk!

Secondly, cats. Talking cats.

And finally there’s aeronauts. 

The book opens in what, at first glance, appears to be a regency novel – cue derision and disbelief – until one of the main characters Gwen Lancaster threatens a warrior born with an etheric gauntlet.  

Ether is something that is mentioned often in this book and during the various trips of the main characters, it is shown in various forms.

Our main characters revolve around the following:

  • Gwen Lancaster – heir to the Lancaster fortune and crystal factory. Guard in the Spirearch’s Guard.
  • Benedict Sorellion-Lancaster – warrior born guard in the Spirearch’s Guard. 
  • Bridget Tagwynn – cat girl and only child of the head of the Tagwynn family.
  • Captain Francis Madison Grimm – disgraced Fleet officer and captain of the merchant class ship AMS Predator an aeronautical ship.
  • Rowl – kit to Maul of the Silent Paws.

    The premise of The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the aeronautical prowess of the Spires, a tall building that towers above the surface of Earth, designed in a general diamond shape with the key head houses at each compass point and the Spirearch smack in the middle. The Spires in focus are Spire Albion and Spire Aurora; a rival Spire with a penchant for warmongering. The book follows Gwen and Bridget as they train to become members of the Spirearch’s Guard, with Benedict – Gwen’s cousin – doing some extra training on the side. There’s an accidental duel and it’s from here that our story really starts; there’s an explosion and the Spire starts to collapse around them. Our intrepid heroes work together to save a fellow trainee and end up on the wrong end of a potentially deadly situation and the war starts. 

    The rest of the book is wonderfully described and there’s plenty of sky time for the pilot-at-heart in us all. There’s talking cats that are so well written you can plainly imagine your pet cat having that much disdain for you but really loving you with his whole heart; Rowl, in particular gives off the standard cat disdain but he’s also amazingly human in an odd way. There’s a few odd main secondary characters – Master Ferus and Folly – both of whom are integral to the story as a whole and both of whom are etheralists and a little odd.

    There’s war, battles in the sky and dire situations, there’s treachery secrets and death galore; and there’s a history between a lot of the characters to make your eyebrows raise and your brain twitch in disbelief. 

    As originally stated I was quite reluctant to read Windlass but I really enjoyed the storyline as a whole, the characters were amazingly human/humanised – even the ones who aren’t – Bridget was my favourite, she was so unbelievably awkward in everything that she did but she was so sweetly written that she was entirely relatable. 

    I see sometimes that steampunk novels are written with the wrong tone of voice – when you hear steampunk you think Victorian and I’ve read sometime books classified as steampunk that weren’t in any way. Windlass didn’t have this issue and it was written perfectly for the genre.

    Brilliantly done and I look forward to the sequel The Olympian Affair.

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