This book is a little hard to explain.
There’s some o’ this:
“The Auroran airship was a faint blot against the thick clouds below, while Predator was hidden high above in the aerosphere by the glare of the sun.
…Grimm felt a wolfish grin touch his mouth. He reached up to tighten the band of his peaked cap in preparation for the dive, and nodded slightly to one side. ‘Mister Kettle,’ he said, ‘you may begin your dive.’”
Lots of this:
“The silkeweaver’s massive form moved like lightening, like some engine of destruction, its clublike limbs hammering the ground with cracks of impact like heavy steam pistons slamming the spirestone floor.”
And, thankfully, also some of this:
She gathered Rowl in her arms and hugged him to her, rocking back and forth slightly.
After a few moments, the cat murmured, ‘Littlemouse, you are squishing my fur.’”
The jacket and Goodreads summaries focus almost solely on the airship captain known to his crew as “Captain Grimm,” but other characters—specifically, the masses of young characters and the cats—stole the show, for me.
Still, I’d better start with the captain. Grimm runs a sort of privateering enterprise against Spire Aurora for his home spire, Albion. Although disgraced and ejected from the navy years ago, he remains loyal to the spirarch. We spend some time on his beloved merchant ship, Predator, but we spend at least as much time running around Spire Albion with the captain as tensions heat up between the two spires and naval warfare transitions to land-based warfare.
And this is where all the young people come in!
- Gweldolyn of the proud house of Lancaster is serving one year in the Spirearch’s Guard. As a matter of honor, she insists.
- Another young guard, Bridget, is of the much poorer—but just as honor-mad—house of Tagwynn.
- Rowl of the Silent Paws is a cat and Bridget’s best friend. The cats are my favorite things. Ever.
- Benedict Sorrellin-Lancaster is a “warrior-born” cousin of Gwendolyn’s. Warrior-borns have a strange, stigmatized mix of animal and human traits that make them lethal predators while remaining human in most other ways.
These four meet each other in training for the Spirearch’s Guard. But their training comes to an abrupt and premature end when Spire Aurora attacks their home spire with uncanny prescience of Albion’s ways. The Lord of Albion orders the young people to join Grimm and two mad “etherealists” of mysterious and unknown power (Ferus and Folly, they’re called, and I love them, too), on a secret mission to discover the details of the plot against them.
Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2016), Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award (RT Award) for Fantasy Adventure (2015), Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (2015). Adult steampunk fantasy published September 29th 2015 by Roc.
Part of the reason the book is so hard to describe is that it feels very much like setup. It sets up the series. It feels scattered, in the sense that it’s hard to encapsulate the plot within a pithy premise; even though book I’s adventure comes to an end, the real story is just beginning. This book details the first clash between spires Aurora and Albion, but we hardly get any answers about why it happened.
The Cool Things :
The cats. The warriorborn. The etherealists. The airships. The silkweavers. OH AND THE SURFACE, can we please go to the surface now? Because I have to know what’s going on below these lofty spires.
Other Stuff :
I don’t have complaints, per se. The book lacks certain elements of the very modern humor I’m currently enjoying in Butcher’s Dresden Files; and I would have preferred a little quicker plotting. But I was mildly interested during the entire book and occasionally tickled by the cats. (If that doesn’t sound like wildly enthusiastic praise, keep in mind that the setup for the series is what drove my interest, for the most part.) I didn’t love the plot, but I liked it and I can see the worldbuilding has potential for some cool stuff in the future. *AHEM SURFACE MONSTERS AHEM*
I enjoyed the book. Butcher is trying something new and I’m totally along for the ride.
I’ve heard this described as “like YA,” but despite the youngish average age of the cast (most are in their late teens, I think), and the fact that a training school is present for a very small portion of the narrative, as well as the lack of what I generally label “objectionable content”….I wouldn’t classify this as YA. It’s over 600 pages. And while that, in and of itself, may not preclude it from the YA shelf, the book also hosts a large cast of narrators, several of whom are adults. Also, romance is an almost-afterthought, which is basically almost never the case with YA. These three things will likely tend to rule out a large part of the YA market. I think this lands more squarely within the adult fantasy market, which will be patient with a giant book that is primarily meant to set up a series.
Still, if you consider yourself a big fan of YA, this book could be a great intro to adult fantasy. The wide scope combined with the multiple teen characters, talking animals and tasteful ambiance give the book a unique feel that I think certain YA readers would find pleasing. I would recommend it to YA lovers who enjoyed the feel of Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy. (By which I mean, “It’s interesting, even if book I isn’t immediately emotionally compelling.”)