Adding to his successful Dresden files series, Jim Butcher ventures into the steampunk genre with talking cats, floating ships, and spire habitats floating through the sky. The ground is covered in mist and foul creatures float beneath humanity who now live and travel through the sky. The Aeronaut's Windlass establishes the world that will serve as the backdrop for the Ciner Spires series.
The story follows three main characters with various other perspectives sprinkled throughout the chapters. Mainly, the focus is on Captain Grimm of the airship Predator, Bridge Tagwynn, a new recruit, and Gwendolyn Lancaster, a wealthy citizen who also joins the training to become a guard. The story starts off slow with a lot of background information and one air battle that is exciting but also a bit confusing to follow as the magic is still being explained and the maneuvering comes fast alongside many weapons being fired.
The magic is a sort of etheric energy that powers crystals that serve various purposes from flying to weapons to communication. A magician named Ferus and his pupil Folly work closely with the crystal and have lost their minds. I find the magic interesting enough and would be curious to read more about it. The most interesting part of the novel is the talking cats. Hard to not like talking cats unless a reader doesn't like cats, but I'm fond of the furry creatures and found Butcher's portrayal of the felines amusing and entertaining. Rowl, the main cat to follow, is a likable character that follows many cat idiosyncracies.
The plot moves forward involving a war between two spires, Spire Albion and Aurora, but I was never sure why these spires were at war or what was at stake if one army one of another, much like the cats were. Both sides of the army had employed magic and Grim and companions set out on a mission at the behest of the leader of one spire to follow the magician. There is plenty of action throughout but I didn't connect much with the characters nor did I get a sense of tension from the story. I did enjoy the scenes with the spider-like silkweavers and their destructive tendencies.
I'm not totally familiar with Butcher's work having only read one of the Dresden files novels before this book but I do plan to read more of those and would likely pick up another copy of this but I wouldn't be anxiously waiting for its release at the bookstore. The book is fun and it is clear that the author enjoyed various parts of it filling it with humor and action, but the characters don't connect and the stakes are not clearly explained. The finale was stalled by expository dialogue laying out the action and it is a contained tale leaving the larger world unexplored for future sequels.