The Aeronaut’s Windlass

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass

by Jim Butcher
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Steampunk
Length: 21
Published on September 29th 2015
Pages: 640

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy's shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion--to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous 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...

On paper this isn’t a book that I should be interested in. I don’t care about steampunk airship captains. But, this is Jim Butcher and I will read anything he writes, so I trusted him and downloaded the audiobook.

Then I realized that the audio was 21 hours long. I really hoped that I wasn’t making a wrong decision. Turns out that I wasn’t.

Humans live in large towers called spires. Each one is two miles in diameter and thousands of feet high. The surface of the planet is too dangerous to go down to. There are airships that travel in the sky. All energy comes from crystals that harness etheric energy. These crystals are slowly grown in vats and are very valuable.

The Cast

Captain Grimm

He is the captain of the privateer ship Predator. He was an official in naval fleet of Spire Albon but was removed for cowardice under suspicious circumstances.

Gwendolyn Lancaster

She is the heir to House Lancaster, the family that makes the best crystals in the world. She is a spoiled brat who is overly convinced of her own importance because she’s an aristocrat. She has joined the Spirearch’s guards to do her few years of service. She thinks everyone should pay her due respect without her having to earn it. I pretty much hated her.

Benedict Soralyn

He is a cousin of Gwen’s from a minor branch of the Lancaster house. He is an experienced guard. He is Warrior born – natural born athletes with the speed and reflexes of cats and the eyes of cats. Gwen is quite surprised to find out that he is highly thought of by everyone up to the Spirearch himself, since she never thought of him as anything but a poor relation.

Bridget Tarquin

She is the last of a formerly great house that has fallen on hard times. She is also joining the guard even though she isn’t really suited for it. Can speak fluent cat.


Prince of the Silent Paws clan of cats and friend to Bridget, whom he calls Little Mouse. He is accompanying her to the guard to try to bolster an alliance between humans and his clan. Cats are not pets and most humans see them as a form of vermin. Cats of course feel the same way about humans.

Master Ferus

He is an etherialist, a master at manipulating etheric energy. This drives a person mad after a while and he’s been doing it for a long time.


She is Master Ferus’ apprentice. She carries a jar of apparently dead lumen crystals and can only talk directly to her jar and not to people.

When Spire Albion is attacked by a force from Spire Aurora it appears that the Spirearch’s guard may be compromised. The Spirearch recruits this diverse bunch of people he trusts to get to the bottom of it – a disgraced captain, some recruits, a trusted guard, two crazy etheralists, and a cat.

There is so much to love here!

Any time either of the etherialists open their mouth it is completely mad. It is like trying to go on a spying mission with The Mad Hatter. They know what they mean and they are utterly brilliant but it takes other people a while to adapt to dealing with them.

Rawl! There are sections of this book told from a cat’s point of view. It is so well done. It is exactly what a cat would think of all this human nonsense. He knows that he is the leader of the mission. He gets angry when his person is in danger because who is going to scratch him like he likes if she gets dead? They go aboard the airship and he can’t concentrate on anything until he gets to climb the “ship tree” (mast). He has a wonderful theory on telling the importance of humans by the size of their hat. At the end, he had had first aid administered by a human and was pouting about it for days. As a vet, I could totally relate to that attitude.

There is a great discussion at the end about the effects of combat on a person and how hard it is to reintegrate into a society of people who haven’t seen combat.

It was totally worth the 21 hours of audio. I can’t wait for the next installment.