So, for my first book review I’ve decided on my most recent read, “The Aeronaut’s Windless,” by Jim Butcher. I admit I was a tad reluctant to read this book, I’ve read some of Butcher’s work before in the Dresden Files books and stopped reading after roughly the fifth book. Mind you, this was not because the books were not well written. They are, in point of fact, excellent in that regard. No, my issue with the Dresden books is that I’m rather a “happy ending” sort of person. It’s all well and good for your characters to suffer and struggle, if that suffering betters the story, but in the case of the Dresden Files…well…if there were a dictionary that explained words/phrases by giving an example, Harry Dresden would appear next to the phrase “Pyrrhic Victory.” Pyrrhic victories do not happy endings make, and it seemed like every single adventure of his for the first five books ended that way.
It was thus with some not insignificant trepidation that I approached the reading of “The Aeronauts Windless,” but it had been recommended to me by multiple people who knew why I stopped reading the Dresden Files, and so I gave it a shot. I am happy to say that it did not suffer from the same problem, and I was able to get through the entire book without any regrets. On the whole the book was good, but possessed a number of critical flaws that keep me from labeling it as truly great.
On the good side of the spectrum, the rather unique setting was absolutely brilliant. The world the book takes place in is a hard-to-describe fusion of streampunk and a sort of pseudo-magic, managing to mix a half-dozen sub-genres into an eclectic but fascinating melting pot of awesome. Likewise, the majority of the characters are well put together, deep, and believable. Though they suffer from the occasional overly-clicheness, they nevertheless fit into the world well…and are eventually even somewhat likable.
Sadly, that is one of the places where the problems begin. Whatever Mr. Butcher’s talents are, he does not seem to handle multiple-perspective stories very well. Right from the start there are a whirlwind of confusing chapter-to-chapter perspective shifts that leave an ugly level of disorientation about nearly everything. Until nearly 30% into the book, the reader is so bombarded with shifting perspectives that it is all but impossible to wrap your head around the setting, plot, or any individual character.
If one perseveres through the maelstrom of gibberish being thrown at you, the characters and story do settle into a readable form after that point, but the problem never really goes away entirely. Worse, one of the more frequent viewpoints is that of a cat (minor spoiler, but only a minor one) and it grows from an interesting idea to highly aggravating at roughly the point the story gets easier to follow. There are only so many repetitions of “cats are obviously better than people” that a reader can read before wanting to pull their hair out. Not at the viewpoint, but simply at the mindless, useless, repetition of that viewpoint. A viewpoint that really should have gone without needing to be said at all, for any human that has ever met a cat. Any cat.
Thankfully, there are enough interesting new ideas sprinkled throughout the latter half of the book, and enough character development to go with them, that the occasional issue with perspective handling doesn’t completely destroy the books readability. On the occasions that the story settles down onto a single track for a bit, one or two of the more initially annoying characters develop into genuinely likable individuals. Even with a somewhat weak overall plot execution, the action and interaction (That is, the battles/events and character interactions) provide a strong support and ultimately keep the book from drowning in its problems.
My overall final impression of the book is that Mr. Butcher stretched himself a bit beyond his talent, attempting to weld and interconnect too many plots, characters, and ideas into a single novel. The complexity attempted was on-part with writers who are masters of that art, such a Robert Jordan or Tom Clancy, and Jim Butcher simply wasn’t able to quite pull it off.
The book, ultimately, would have been much better with both the number of perspectives and number of simultaneous plots paired down to something a tad more manageable. Having said that, however, despite its flaws the book is still solid enough to be worth a read. The setting and characters are both well enough crafted to forgive the book many of its sins, and I have to imagine that lessons learned from this novel will likely result in a much stronger second book of the “Cinder Spires” series that it represents the beginning of.
Final Rating Breakdown:
Score Adjustment for Miscellaneous Problems:
-1 for poor handling of multiple-perspectives
Final Score: 6/10
Personal Recommendation: If you really need something to read, or love streampunk settings, go for it. If you have a backlog, give it a skip. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but don’t regret reading it.