THE AERONAUT'S WINDLASS is a book which should be right up my alley with Jim Butcher (one of my favorite authors), a mixed steampunk and fantasy premise, plus lots of pulpy action. For the most part it IS up my alley but it is a work which I think does have quite a few flaws. The premise is so awesome, though, that I want to stick with the series and see Jim Butcher correct them to make it one of my favorite series.
The premise is, far in the future, mankind has colonized another world where the surface is horrifically dangerous but they are able to survive in flying Cloud City-esque "habbles." This technology is powered by crystals and doesn't seem to require much in the way of maintenance as they've forgotten this part of their history. Indeed, they've reverted to a somewhat Neo-Victorian era of technology as well as behavior.
Gwen Lancaster, the spirited daughter of Spire Albion's most powerful family, has decided to join the military despite the somewhat comical attempts by her mother to prevent her from going. Once there, she meets with a lesser noble named Brigit and her talking cat Rowl. The Spire is attacked by an enemy force and soon they find themselves forced to work with a privateer named Grim in order to perform a mission to prevent another, even more dangerous, attack from occurring.
First the good, I really love steampunk adventures and the pseudo-Victorianism on display is fun and engaging. The protagonists are all extremely likable and if sometimes a bit ridiculous, like when Gwen fires her energy gauntlet in the middle of a crowded street to scare off a potential mugger, they're still fun. I would have preferred someone from the lower classes to give their perspective but that is asking a bit much.
The combat, especially the airship battles, is very entertaining and I enjoyed the use of the vertical as well as the horizontal. Jim Butcher effectively makes them starship battles in the skies above the surface and they're very exciting. We don't need much in the way of technical details but each of the encounters is blood pumping and well-done. I really came to like Predator like a in-universe Millennium Falcon and wanted to see its crew succeed.
As for the bad? Well, there's not so much bad as underwhelming. The characters are drawn a bit too broadly and fit more into archetypes than deeply realized characters. Jim also goes for big moments that, as mentioned above, verge on the ridiculous. There's a substitution of "quirky" for character development and that doesn't really help the characters. They're all pretty much heroic good guys from the start so they can't really develop much.
I also think the story is a bit bland in terms of sexiness and romance. Aside from a character having a crush on another and another character being another's ex-wife, there's almost no hint of attraction or love in this book. This is notable because the Dresden Files have some of my favorite femme fatales in fiction and I also liked the romances in the Codex Alera.
In conclusion, this is a very fun book and I enjoyed the audiobook version even more than I did the physical copy. I think it's something I may read again. However, the book's irritating parts are very irritating. Whenever the characters act "wacky" it takes me out of the book and hurts the overall feel. I'd like to see a slightly more serious take on the world and more deep interactions between the characters in the future. I am definitely buying the next volume, however.
This is my favourite Dresden File to date because for the very first time reading this series, I actually felt emotional resonance.