I will scream from the hills about how much of a Jim Butcher fan I am. I have read all the published Harry Dresden files and am slowly collecting the graphic novels. I have not read his Codex Alera series, but my boyfriend has and I hear it’s amazing (I do plan on reading it eventually). Now, the reason why I bring up those books is to make a comparison. Harry Dresden takes place in our time and our world, so his imagination and story telling goes completely into the world of magic. Codex Alera is a post apocalyptic type, so there is world building on top of story telling, as well as magic. The Cinder Spires series (of which only the first one is out) is almost a post-apocalyptic steam punk. So even though there is less to do with magic, there is still massive world building. The biggest difference is this is written in third person point of view to follow the paths of up to 7 characters.
I will admit, although it pains me, the first good bit of the book was boring as all hell. But Butcher had the incredibly difficult job of introducing a large cast of characters, an entire world built in “spires”, a government, a society, and a problem. In the beginning this led to a lot of jumping and confusion. He’s trying to bring you into his brand new world without having to lead you by the hand. After the rocky start and he is able to build a larger picture of his world, it does get interesting!
It follows the lives of Gwendolyn who, against her mothers best wishes, joins the Spirearch Guard; Benedict, Gwen’s cousin, who is also training to be a Guard; Bridget and her cat Rowl, who are trainees at the Guard; Captain Grimm, dishonoured and discharged, but still running his small aeronautical ship Predator; Ferus and Folly, the two oddist characters because of their relation to the Crystals that power just about everything in the spire.
The first bit of the book was introducing each of these groups of people, showing their part of the world, and making it believable. The families present are all higher nobilty, as this society (like most) is split into rich and poor. Gwen and Benedict come from a family that makes Crystals, so their family is the most influential in the spire. Benedict, being a cousin, is a Lancaster-Sorrelin, (Gwen is a Lancaster) so he does not hold as much power as Gwen, but he is also what is known as “warriorborn”. He is stronger, faster, and by far more powerful than a meager human, but that also means he is not allowed to hold status or power. He is essentially the eternal guard. These two have a relationship right off the bat, so we don’t have to see how it grew throughout their lives, you’re just introduced right off the bat to their family banter, love, and utter trust. Bridget comes from a smaller noble family (her and her father are the only surviving members) who runs a meat vat. There hasn’t been mention of too many animals, so I would assume high-quality processed meats are important. Bridget’s family has a small secret, something only whispered in rumors. They communicate with cats. Cats have a shaky treaty with humans, they hunt rats and vermin, and humans don’t hunt them. But most families don’t realize that the cats are highly intelligent and civilized. Bridget’s cat Rowl joins her at the Spirearch Guard, and when people hear her speaking in the language of the cats, they realize it’s true that some humans can communicate with them. I love that cats are a large part of the story without being anthropomorphized or furried. They behave like cats, they sound like cats (they do not speak english), and the society they have built sounds like something cats would do. The main part of the story revolves around these four (Rowl gets his own chapters!), and Grimm, Folly, and Ferus are introduced as secondary characters (who rise in status later on throughout the story) to further the mission of our main four.
The spire they all live in is known as Spire Albion, a better working of all the nearby spires. This creates a hatred with Spire Aurora, who regularly attacks. To get from one to another, everyone needs to fly. Which brings in the most common mode of transport: flying ships. There are different classifications, as there are with regular ships, like merchant and battle class, and as with regular ships, there are things in the clouds that terrify even a great captain like Grimm. The science behind how the ship works, and what it does to protect itself from other ships is incredibly thought out and inventive and half the time I think if I look up I’ll see one sailing by.
Exposition aside, once characters and personal conflicts are introduced, Butcher does what he does best, and gets the story rolling with a huge bang.
Although this doesn’t have the face pace and witty banter of Harry Dresden, this book has it’s own charm. Characters are endearing, the world he built is beautiful and rich, and the plot keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Oh yeah, and giant monsters.
I may be waiting on baited breath for the new Harry Dresden, but the Cinder spires will be in my clutches the moment it’s published, you can guarantee that! It is a fantasy/Sci-Fi based story, so people who don’t enjoy that genre will probably not enjoy this. But for everyone else, I recommend this book!