For fans of the Harry Dresden Files comes another treat, this time in the shape of far-future steampunk. As Butcher embarks on a completely different project, has he successfully mastered this sub-genre, too?
Since time immemorial, humanity has lived inside the Spires, habitats towering for miles over the dangerous, monster-infested surface of the world. Captain Grimm of the merchant airship Predator was dismissed from Spire Albion’s military in disgrace – now his ship and crew are all he has, and he’s fiercely loyal to both. When the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a choice – take on a clandestine mission for Albion’s leaders, or stay grounded for good.
That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I am prepared to reveal, but I can say that this opening conflict is merely a preliminary salvo to the full-tilt action that fizzes through this book from the start. While the world, particularly their weapons and airships, are powered by crystals rather than coal, this book recognisably falls into the steampunk genre. Steampunk is generally characterised by a chippy, derring-do tone and Butcher has kept to this convention. Captain Grimm is implacably proper at all times, leading his crew by his dauntless heroism. And while there is a certain tongue-in-cheek flavour, Butcher manages to keep this from being too knowing.
Grimm is accompanied on this multiple third person pov adventure by an enjoyable cast of characters, including a ferociously skilful aristocrat and his ferociously confident cousin, a plucky young woman and her talking cat, a mad etherealist and his fey apprentice and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist. The overall feel and tone of this book is far closer to Butcher’s Codex Alera series than the better known Harry Dresden Files. As you might expect with an author of Butcher’s calibre, the action kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the last page, making this a book that I stayed up reading waaay into the early hours.
In amongst all the mayhem, a lot of world-building needed to be slipped in to give the reader sufficient context to really care about the stakes, which Butcher manages without holding up the pace. He also changes viewpoints smoothly enough that I didn’t find myself skimming any of the various plotlines to get back to my favourite.
But what boosts this book to one of my memorably favourite reads so far this year, is the gripping nature of climactic battle scenes, which worked brilliantly for me. This first book in a major new series has left me keenly anticipating the sequel to discover what happens next – I am especially keen to meet up again with Rowl the talking cat.