Review of The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

September 29, 2015 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review
The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim ButcherThe Aeronaut’s Windlass (The Cinder Spires #1)
By Jim Butcher; Narrated by Euan Morton
Imprint: Penguin Audio
Release Date: September 29, 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 21 Hours and 30 Minutes

Themes: / steampunk / magic / airship / fantasy /

Publisher summary:

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.

Executive Summary: Fast paced action, interesting world building, memorable characters, cool magic system. In a word: fun!

Audio book: This one was coming in with a high bar to meet. Mr. Butcher’s popular Dresden Files gets amazing performances by James Marsters. Meanwhile his Codex Alera series is done by the excellent Kate Reading.

So how does Euan Morton stack up? I’m happy to report quite well. I’ve had this pre-ordered in hardcover for months, but I think I may stick with audio if he continues as the narrator. Great voices and inflections that adds that little extra something that make an audio a great option for this book.

Full Review
Jim Butcher is my favorite author. I discovered him about 8 years ago, and quickly devoured his Dresden Files books. Then I moved right into his Codex Alera series. For three blissful years there was a Dresden Files book in April and a Codex Alera book in December.

Upon completing Codex Alera, Mr. Butcher’s pace seemed to slow. I found the books as good as ever, or possibly even better, just far less frequent. At first it may anger fans of the Dresden Files that Mr. Butcher is writing something else. I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t.

This book is excellent. I’d be surprised if any fans of Mr. Butcher don’t also enjoy this. And hey, maybe writing two series at the same time will get us more excellent books to enjoy in a shorter period of time. It seems to have worked well for him in the past.

When I first heard of this series, my initial reaction was, Steampunk? Really? I must admit that I never really saw the appeal. I haven’t read a lot of the genre, but what little I had read until recently didn’t seem to be for me. My second thought was Well, I’d read Jim Butcher Twilight fan fiction if that’s what he wanted to write.

The action starts almost right from the beginning. The pace is furious, with very few points of slowing. There was never a good stopping point in my listening and I always hated to put it down. To me that’s what separates a 5 star rating from a solid 4.

We are quickly introduced to several characters. First we meet Gwen Lancaster, a young noblewoman determined to join the Spire Ark’s guard. I had a bit of a mixed reaction to her. There were times I found her frustrating, but it’s good to have a variety of characters, and Gwen helps to round things out nicely.

Next we meet Grim, the Captain of the airship Predator and various members of his crew. Grim is very much of the vein of Harry Dresden, though I see bit of Bernard from Codex Alera in him as well. He’s easily likeable, but far from the best character in my opinion.

Bridget Targwen and her cat Rawl come next. Both are fantastic, especially Rawl. All of the cats are excellent, but especially Rawl. Mr. Butcher’s cats are a bit reminiscent to me of those in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man Trilogy. He seems to nail cats exactly. And apparently the internet is crazy for cats, so instant bestseller, right?

Finally we meet Master Etherialist Ferris, and his apprentice Folly. Folly is absolutely my favorite! She reminds me a bit of Luna Lovegood. All of her scenes are highly entertaining. She’s probably considered more of a secondary character to the first three, but I hope she continues to play a large role in the future books.

And if that’s not enough there are several other secondary and tertiary characters that are all quite good, such as Gwen’s cousin Benedict, members of the Predator: Creedy, Kettle and Journeyman and the Spire Ark himself: Lord Albion.

The antagonists are a bit cartoonish at times, especially Cavendish, but the two main Auroan soldiers felt more nuanced though.

This story is very character-driven, but Mr. Butcher has created a pretty interesting world for them to inhabit. There is very little steam powered anything though. Instead the main resource of note are Ethereal crystals. They power everything from Airships to hand weapons referred to as gauntlets.

Explanations for the world and magic systems are slowly metered out as the book goes on, but there were thankfully few info dumps. Or if there were, I was too busy enjoying myself to notice.

The book is fairly well self contained. Things end in a pretty good spot, especially considering this is the first book in a series. There are plenty of questions left to be answered, but most of the main conflicts of this book are either resolved, or put on hold nicely.

Overall if you enjoy Mr. Butcher other work, or enjoy character-driven faced paced action packed stories, pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

Now I will once again eagerly have to await the next book in two series by Mr. Butcher, much like when I first discovered him. How lucky for us all!

Review by Rob Zak.

Review of Tarkin: Star Wars

January 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Tarkin Star Wars coverTarkin: Star Wars
By James Luceno; Narrated by Euan Morton
Publisher: Random House Audio
Publication Date: 4 November 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 9 hours, 27 minutes

Themes: / star wars / empire /

Publisher summary:

He’s the scion of an honorable and revered family. A dedicated soldier and distinguished legislator. Loyal proponent of the Republic and trusted ally of the Jedi Order. Groomed by the ruthless politician and Sith Lord who would be Emperor, Governor Wilhuff Tarkin rises through the Imperial ranks, enforcing his authority ever more mercilessly….and zealously pursuing his destiny as the architect of absolute dominion.

Rule through the fear of force rather than force itself, he advises his Emperor. Under Tarkin’s guidance, an ultimate weapon of unparalleled destruction moves ever closer to becoming a terrifying reality. When the so-called Death Star is completed, Tarkin is confident that the galaxy’s lingering pockets of Separatist rebellion will be brought to heel – by intimidation…or annihilation.

Until then, however, insurgency remains a genuine threat. Escalating guerrilla attacks by resistance forces and newfound evidence of a growing Separatist conspiracy are an immediate danger the Empire must meet with swift and brutal action. And to bring down a band of elusive freedom fighters, the Emperor turns to his most formidable agents: Darth Vader, the fearsome new Sith enforcer as remorseless as he is mysterious; and Tarkin – whose tactical cunning and cold-blooded efficiency will pave the way for the Empire’s supremacy…and its enemies’ extinction.

Tarkin is one of the first books in the rebooted Star Wars expanded universe. The story gives us a lot of Tarkin’s back story and how he came to be a Grand Moff of the Empire. The story started a bit slow but picked up as less back story and more plot took place. Tarkin is a very interesting character because of his intelligence and ruthlessness (he actually reminds me strongly of Grand Admiral Thrawn in some ways). Star Wars fans will like this book but I will say that it felt more like the prequels than the original trilogy.

The plot of the story isn’t a linear narrative and spends a lot of time giving flash backs of Tarkin’s youth. These flash backs give interesting perspective into how he thinks but also kind of disrupt the story happening in the present. The flash backs show that Tarkin isn’t just some plain old officer in the Empire but he has had his trials and tribulations to earn his place.

I think one large reason why I liked this book instead of “really liked” is how much the prequels are brought into the plot. Everyone who has seen the prequels saw the Death Star plans came from Geonosys and saw the younger version of Tarkin in the movies, so this story definitely has a place in the prequels…except I don’t really like the prequels.

On the audio side of things, Euan Morton brings a different style of narration to this story from what I’m used to in a Star Wars book. I think the idea is that he’d do well with a British accent to match that of Tarkin from the movies and he pulls it off well. All the usual music and sound effects are present as you’d expect and I still think they’re doing a better job with the use of music lately. I should also add that I don’t remember any annoying/repetitive/distracting background ambiance sounds as in some other Star Wars audio books.

Posted by Tom Schreck