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Yuletide rec #2: The Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher

The Aeronaut's Windlass is the first book in this series and the only one out so far. It's self-contained, or reasonably so -- that is, it doesn't end on a cliffhanger -- but is also obviously setting up the dominos for a longer series.

This is by the same author as Dresden Files. I know some people were turned off by sexism in the early books of that series, but it might still be worth giving this one a try; it has several excellent female protagonists, and no sexism in sight (nothing discernible to me, anyway) aside from the societal kind, due to their society being kinda-sorta Napoleonic-Wars-era in nature.

The cultural worldbuilding is somewhat flat, which is one of my two issues with the book (the other concerned a character I couldn't stand, but that's just a matter of personal taste). It's pseudo-19th-century-fantasy-Europe with airships. It does get somewhat more interesting once we start to get into the political landscape -- people on this world live in tower cities above an inhospitable wilderness, and while the protagonists' tower is pseudo-England, the others aren't. Also, while the series is fairly standard steampunk with airships, ether-based energy weapons, etc., there is a cool twist to the tech, which is kind of a spoiler (more of a premise spoiler than a plot spoiler, and might be an enticement to some), so I'm going to put it under a cut: basically, there is a strong implication, though the book never comes right out and says so, that they are living in a sci-fi universe and not a fantasy one. I'm pretty sure their world is either a far-future post-apocalyptic Earth, or a colonized alien planet, and that what they call etheric energy is actually electricity that's somehow ambient in the environment, possibly from a very strong planetary magnetic field or something of that nature.

Anyway, there are two main sets of protagonists: a group of 20-something aspiring soldiers/sky Marines, and an older generation of 40-somethings sharing a tangled and mysterious past, which includes most of my favorite characters, such as a kickass female sky pirate and a swashbuckling swordfighter guy who is in a happy long-term relationship with a woman who is for all intents and purposes his common-law wife. There's a huge ensemble cast with a character for every taste (a young woman struggling to prove herself as a soldier, a fighter-type who belongs to a race of people who are part cat, a ~moody and brooding~ airship captain, likable antagonists, and so forth). This is probably not a good series for people whose tastes run towards deep and complex worldbuilding, but it has tons of swash and buckle, action and adventure and h/c. It's also 600 pages long, so even though there's just one book in the series so far, there is a lot to sink into, and I'm really looking forward to finding out how the various plot and character threads develop in future books.

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