The Aeronaut’s Windlass: the Cinder Spires by Jim Butcher
In a world in which civilization is centered in cities laid out in levels inside massive spires of stone-like material, reared by ancient technology centuries ago in the wake of a disaster that made the surface dangerous to inhabit (though it can still be reached for the purposes of, say, harvesting wood for furniture), the main method of travel between spires is airship; the ships are kept airborne by power flowing through a network of wires and crystals, and driven by steam (though in the event of problems most maintain sails as a backup). The AMS Predator, under the command of Captain Francis Madison Grimm, is badly damaged in battle, her crystals cracked, barely able to rise or descend — no better than a windlass, a type of crane, as someone with an agenda helpfully tells the Captain.
However, the Spirearch (essentially the King of the Spire, though he has lttle actual power to back up the title) needs some agents taken downspire to search for agents of another Spire who may, according to an etherealist (essentially a wizard, though in a discipline which renders its users eventually, to the casual viewer, quite mad) be a great danger to the Spire. In return for ferrying these passengers down and back up the Spirearch will re-equip the Predator with a full new set of crystals, perhaps even making her better than before. Since Grimm regards the Predator as his home and her crew as his family, he agrees.
Grimm thus comes into contact with the Etherialist Master Ferus and his apprentice, Folly, who cannot talk to living humans but only to a collection of defunct crystals she carries around with her, Guard trainees Gwendolyn Lancaster, whose wealthy family grows power crystals, and Bridget Tagwynn, whose family grows vat-meat to feed the Spire but are now barely count as a house, Rrowl, a cat-prince who regards Bridget with a certain fondness (she speaks Cat), and Benedict Lancaster, a Guardsman and warriorborn, cousin to Gwen and follower of the Way. The group of them will face not only enemy marines who have, indeed, infiltrated the Spire, but also an enemy Etherealist with a dangerous mission of her own and something darker come up from the surface . . . and a hint of something even darker and more powerful lurking in the background.
I’ve enjoyed most of Butcher’s work and particularely his last limited fantasy series (as opposed to the open-ended Dresden Files, which eventually drove me away) Codex Alera, so I had high hopes for this one. I did read some reviews, both formal (actual reviews) and informal (opinions), that were negative, but I’m pleased to find that they were wrong and the book’s quite good, certainly up to Butcher’s usual standards (which you may regard as a recommendation or a warning, depending on your tastes). The characters are appealing or appalling, depending on what they need to be (though the enemies are given character, not mere stereotypes or faceless villains) and the world seems well-thought out and intriguing. I’m looking forward to more.
Once Broken Faith: an October Daye novel by Seanan McGuire
In her last adventure (mild spoiler follows) Toby and her crew found a cure for elfshot — the weapon that allows the fair folk to go to war without violating their absent king’s dictate that they not kill each other. Elfshot puts purebloods to sleep for a century, which is not a long time if you’re basically going to live forever (though it’s still a distressingly long absense for those left behind). Changelings it kills, but who cares about Changelings? Being elfshot twice has caused Toby to move further towards pureblooded, as first her mother and then her own power changed her blood to move her away from lethal status (I know, I know: blood doesn’t control your heredity. Hush, it’s magic). Now, the king of North America’s fae (based, for some reason, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada) has declared that the cure is not to be used until he and a convocation of monarchs have met, and discussed it, and come to a decision. And they could potentially decide that it is not to be used. And the convocation is to be held in the Kingdom of the Mists, where Toby lives.
Of course, nothing goes exactly as planned. To start with, the High King and Queen are the parents of Quentin, Toby’s squire. Quentin being a prince-in disguise puts a certain amount of pressure on Toby as things stand; having his parents around is going to make it worse. Toby is ordered to attend the convocation, mostly as a device to allow Quentin to attend, both so that his parents can see more of him and so that he can learn how these things are done. The Luidaeg attends; elf-shot was invented by one of her sisters, who now sleeps, elf-shot herself, on a faerie road, having made the mistake of attacking Toby, and the two sisters never got along. The Luidaeg wants the cure used to frustrate her sister, but the sister has found a way to speak for herself: one of Toby’s honourary neices is an oneiromancer, a dream-walker and, as the sister is asleep, but still powerful, she can force the oneiromancer to speak for her.
And of course, as everyone might have expected, since Toby is in attendance, someone starts mudering the local kings. Toby, as the only person there with experience, is assigned to investigate. Can she solve the murders despite the unwillingness of most kings to cooperate with a changeling? Can she convince them to use the cure? Will she and Tybalt get married in Toronto?
This volume includes the novella (or possible novelette; I’m never sure) “Dreams and Slumbers” about how Queen Arden deals with the aftermath of the convocation and its effects on her elf-shot brother.