1. I often say that I love pulp fiction. It’s nice to read something quickly for entertainment. This novel is pulp fiction, and I liked it. The novel consists of steampunk airships powered by crystals firing broadsides and diving in and out of the mist of this fantastical world. The characters are humans, cats, and some sort of inbetween warriorborn that look human but are part animal and never fully explained—though I understand this is a part of a series and therefore some things are left for explanation in future novels. The people all live in gigantic skyscrapers called spires and worry an awful lot about rust. Like most pulp fiction, a couple of concise truisms attempt to find some meaning within the novel, but it’s about telling a story well, not communicating a deeper truth. And I can definitely appreciate that. How wonderful that writing is robust or diverse enough to be read for so many different purposes. This would be good young adult fiction, though there is a portion discussing a song about a farmer’s cucumber that eventually falls into a mud hole that strains itself to barely keep away from stating what it’s actually talking about.
2. If there is a theme here, it’s a sort of coming of age in battle combination. The main characters are generally coming of age—Gwen, Bridget, Folly, and Benedict. But there are a couple of characters who are already there: Addison, Grimm, Cavendish, and Rowl. However, the coming of age of the younger characters is mixed up with the violence they are mixed up in. Therefore the theme is about people coming to grips with war and with themselves and with themselves in war. It’s an interesting topic that many, many authors have tackled. Butcher, writing pulp fiction, doesn’t get much deeper than introducing the topic. But rather than simply introduce the topic, he also shows it playing out: it’s a novel where people and action are the main focus, and that’s more engaging than one where technology and action take the fore.
3. The pacing of the story has a few problems, but only a few. Generally the novel clips along at a fantastic rate, going from character to character and crisis to crisis. But at least one point was entirely unresolved: after spending a couple chapters building tension up to a duel between Bridget and another house’s heir, the duel never comes off, instead being supplanted by an air raid siren and attack on the spire. This was frustrating. After convincing me to care about the duel, after successfully building that tension, it’s suddenly called off. The tension I felt didn’t transfer to the new situation because we never see Bridget’s interlocutor again. So this felt like a couple of wasted chapters that only served to build a small part of the world and, because the duel never came off, leaves me mildly unsatisfied. But outside of this, the pacing is fantastic. Not all go-go-go because there are moments of repose—whether forced by imprisonment or a period of waiting—that are spaced well throughout the novel so the reader never gets bored or exhausted.
4. But the worldbuilding is enjoyable. In a large part, the worldbuilding is typical pulp: hints are all we’re going to get about ninety percent of the details of the world. The world is still quite mysterious at the end of the novel, but I’m engaged as it goes along. Butcher basically says “this object is important to this character,” but doesn't tell the reader why in order to have more mystery in there. So, he builds the world through bringing out aspects of it when they apply, rather than foreshadowing, and that’s a pulp tactic through and through.
5. The characters are mostly interesting, though Grimm is a little flat as the all too perfect captain of a ship—not to mention the grim-Grimm pun that is played all too often within the book. A little more depth to him would have been nice, but Gwen, at least, is very well developed and interesting. She’s pushy and self-absorbed, but that covers a core of loneliness and expecting the best from herself. She can be arrogant, but is often quite understanding. She doesn’t let others see her real self because she doesn’t see the point to doing so. She is told, shown, and takes up a lot of space in the novel—which is probably appropriate to make the most conflicted, interesting character the largest part of the novel. Further, each of the chapters switches focus between the characters so that we get a taste each of the characters, and that helps the whole novel feel more varied than if it just followed one character and displayed mostly that character’s traits.
6. There were a few moments where I felt like Butcher needs a better editor. Two points stood out the most, though they were not the only points. One, when the landing is being destroyed, Butcher mixes up the names of secondary characters Kettle and Journeyman. This is unfortunate as it’s a mistake that shows a lack of care put into the novel, but it’s pulp fiction, so what can you really expect? The second example is a quote:
His softness was a favorite blanket, and his purr was as familiar as one of her mother’s barely remembered lullabies.His noise was as familiar as something Bridget could barely remember. That doesn’t make sense at all with the way Butcher is trying to use it. But at some point, it’s pulp fiction and what can you expect?
7. Things always work out, and rarely do they not work out perfectly. This could be done better. At the end, when Cavendish rewrites the book, it’s a good example of things working out—Grimm got the book from her—but also not working perfectly—Cavendish had memorized it and still got what she wanted. These types of situations are great at setting up later story points, but they happen too rarely. More often than not, situations are resolved with too few negatives. For instance, the duel that I’ve already mentioned: Butcher builds it up to be an impossible situation to resolve, and then doesn’t. I am very curious how he could find that balance needed between Bridget winning and her interlocutor winning. But he doesn’t, he just forgets about it and has another enemy's attack go off and we never see Bridget's interlocutor again. There is no negative seen in the novel for the duel ending this way. It’s more like Butcher decides, “Nevermind.” It's like he too can't think of a way to write himself out of that corner and ends up bringing in the deus ex machina of ships attacking. My question would be, why not just take those two chapters out?
8. In all, I enjoyed this novel for entertainment, but I didn’t learn anything from it that I haven’t already. It’s a fine novel, but it’s not great by any stretch of the imagination. It’s good pulp fiction and it doesn’t try to be anything else—some pulp is overly preachy, but thankfully this isn't. The writing wasn’t something to praise—it was awkward at times and less awkward at others—but that's not why one reads pulp. I disagree with the critique from tor.com: their reviewer was rubbed the wrong way by all the characters being white, except for the cats: but since so many of these people spend so many generations inside their houses, which are inside the spires, which are inside huge banks of fog, never really seeing the sun, it makes sense to me that they’d be pale. In all, I enjoyed the novel, it was fine, but I’m not itching to read any other Butcher novels right now.