Who Would Win? A Unified Theory

Ashok Vadal vs Harry Dresden.
Yikes, I have no idea what would happen here, except that Harry is going to run his mouth and Ashok is going to be suspicious and grumpy. Thing is, I can’t see these guys continuing to fight after they’ve both figured out they’re on the side of the Good Guys. In my opinion, most of these Who Would Win matches end with both parties having a drink and swapping yarns somewhere.

Thera and Murphy…mind you, I’m pretty sure they’d actually get along excellently, but if it’s a matter of either of them seeing their boys in trouble, they’d definitely wade right in. Normally I’d say that Murphy has the definite physical combat advantage (multiple black belts and all, y’know), but if it’s post-Skin Game Murphy with a bad leg, and if Thera can’t throw a knife worth a damn because her hands are messed up, the odds would even out a little bit more.

So, hey, maybe the boys aren’t going to fight at all, maybe they’re just busy dragging their ladies apart…

Harry Dresden vs John Carter, Lord Greystoke.
Are you kidding me? There isn’t going to be a fight. Harry is going to be fanboying so hard he gets caught off guard when the Pelluciderean Neanderthal ninjas get teleported in by the vengeful Therns of Barsoom (who allied with the insane Russian) and a bundle of hired thugs from the south side (probably ghouls in disguise) who tried to jump him earlier and are now aiming to kidnap the womenfolk.

Murphy gets kidnapped on account of being a blonde female in the company of the heroes and thus obviously a damsel.

Murphy has strong opinions about this.

John Carter, Lord Greystoke vs Conan of Cimmeria
Like I said, no matter how this begins, this is only ever going to end with them having a drink somewhere with their respective ladies (whom they have just finished rescuing.) Conan is probably going to pay, because he also pinched the jewels from under the evil altar on the way out.

Ashok Vadal vs Benedict of Amber
Oh, wow. If it did come to a fight, Benedict is going to win hands-down, and the most Ashok is going to do is make him raise a sweat. But realistically, Ashok lucked out in this one, because it’s quite obvious Benedict isn’t there for a fight. Benedict has come back, after an unavoidably long hiatus–

–perhaps he was imprisoned in Chaos; perhaps he was guarding another relation and dared not leave; perhaps an enemy or a jealous lover interfered with the flow of time and kept him for ages past his intent–

–to see how his children fare.

Ramrowan is obviously Benedict.–the greatest strategist, or tactician, or combatant who ever lived, but who has learned the value of peace through his who also realizes the horror of war and the worth of a human life. He’d have some answers for Ashok, and then they’d go off and fight the demons of Chaos together.

Solomon Kane vs Corwin of Amber
Solomon Kane, the solemn, fanatical Puritan avenger, has been on the trail of an evil man like a starving wolf follows the scent of blood. From one end of the world to the other he has been at this cur’s heels, and yet somehow stumbles into an ambush anyway. (This always happens).

Corwin of Amber pauses in his hellride when he sees a half-familiar form in a desperate fight, one man against many, cut and tattered and blooded with many wounds: staunch, undefeated. He turns aside in his journey through Shadow, even though he knows in his heart this can be but the shadow of a man he once knew ages before: in the days before the court of the Sun King fell, in the time when the days were new and the nights bright and deadly.

Kane recounts his tale of woe and vengeance and his mission of Godly vengeance. Corwin rides with him to see it done and fights with him, side by side, one last time.

Kane invites the stranger to stay and ride with him a while, but Corwin demurs. He has a brother to murder and a multiverse to conquer, and, with a courteous salute and a reckless laugh, spurs his horse. And yet the words his once-companion calls after him ring on the wind, strangely to his ears: “What profitteth it a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul?”

PSA: Dresden Files Short Story out

heroic-hearts“Little Things” is Jim Butcher’s contribution to the Heroic Hearts anthology, released, uh, a couple days ago.

Protip: If you do not want to sign up for your free Audible download and/or fork over money for this, your free Overdrive library account has a “read an excerpt” option, which apparently includes the full length of the story.

It stars, as the cover denotes, Major General Toot-Toot Minimus and his not-girlfriend, Lacuna. Also appearing are the Za Lord, Dresden; his castellan, Sir William; the guardian spirit Bob, and the dread beast Mister of the fell paws and stubby tail.

The plot?

The conomee is bad. The Lord Dresden is in mourning. The troops are worried and restless. And there is a sudden, present threat to the pizza!

I have no further comments to add except that the Little Folk thinking that the tarp dropcloths all over the castle are tacky, poorly-made tapestries = magnifique.

Jim Butcher is on thin ice, whether he knows it or not

If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged.

When a fan of a book series decides to publically take offense, in a forum comprised of other fans, at a single line depicting a character’s thoughts, the chumming has already begun. And this is just the one place that I know about. Undoubtedly there are other cesspits where the discussion is proceeding likewise. I predict that he’s going to get avalanched if he so much as sticks a toe out of line whenever the next blowup happens. He’s too big of a public figure–a known figure–to allow him to not bend the knee.

Reading through the rest of the thread is kind of eerie. There’s one (1) call for sanity; there’s a lot more casting around for other topics to be offended at. Once upon a time, I would have said, for other topics to mock. (remembering being able to spork terrible and even semi-terrible novels? Those things were vicious, but I don’t recall anyone getting cancelled because of them). The most notable character of melanin being an honest-to-possibly-God Paladin, that’s something to be offended by. Police being depicted as mostly well-intentioned and hard-working at the street level, with a generous sprinkling of rotten bad apples and incompetent leadership? Very much not Current Year-acceptable.

The line in question is from Side Jobs. Murphy’s monologue reflects:

“Stop arresting Marcone’s most profitable pimps.” Instead, we get a long speech about racial and socioeconomic profiling. We get screams from political action committees.

The slightly longer quote is (yeah, I went and dug out my copy to transcribe it):

THE POLICE KNOW where Marcone can be reached. Finding him doesn’t do diddly to let us nail him. The fact that he has his fingers in so many pies means that not only do we have to work against Marcone and his shadowy empire, but we have our own superiors and politicians breathing down our necks as well. Oh, they never say anything directly, like, “Stop arresting Marcone’s most profitable pimps.” Instead, we get a long speech about racial and socioeconomic profiling. We get screams from political action committees. We get vicious editorial pieces in the newspapers and on TV.

We mostly stay quiet and keep plugging away at our jobs. Experience has taught us that hardly anyone ever cares what we think or have to say. They demand answers, but they don’t want to listen.

Or Harry’s bird sanctuary speech from Cold Days. 

“Uh,” I said, feeling somewhat off balance. “What do I think of gay guys?”

“Yes.”

“Boink and let boink, more or less.”

Enough to hang a man for?

You decide.

I wonder if they’re coming for Jim Butcher next

Reddit doesn’t seem to be the top hub of cancel culture (that seems to be Twitter), but it’s close enough, and when your own fan subreddit is talking about how your/their fandom is infested with redneck hillbilly Trump supporters, you’re treading on thin ice. So far, at least in the linked thread, there’s a little bit of pushback, but not much. There have been a couple of attempts to accuse the Dresden Files/Jim Butcher of racism and Nazi-ism (“Harry” starts with an H. So does Hitler. QED), but so far they have been slapped down and/or ignored.

That was before cancel culture accumulated the momentum it has now. I wouldn’t be surprised if an attempt wasn’t made in the near future.

Notice how everyone focuses on the “description”–not depiction–of female characters.

That’s because Jim Butcher actually writes well-balanced, interesting, complex–and not always completely likable–women. Murphy: an officer of the peace and lady knight who has to be on multiple occasions told to pick on people her own size (lol). Luccio: a woman who has been the commander the Wardens–the White Council’s military arm–for centuries, and as such has sent teenagers into battle. Charity Carpenter: a suburban homemaker and mother who arms herself with a warhammer and storms the castle of the evil queen to rescue her children, and also uses iodine and an equally stinging tongue on our hero.

No one ever points out that these women are viewed through the lens of a well-intentioned, scrupulously chivalrous but generally very horny male.

Everyone always complains about Harry Dresden, a fictional character who draws on the film-noir archetype of the penniless and sex-obsessed private dick eye yeah no sorry I couldn’t resist that one where was I, ogling the supernaturally-beautiful and even just plain average women in his orbit. No one ever seems to mind that he’ll also open the door, buy flowers, and pay for dinner. No one ever seems to remember that when there’s a monster to be killed or a child to be rescued, a bullet to throw himself in front of, Harry’s at the front of the pack.

It’s almost as though he’s a complex character with real motivations and failings.

Jim Butcher himself, as far as I can tell, is pretty discreet whenever he speaks about politics, religion, or social issues. But he’s dropped enough hints that it’s pretty clear he’s somewhere east of the wrong side of history.

And the cancel mob is putting out feelers.

The Riders of Skaith’s Top 25 Search Results for 2020

riders of skaith15Hiya! Come for….well, I’d love to say the science fiction but by own stats contradict that. (Stay for the tiger pics, though).
the romance of hua rong5Not unexpectedly, the Romance of Hua Rong recaps are by far and away the most popular things on this blog. Lovely Swords Girl and Love and Destiny are yards behind, but the review of the Siege in Fog novel also gets steady hits. 
jim butcher peace talks4Review here! Incoherent initial thoughts here! Slightly more coherent thoughts here.
angelique the marquise of the angels4Review here.
byakuya movie3They did my boy wrong and I am still upset about it.
correia assisns review3A brief review of House of Assassins is here.
captain marvel rewrite3Way better, amiright?
riders of skaith, terminator2Here is my take on how the third Terminator movie should have gone. Here is my mother’s take on the first movie.
larry correia destroyer of worlds2I haven’t written a review of this one….guess I should.
pax dickinson amanda robb2Okay, I had to google this one to find out what it was about. It’s the time some guy made some reporterette wear a MAGA hat and scavenger hunt for him, back like three years ago or something when Comicsgate was going big.
silver creek audie murphy duel ay2Ay. Here you go.
house of assassins larry correia review2Wait, how did more people spell this wrong than spelled it right?
what will dresden mirror mirror be about?2Beats me. 
why was blood coming out of lingxi’s mouth in love and destiny?1‘cuz it’s a dramatic trope often used in cinema to show a character has a serious internal injury or to just intensify a scene by implying that the character might. Plus, this way you can get a lot of drama without having to get a lot of blood on the costume.
what do the einherjar call dresden files1That is an excellent question.
i want to read what happened in a chinese film named,sword girl,season 1 episode 1 to season 6 episode 1,from the starting to the ending.1Can’t help you, fam. 
jim butcher battle ground review spoiler1Justine is Nemesis.
a wizard in bedlam1Here you go, sir, ma’am, or tentacle.
is thomas raith dead bartle grounds1I’m slightly offended by this.
real identity of mr jin hua robg1He’s some kind of prince guy who is related to another prince guy who is the bad guy except Mr. Jin is a good guy who was temporarily pretending to be a hero guy except that the real hero guy was Qin Shang Cheng in a mask. I hope this clarifies the situation for you.
scifiwright the green knights squire1Given the length of the review I wrote for this, it’s really gratifying to see that someone landed there. Thanks, m’lady, m’lord, or churl!
uprooted naomi novik common sense1It wasn’t present in the novel, no.
dark emu criticism1Me, I was just having fun arguing with my dad. 
telzey amberdon and giant otters1No, no, no, it was Nile Etland who had the otters. Telzey had her telepathic tiger/crest cat, Tick-Tock.
bfs what it stands for in peace talks1Friend, why don’t you try reading the books instead of googling everything? It’ll work out much better for you that way, I promise.

Battle Ground – REACTION/THOUGHTS (ENORMOUS SPOILERS)

Presented in mostly chronological order.

– Talk is cheap. It still goes to say: Marcone is The Man. I love Marcone.
– Mavra’s back. As a henchman. To Drakul. Eh.
– DRAKUL IS A STARBORN.
– Who refuses to tell Harry anything about what it means, naturally. Gah.
– “At this point of conversations like this one, I often offer the dark gift of immortality to someone in your position….but honestly, five minutes of you in my life has been quite enough.”
– Wild Bill dies and so does Yoshimo, probably also Chandler. 😦 For people with hardly any screentime, it’s…unexpectedly sad. That being said, screw the Black Court, seriously.
– That being said, there’s something of a disconnect between: mortal humans have all but eradicated the Black Court because of Bram Stoker’s instruction manual, and “the Black Court is THE STRONGEST kind of vampire, hands-down, no contest.”
– Einherjaren vs jotuns = lots of people screaming and looooooots of blood.
– MURPHY’S CALLSIGN IS VALKYRIE COME ON PEOPLE.
– Jim Butcher is a genius. When the hero gets a last-minute infodump from a literal talking head in the middle of a battle, it feels completely natural and realistic to learn that the stakes of the battle is actually the nature of reality and the reality of human existence.
– “Defilade the crap out of them.” “No, we want to be in defilade. You want them to be in enfilade.” “Whatever.”
– The Winter Knight mantle is actually not just the cloak of a thug…it’s the banner of a General. With all the responsibilities that come with it. (poor Harry).
– Murphy.
– Damnit Butcher.
– Murphyyyyyyyyyy
– Valkryrie she’s gonna be a valkyrie damnit damnit damnit. Damn you Butcher.
– No one in the Dresdenverse has a son. Everyone has daughters, everyone. Why?
– What the heck is Listen? He’s a mortal and yet he’s got Ethniu’s ear and he’s way more competent than King Corb. (although that’s not particularly difficult when Corb is supposed to be a sniveling, malicious, snidely-whiplash type villain).
– “And that’s how maybe two hundred and fifty fae charged five thousand Fomor at the Battle of the Bean.”
– NO I LIKED THE ERLKING WHY IS HE GETTING WHALLOPED
– (Marcone has upgraded from one flintlock pistol to MANY FLINTLOCK PISTOLS.)
– “We didn’t charge into the fray so much as aggressively shamble. But into the fray we went.”
– HENDRICKS
– OH WAIT OH WAIT GARD WORKS FOR ODIN NEVER MIND HE’LL BE OKAY. HE’LL BE OKAY RIGHT? RIGHT?
– Lara?
– OH FUCK MARCONES NECK GOT BROKEN SCREW THIS
OH FUCK HE DID IT. HE’S THORNED NAMSHIEL GODDAMN IT MARCONE. NO. I LIKED YOU SO MUCH BEFORE THIS. I mean, it’s one thing to have a mortal who has the guts and intelligence to stand up to supernatural threats and it’s one thing to have a mortal who is in thrall whether they know it or not to a literal fallen angel.
I do not appreciate this. So much for my theory about Good King John Marcone. Damnit.
– “No I don’t have any gopher wood. No one has any gopher wood. I’m not even sure it exists anymore.”
– OH HE WAS TRYING TO BUILD AN ARK AAAAUUUGH LOL
– Thomas??? JUSTINE??? GOODMAN GREY??
– OH FUCK IT WAS JUSTINE. DAMNIT. IT HAS ABSOLUTELY NO EMOTIONAL IMPACT AND IS RESOLVED/solved, anyway, WITHIN A SINGLE CHAPTER. DAMNIT BUTCHER. THAT IS NOT GOOD WRITING IT IS JUST SLOPPY.
– Murphy and Hendricks are Einherjar. But they aren’t coming back until all mortal memory of them has been lost.
– Michael Carpenter on the White Council of Wizards: “Those fuckers.” [redacted] “I’ll be happy to do penance, Lord.”
– The Feds are the Librarians….the Librum Bellum. Also known as the Men In Black. Heh.
– Is…is Lara a Harry/Marcone shipper….???????? Ew.
– GODDAMNIT NO NOT HARRY/LARA I SWEAR MURPHY IS NOT EVEN FREAKING COLD IN HER….VALHALLA….WHAT THE HELL NO. MAB NO.
– At least Molly got to go home.
– This one also only took me about three hours to read (5:00-7:49 a.m.) I feel distinctly cheated. I also had to *actually pay* for this one. My Russian Bot friends have let me down!

Dreden Files: Pre-Battle Ground predictions

dw9nd4-d07706d7-9fd8-4d4e-9b15-102ad9508056
Art via zirofax.deviantart.com

(General spoilers)

– Justine is not Nfected–mostly because it wouldn’t have very much emotional impact if she did. She and Harry have hardly ever interacted, except wayyyy back in Grave Peril; and when she does have screentime (such as: Bombshells), her only defining character trait is bone-deep love and loyalty to Thomas. Placing Justine (and Thomas 2.0) in peril = drama. Justine Was The Mastermind = no setup and therefore no drama.

– Goodman Grey has been already hired by someone and has been seen impersonating a different character in Peace Talks (possibly Ramirez). My theory? He’s been hired by Future Harry.

– River Shoulders mentions that he knows a lot about the Starborn but can’t tell Harry right now because he promised not to.–the most aggravating and transparent tactics a hamhanded and inept author can use to maintain tension. Unless…the person who asked him to keep mum was also Future Harry.
Mirror Mirror’s the next book, that’s all I’m sayin’.

– Harry Dresden, wizard, has never been (or at least wasn’t at first) the target. Remember way back in the day when Gentleman Johnny Marcone was being attacked by two-bit sorcerers pedling magical drugs? Remember when Nfected FBI agents with wolf belts were trying to take down the big-time Chicago gangster? Also, remember when Lucifer himself helped break into Marcone’s saferoom in order to kidnap him?
Harry has never been the target of the various Chicago-centric plots. The enemy has always been targeting Marcone.
Why?

– MARCONE IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT KING ARTHUR AND HARRY IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT MERLIN.

– Murphy -> valkyrie….I’m on the fence for this. Jim Butcher had answered a fan question to this effect earlier with the info that there would be “no more powerups for Murphy.” Does it count as a power up if it restores her to merely 100% of her pre-Skin Game abilities?

– I have a theory about Tam Lin, escaping the Winter Knight mantle, and the fact that Harry and Murphy were unlikely to have been using protection when they, uh, finalized their relationship.

– I also have a theory about Rudolph: the guy we first see in Fool Moon as an out-of-his-depth rookie, but then also in Grave Peril as still-out-of-his-depth, resentful, in-denial of the supernatural–but staunch defender of his boss, Lieutenant Karrin Murphy. He even gives Harry a freaking, “if you do anything to hurt her.”–only to suddenly, at his next appearance, be a hated, conniving, snivelling weasel who weasels, cavils, exists to make things harder for the heroes, and is treated with contempt by every professional who has the misfortune to work with him.
I think that Rudolph is a hero who has been fighting this entire time to keep Murphy and Special Investigations safe. I think Rudolph has been either touched by the Nemesis (but still kind of in control of himself), or has been in direct contact with whomever it is is pulling the cops’ strings behind the scenes and been desperately running interference from there.
I think he’s going to have a death scene where this all is tragically revealed, a la Martin, and then Harry will feel very bad about it.
Anyhow, I hope so. So far, unlike in some of Jim Butcher’s works (SUCH AS Codex Alera and Cinder Spires), there haven’t been any characters who particularly exist just to be an audience hatesink.

Anyhoo. 

Monster Hunter Files – partial review

“Thistle” by Larry Correia – 3/5. Owen and company rescue a little girl from monsters. The little girl has a rather different opinion…
This gets a low score because a) I dislike Owen as a narrator, and b) it, as unbelievably as this sounds, it stretches disbelief too much. Edward the tracker-orc can smell a little girl’s doll, but not that she’s a thistle-monster herself?

Correia is at his weakest when he’s writing Owen–there’s just too much smugness in his voice. He might deny that Owen is a self-insert, but it’s a weak and unconvincing denial given how OP and insufferable Owen is. Still, even the worst of the Correia’s popcorn stories is readable, even if it does make you absolutely swear off popcorn until the next book comes out.

“Small Problems” by Jim Butcher – 5/5. MHI meets NIMH.

In order for fanfic story to be good, it must match the original author’s tone. To be outstanding, it should also put an new (but fitting) perspective into play, adding shading and original colors to the picture while still staying inside the lines. Most fanfic authors are amateurs. JB is a pro. This is a really good story that is well written, matches the tone of the original, portrays known characters without disfigurement, and adds a cool new element to the world to boot.

NIMH rats will forever fight in Roman shieldwalls in my imagination. It’s excellent.

“Darkness Under The Mountain” by Mike Kupari – DNF. This story started off with more than five Kindle pages of driving in a jeep down an Afghanistan road, talking about zombies, and that’s where I left it. Kupari is just not a particularly good writer. Also, I despise zombies.

“A Knight Of The Enchanted Forest” by Jessica Day George – 5/5. Building a better mousetrap is a worthwhile career skill. This story didn’t have much action at all, as it stars a teenage girl and is set in the Enchanted Forest trailer park, but it is well-done and quite funny.

“The Manticore Sanction” by John C. Wright – 4/5. A James Bond-type spy is ordered to kill his nonhuman lover. Also featuring The Mummy, Grendel, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, and the underwater oxygen-burning gadget from Gojira. Wright is perhaps the best writer in this book; however, he has a couple of characteristic tropes that tend to negate this.

1) His characters will stop, mid-action, and moralize to each other. Generally, this is in-character, because he writes self-important, pompous twerps…but…I like action and don’t like to have it interrupted, especially by more freaking dialogue. It’s frustrating and annoying.

2) His action scenes are frustrating and annoying (and that’s after you wade through acres of quasi-Shakespearian dialogue to get to them), because he undercuts his protagonists at every turn. Sure, it’s thematic in this story (To make Ardath Bey look better), but this is a pattern I’ve noticed ever since Orphans of Chaos. (Trying to escape? Your powers get shut off and you get spanked.) Last Guardian of Everness: use the magic weapon you are destined to wield to defeat the villain? It breaks your arms and then he walks over you. Somewhither: Heroes charging a line of cowering spearmen? Heroes get stabbed from a distance with pointy sticks. It makes sense in Somewhither….not so much the others.

3) Would James Bond really be that dumb? He did get married once and he’s had enough experience with women to know that some of them can be really psycho bitches if you get them mad…

On the pro side: this is story written by a master of lyrical prose who knows well how to invoke a sense of wonder, seamlessly blends classic monsters and modern fantasy, and features a damsel who has more on her mind than being distressed.

“The Bride” by Brad R. Torgersen – 2/5. Dippel actually also created a female body, and Ben Franklin also cuts a deal with her. Also von Steuben is in on it. Eh, meh.

“She Bitch, Killer of Kits” (a Skinwalker Crossover Tale) by Faith Hunter – 2/5. This a crossover story starring Jane Yellowrock, a part-Native American panther-type shapeshifter biker babe bounty hunter with waist-length black hair who is tough and strong and has relationship troubles, and uses TWO machetes, how cool is that? Did we mention her hair is waist-length and shiny? The story does, twice.

She gets two stars for managing to rescue the kids before the werewolves eat them. People mock the Dresden Files–but those women at least have personalities and their personalities are different from each other.

“Mr. Natural” by Jody Lynn Nye – 3/5. A STFU team rescues hippies from a nature god who has taken over their commune. This story wasn’t nearly as funny as it could have or wanted to be.

“The Troll Factory” by Alex Shvartsman – 2/5. A computer geek hunter ends up in the Russian IT farm known as the troll factory…guess why. This onetries to do too much with too many concepts and ends up underusing each one of them. Trolls/spiders/demons: if your page time is limited, pick one and stick to it. I mean, internet trolls who are literal trolls is a hilarious concept and you could have even made something out of the new competition from the insidious Russian Bots threat…

“Keep Kaiju Weird” by Kim May – 3/5. A Japanese schoolgirl runs into some strange events…fortunately, she’s not an ordinary girl, and she knows some extraordinary people.
This story was almost really good. However, I have questions, like:
– Why does kitsune girl have Franks on speed-dial?
– I know people don’t like Grant, but even so, why did he lose so many IQ points?
– How come just Franks and Grant are responding with no team to back them up?
– How come Franks was on a mission with no team and yet is able to call in an airstrike within seconds?
– If kitsune girl had a special katana the whole time, why not just go ahead and take care of it herself?
– If the artist who drew the monsters was already so well-known, how come MCB hadn’t already shut him down with extreme prejudice?
– Am I going to finish the rest of this book?

The really annoying thing about the Monster Hunter International series is that, when you’re forced to read it, you’re forced to admit it’s pretty good.

Rated: Ain’t nobody forcing me.

Rambling Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher

img_3485It’s steampunk, and the goggles do do something.

So steampunk is…in my humble opinion…largely a fairly stupid genre based entirely on the aesthetic tastes of people who like wearing their corsets on the outside of their clothes. However, I’ll admit that this opinion is based on a sample size of 2: Girl Genius and The Invisible Library, both series I want to like a lot more than I actually do. TAW makes the third, and it’s…written much better than the other ones, for one.

Here, we get a genuine sense of why people use swords rather than guns–and if we only get hints as to why these swords are copper-clad, well, there’s plenty of space for JB to expand this universe and explain it. Here, when the pirate captain girl wears leather and crossed bandoleros with cutlasses, they are given enough prior context, in-setting, that they fit her character as well as her posterior. And when everybody is altogether concerned with tea, it’s…fine. It’s cultural. It’s also made hugely significant in-story, not to mention sinister and mysterious, by the villain’s tea-and-biscuits obsession.

[Incidentally; effing wordpress has made its media caption editor 300% less useful and I don’t even have the energy to swear at them in all caps for it. Whatever. I think that’s XO Creedy on the cover, not Captain Grimm.]

And there’s the rub of it. The Invisible Library does not make setting intrinsically a part of its story and use elements of that setting organically in the telling of it; it just uses them as a backdrop–set dressing. Girl Genius does much the same, although it does it rather better, using the setting/props for humorous effect. The Cinder Spires, contrarily, feels like an actual universe; a setting with established culture, locations, and weight of history.

Oh, and unlike Girl Genius, the female characters are strong, lively, and badass without being annoying Mary Sues, and unlike The Invisible Library, the males act like people who have, at some time in their life, found themselves capable of punching someone else in the face and indeed can do so at any time necessary.

Yeah, so.

Plot: There’s this group of characters who assemble, and then they go do something. And that’s more or less it.

OK, fine. So, there’s Captain Grimm of the Predator, who is the guy from the first Horatio Hornblower novels who is Not Horatio Hornblower, the one who ended up taking the fall for mysterious circumstances involving a dead captain (but a successful voyage) while the other young officers concerned somehow ended up covered in glory. Grimm is completely mute and slightly bitter about this but remains a loyal son of Spire Albion–so much so that even after his ship is crippled, potentially fatally, he’s willing to take direct service for the leader of the Spire. What work can an airship that only goes up and down do?

It can transport a crack team of….junior trainees and semi-insane wizards to a different level (I somehow thought that Habble Landing was at the surface level. It…probably isn’t? Anyhow.)–and provide them personnel, medical and tactical support; it can make a ranged pursuit in the event of an enemy escape, and also Captain Grimm is one of the main characters so it makes sense to involve him.

Why is a small team of heroes necessary? Because Spire Albion has come under attack by Spire Aurora, the dirty commies, (literally), and while the Guard does outnumber the concealed raiders, they are stretched far too thinly to cover every level of the ten-mile high tower….and there is every indication that highly placed members of the Guard have turned traitor. Which also explains why two out of the three Guardspeople are young women on their first month of training, and why having a cunning and experienced–not to mention very patriotic and demonstrably loyal, but definitely outside the regular chain of command–soldier like Grimm as a backup is such a good idea.

Mind you, one of these girls is capable of calmly and instantly blasting an unsuspecting enemy soldier in the face at point-blank range, while the other one until recently spent her days hauling 150-lb slabs of vat-meat and can carry a grown adult male over her shoulder out of a burning building. And while the third Guardsperson is slightly more senior (he’s got about three years’ experience), not to mention a genetically enhanced fighting machine, the fourth member of the team is a cat. And they’re the sane ones, here.

The other two members of the team are the Etherealist and his apprentice, Master Ferus and Folly. Being able to use and manipulate ethereal energy–the stuff that allows airships to fly and crystals to levitate them, emit light, and gauntlets to blast eletricity–comes with a price. The knowledge of the ether strips away your ability to function in the human, normal world, and etherealists must rely on weird, compulsory behavior patterns to compensate. Master Ferus has a collection of oddball items including mismatched socks and size-thirteen hats. He can also track multiple different futures and rip the energy from existing crystals (and possibly the life from men), but can’t operate doorknobs. Folly can turn dead crystals meant for emitting light into very live crystals that can electrocute attacking megaspiders–but can’t speak directly to anyone who is not a crystal…or linked to one.

But anyway, Master Ferus’ mission is: to find the enemy etherealist who has guideded the Auroran attack force into Albion space and which is presumably concealing them now. The rest of the team, including Rowl, are there to support this.

And so it goes.

Now, this is the bulk of the main plot. But there’s an artistry to it. The novel actually slides into the adventure rather more slowly, beginning with heroines Gwen and Bridget’s departures for the Guard training academy, Grimm’s encounter with the Auroran battleship that lames the Predator, Bridget’s inadvertent duel with a churlish young man, Gwen’s almost-duel with the actual monarch of the spire, Benedict’s laidback snark, and so on. Still, there is a constant source of mystery and tension–following Grimm, Rook, and the silkweavers–which blends back into the main plot further towards the end, adding context to Rook’s cowardice and the weavers’ origins. This gives the audience some time to absorb the setting and the characters’ personalities a chance to shine in exciting–but not terribly out of the ordinary–circumstances. And they do shine: we know exactly how well the refined yet hot-headed Gwen is going to perform her role of smoothing the way for Master Ferus (i.e.: with extreme violence or at least the threat of it); we know that quiet, serious Bridget is calm in a crisis and far more dangerous than she thinks she is–and we know that Rowl is going to save the day (because of course he is).

At this point I’m going to say that since I’ve been working on this review for about three days and it’s already pretty long and not very good, enough is enough.

‘s a good book and there’s a lot more to it than I was babbling about. Jim Butcher is a really top-notch author when he puts his mind to it, and in this case he did. It’s a solid, absorbing book with great worldbuilding, great characters, exciting action, compelling themes, deep examinations of the intrinsic system of the compulsory blah blah blah.

Rated: Look, just take my word for it and go read the book, it’s really good.