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Literature / The Cinder Spires

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The Cinder Spires is a Steampunk series written by Jim Butcher.

For two thousand years, humanity has lived within the spires, massive nigh-indestructible fortifications rising over the mist-choked lands of the surface. The spires use great fleets of airships to trade between them and keep the peace, while the surface itself is a dangerous but valuable land, filled with all manner of monsters and treasures.

Captain Grimm, Gwen Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn are three citizens of Spire Albion who are drafted to the forefront of the war with Spire Aurora when they are caught (and help foil) Aurora's initial surprise attack on Albion. Grimm is a disgraced former officer from Spire Albion's Fleet who commands the Predator, a privateer vessel that he uses against Albion's enemies, while Gwen Lancaster is the daughter of the Prime Minister and the heir to the largest Crystal Vattery in Albion, and Bridget is the last scion of a noble house that no longer has either fortune or political power. As recent recruits of the Spirearch's Guard, Gwen and Bridget are assigned to the company of a powerful — yet mad — etherialist and all embark aboard the Predator to discover the true target of Aurora's machinations.


The first novel, titled The Aeronaut's Windlass, was released on September 29th, 2015. The second novel will be titled The Olympian Affair.

The Cinder Spires contains examples of:

  • Actually, I Am Him: When Grimm meets with Captain Ransom, she mentions she made a huge find about a month ago when a merchant ship's Cortez-class warship escort left them to chase after some stupid pirates who tried taking them on. Grimm is not happy to explain that the ship had been the Predator.
  • Affectionate Nickname: A point of dealing with cats. Most of them will refer to humans by descriptors rather than anything approaching their names. When cats take the time to name a human, it indicates either ownership or respect. Bridget is named Littlemouse by Rowl and the Silent Paws, while her father is also named, because the cats have adopted the Tagwynn family. Rowl takes it upon himself to give Grimm the name Grim Ship-Trees out of respect, which startles Bridget, who didn't think Rowl would ever respect a human.
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  • After the End: The story takes place some two thousand years after an unexplained event changed the laws of nature and required humanity to abandon the surface of the world and hole up in the Spires. Or alternatively, it's set on an alien Death World that humanity colonised, after which they entered a Dark Age and lost most of their technological knowledge and history.
  • All According to Plan: Gwen violently rebels against her mother's wishes at the beginning of the book, and blasts her way out of her house to go join the Spirearch's Guard. Only after she leaves does Gwen's mother point out that Gwen is so contrary that trying to force her to stay was actually the best way to get her to go, which is what her mother wanted all along.
    • Subverted in the rest of the book, however: no one's plans go according to plan, and the person or team that manages to improvise best is usually the one that wins.
  • Animalistic Abomination: It's very obliquely hinted that the silkweavers and other surface creatures aren't entirely natural, that they "don't belong" in the world of the Spires. Whether this is merely figurative or not is unclear.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Bridget apologizes to Benedict during their sparring practice before heaving him across the room.
  • Ass Kicking Equals Authority: Standard practice among the cats, since the clan leaders are expected to lead the defense of their Clan from the front. Doesn't seem to necessarily have a hereditary component, but the two presumptive heirs shown are both the kits of current clan leaders. Rowl manages to get the Nine-Claws to follow him by kicking the crap out of their presumptive heir.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Seems to be a theme with Albion warships (Predator, Thunderous, Glorious, etc.).
  • Back-to-Back Badasses:
    • Gwen and Benedict. Also might count as a Sibling Team as they're cousins, but very close.
    • Grimm and Bayard pair against each other's backs when they are unexpectedly ambushed by silkweavers.
  • Badass Bystander: Everyone alive and standing in the Black Horse Inn joins in fighting the silkweaver matriarch. Many of them are former Marines, after all, and the rest... well, the doors are sealed up, so they don't have anywhere to go, do they?
  • Badass Normal: Brother Vincent of the Temple of the Way. The kind, saffron robe-wearing, non-warriorborn beats down the powerful Benedict with ease and is said to have been doing this since they met. It is implied the other men who take to guarding the entrance are as equally capable.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Aeronaut's Windlass ends with the Aurorans having set out and accomplished almost everything they could hope for. Spire Albion's merchant dock is crippled, several vessels were destroyed, and they got the book they were seeking as Madame Cavendish memorized its contents. All the heroes managed to do was mitigate the victory a little by securing two copies of the book for themselves, saving the Lancaster Vattery, and achieving the minor morale-boost of taking out a symbolically important Auroran ship.
  • Bawdy Song: A shanty called "Farmer Long's Pickle". It has a seemingly infinite number of verses, as sailors have been singing it for centuries and have been making up new verses as they go, with the best (or worst) being retained and passed on to future generations.
  • Beware the Silly Ones:
    • Master Ferus is an Etherealist who sometimes forgets to put on clothes at home and believes doorknobs to be "extremely complex technology". He is also probably the single most dangerous person encountered in the first novel due to his control of etheric energy; when he is ambushed by three Auroran marines in his home his only sadness is for how bad it will be when he kills them.
    • Folly, Ferus' apprentice, wears extremely mismatched clothes, and can only talk to people via a jar of lumen crystals. She uses those crystals to electrocute a swarm of larval silk-weavers, and resists the attempts the "Enemy" makes to brainwash and enslave her.
  • Be Yourself: The view of Wayists is basically this. They believe in no particular dogma, adhering to a Way all must follow, but rather be yourself, be a good person and you will find your own Way. This is reflected in their hallway, where there is a long and winding path through it, but no one will think less of a person who decides to not follow the generationally-worn path in favor of the shortest path to the next door and crossing across the floor.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • When Bridget and Folly are being held prisoner, Grimm leads the crew of the Predator and the local verminocitor guild in a rescue and fight against the mature silkweavers.
    • When the crew of the Predator and the verminocitors are surprised by the silkweaver ambush and nearly overwhelmed, Rowl leads the cats of the Nine-Claws clan in an attack.
  • Big Bad: Madame Cavendish, for most of the novel. However, the Albion etherealists eventually deduce that she is just working for the Greater-Scope Villain, and nickname her "Puppet Woman". This is because she manipulates people (and creatures) like puppets, but she is also being manipulated in turn.
  • Bittersweet Ending: All of the protagonists survive, they retrieve two copies of the book that Madame Cavendish was after, and Grimm takes down the battlecruiser that wrecked Predator at the beginning of the book — implied to be the best battlecruiser in the entire Auroran fleet. However, the Landing Docks were destroyed, which will have severe economic and military implications, the monks of the Temple of the Way were slaughtered and its Great Library burned, Madame Cavendish rewrites the book she was after and an Albion heavy cruiser was lost with nearly all hands thanks to Rook's cowardice — which he got away with.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Cats don't think about the world in the same way humans do, and they find it difficult verging on impossible to believe that humans don't think as they do.
  • Boat Lights: Folly has one green/blue, and one orange-brown eye.
  • Boom, Headshot!: When Gwen realizes that the Guard officer she encountered is actually an Auroran marine in disguise, she calmly blasts him directly in the face with her gauntlet from five feet away.
  • Boring Insult: When cats from different clans meet, to establish dominance they will just ignore each other. The first to relent is the lesser of the two. When Rowl meets with another cat and ends up in this situation, he and his opposition ignore each other for well over three hours. It ends in a draw between them, partially due to having to deal with other events.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Bridget takes advantage of how leather will stretch when wet — with her own blood.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Benedict cites this as the reason the gangs of Habble Landing avoid the territory around the Temple of the Way. They learned long ago it isn't worth the trouble these monks can bring to them.
  • Cast from Sanity: Etherealists can directly manipulate etheric currents without requiring instrumentation to do so. However, this is because Etheric currents flow directly through them — the cost is that the energies eat away at their minds and sanity, requiring them to adopt various compulsions to compensate. Force an etherealist to break their compulsion, and they become lost and incoherent. And the longer they're in the business, the worse their situation becomes. As Folly explains to Bridget at one point, Etherealists end up with "holes" in their minds, and the compulsions help them focus and "fill the holes".
  • Cats Are Mean: Jim even described them as "horrid little bullies" in an interview.
    Jim: I see that you enjoy having no rodents in your warehouse. Perhaps you would continue to enjoy having no rodents in your warehouse. Perhaps there will be a bowl of cream sitting out for me... or it might all catch on fire.
  • The Cavalry:
    • In the final battle, the Predator is fleeing the Itasca at its best speed because they are no match for the larger battlecruiser, but they lead them directly into the Albion battlecruiser Glorious which had been bearing in on their signal rockets from earlier. Rook, commander of the Glorious, flees after the first exchange of fire with the Itasca. In his after-action report, he claimed that he had sustained emergency damage that forced him to break off.
    • After the Glorious had fled and left the Predator to the mercy of Itasca, the three heavy cruisers Valiant, Thunderous and Victorious emerge to rescue them again.
  • Cavalry Betrayal: Glorious to Predator in the final airship battle, of the "abandoning them to die" variety.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Grimm feels them heavily, and constantly. During the initial skirmish with the Itasca, he makes a point to always be proper, standing upright, and calm and resolute, no matter what happens, so that the men under his command can look to him as a source of confidence. Immediately after the battle, he makes sure that the ship is on its way home, hands command over to his XO, goes to his cabin, and completely breaks down into a mental mess, crying and shuddering and unable to do much of anything for several hours thinking about the men he lost. He discusses this with Gwen at the end of the book, pointing out that there's never a way to get past it, and the best you can hope for is to find people to share that grief and terror with.
  • Chainsaw Good: Verminocitor tools include one on a long pole to be able to cut at a silkweaver without getting in range of the monster's reach.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Ferus invokes this by pushing a heavy chair to a man who is having an argument with Gwen at the moment when he foresees a giant silkweaver about to attack. Sure enough, it is used.
  • Chekhov's Gun: About a third of the way into the book, an Auroran Marine team carrying several explosives is stopped by the main characters. The explosives are later used in the assault on the Aurorans' base in Habble Landing.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Working with the ether for any length of time inevitably results in this, as Ferus and Folly constantly prove. The etherealists see too much in too many timelines to retain a sense of normalcy. As Grimm explains, if an etherealist isn't one of these, you should be worried: Their madness must run even deeper, and there's no way to know what their triggers are.
    • As evidenced by Madame Cavendish: while Ferus can't figure out doorknobs and Folly can only talk to people indirectly through lumen crystals, Madame Cavendish seems to be put together from a distance, but is obsessed with propriety and politeness, to the point of violently murdering people that fail to be perfectly proper in her presence.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What's left of the verminocitor after Cavendish is finished with him isn't described, but from the sounds it's clearly not pretty.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • When Rowl learns that Bridget must fight a duel, he and another cat wonder why she doesn't simply murder her opponent in his sleep. He also doesn't see the point in stopping short of killing an enemy after they surrender. By his reckoning, that's the perfect time to finish the job.
    • When Captain Grimm predicts that he will be fighting the Mistshark, which is (allegedly) the fastest ship in the sky, he sabotages their engines before they actively begin operating.
  • Commander Contrarian: In the Fleet, it is the job of an XO to point out flaws in the captain's plans. Aboard a private ship like the Predator, Grimm finds it annoying.
  • Cool Airship: Many. The most notable are Captain Grimm's ship Predator and the battlecruiser Itasca. The former is officially the fastest ship in the sky by the end of the first book, and happens to be sentient.
  • Covers Always Lie: Captain Grimm is depicted hatless on the cover, when the book makes it clear that he wears his Nice Hat all the time when outside of his cabin. This is in contrast to one of Butcher's other series, The Dresden Files, where the covers give the protagonist a hat he doesn't own.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: The battle between Predator and Mistshark is incredibly one-sided. Not only has Mistshark been sabotaged so it's running at 85% power while Predator is running on a new top-of-the-line lift crystal that allows it to use less power to remain afloat (giving it more power to maneuver and attack), but Predator's power crystal is marking Mistshark's location for its crew — meaning that even when they think they are under cover of the mist, Predator can get a perfect bead on them. Despite Predator being a little smaller and undermanned, the results are inevitable.
  • Dating Catwoman: Captains Grimm and Ransom used to be married. There are still feelings at play, but mostly of the kind that make him remove all weapons and valuables from the cabin before letting her in. That said, she still cares enough for the Predator to not fire on it first, and Grimm is really internally horrified he might have to kill her for helping the Aurorans.
  • Death World: It's not greatly expanded on, but the surface is not in any way hospitable for humans and has been that way for up to 2000 years, being described as a "green hell." Exposure to the light outside the spires without the protection of goggles is equally dangerous to the person.
  • Deflector Shields: An airship's "shroud" will dissipate any etheric blast fired at them, but they can be overloaded by powerful shots or sustained fire, and they don't stretch out far enough to fully protect the webs that catch etheric currents.
  • Description Cut: The narrative cuts from Captain Grimm explaining that the dribblingly-odd etherealists who can't operate doorknobs and forget to wear clothes are okay, while the polite, rational ones who just want to enjoy their tea aren't... to Madame Cavendish having tea with the commander of the Auroran marines — and forcing a lieutenant to claw his own eyes out after he rudely interrupts.
  • Devil, but No God: The Enemy is implied to be a powerful, nigh-unstoppable force of malevolence (which may or may not be some kind of AI), equivalent to the Devil. However, while characters frequently pray to "God In Heaven", there is no equivalent God-presence in the story. However, there's mention that "archangels" have been spotted at the beginning of the story, and the Cavendish mentions that the plan to "pull them out of Heaven" requires certain knowledge, implying that the Devil wants to draw God out for a final battle.
  • Due to the Dead: After the final battle, the dead aeronauts on both sides, Albion and Auroran alike are placed on a raft that floats a hundred yards or so off the ship and fired upon with one of the ship's cannons. The blaze is so bright, it is blinding even through goggles. What remains is ash and it is dispersed into the winds.
  • Easing into the Adventure: Begins with the heroines joining the Guard, Bridget getting challenged to a duel, learning to fight... and then an air raid intervenes.
  • Eating the Eye Candy: Bridget's attraction to Benedict starts the moment she sees him without a shirt on.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Enemy. It is never seen clearly, but it is probably living on the surface and it is large, and vast, and powerful, and angry.
  • Energy Weapons: The standard hand weapon is the Gauntlet, a piece of etheric technology that throws destructive energy blasts. Long guns operate on the same principles as Gauntlets, but are larger versions intended for greater distances/accuracy (Rifles instead of pistols). Do not use them against an etherealist, however; they will turn your own energy against you. The etheric blasts can themselves be blocked by etheric silk, though much like bulletproof vests, the one person that gets hit with a gauntlet in a silkvest notes that it still hurts like hell.
  • Etiquette Nazi: Madame Cavendish, the Auroran etherealist, is fixated on matters of courtesy and custom. The commander of the Auroran marines is anxious whenever he has to interact with her that he will unintentionally subtly insult her with lethal consequences, and she forces an Auroran officer to claw his own eyes out when he interrupts her tea and implies she's a prostitute. When Grimm encounters her unexpectedly and instinctively behaves with all due courtesy, he senses that she is upset that he has not given her any reason to fault him and retaliate.
    • However, despite her insistence on politeness, everyone that interacts with Cavendish notes that she is a predator and that she makes no effort to hide it. Everyone finds her politeness disturbing, bordering on terrifying.
  • Everyone Can See It: It's no mystery to anybody who lays eyes on them how Benedict and Bridget feel about each other. Gwen immediately picks up on it and starts figuring out how to frame it as a suitable match to her mother.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Espira and Ciriaco are fairly ruthless in the name of duty — they do not shirk at bombing Spire Albion or killing civilians that get in the way — but they do not like a lot of the things they're duty-bound to do. Ciriaco at least also despises rape, they don't approve of killing unarmed prisoners (which means Ciriaco might have left behind Bridget's weapons and Folly's crystals to defend themselves against Cavendish and Sark) and they especially don't like "sending someone up the ropes" to be devoured by silkweavers while still alive, whatever state they're in.
    • Aeronauts from any Spire, whether friend or foe, fear losing men to the Surface. So, even if two ships were at battle just minutes before, both will send out rescue parties for lost life boats.
    • Ciriaco notes to Bridget he'd gut any of his men who'd try to rape her, and if it came to it, he'd also make sure she gets a quick clean death.
      Bridget: So you're not a rapist, but you are a murderer.
      Ciriaco: You seem to have it surrounded, miss.
  • Famous Ancestor: Bridget's great-great-great-grandfather was the famous Admiral Tagwynn. Since House Tagwynn does not currently have any wealth, prestige or power, but still has all of the obligations of a noble house, she would rather that he had never been famous at all.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Warriorborn are not very highly regarded by the residents of the spires. Gwen's mother disapproves of her association with Benedict — at least publicly — and it is implied throughout the book that they're looked down upon, and at least in the Auroran military, aren't permitted to rise above certain ranks (the commander of the Lancaster family's guard is Warriorborn, though it's unclear whether that's just equivalent to a Master Sergeant rank or an actual commissioned officer).
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Spire Albion is very British, while Spire Aurora seems to be based on the Spanish Empire. The other Spires may also be related to other cultures, with Spire Olympia implied to be Greek or Italian.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Played with. Most people in-setting make use of "gauntlets" or similar weapons that fire streams of etheric energy rather than gunpowder weapons, but guns as a technology do exist and are recognized as the preferred weapon to use against etherealists. The in-universe reason for why guns aren't used even when they would be superior to gauntlets is that iron and steel that aren't protected by copper rapidly rust and decay due to some property of the atmosphere (perhaps increased oxygen levels), and the explosive powder that guns use is highly corrosive to copper. The average pistol barrel cannot withstand more than fifty or so shots before it becomes unusable, so it requires the money to constantly buy new pistol components for a person to train with a gun long enough to be any good with it. Grimm made that effort.
  • Fate Worse than Death:
    • Espira Mercy Kills a verminocitor rather than send him "up the ropes" while still alive i.e. to the silkweaver nest. This comes back to impact him, though, when the body is examined and it is determined that he was not killed by vicious vermin.
    • Grimm considers the prospect of the prisoners of war he captured being sent to work at the base of the spire to be this.
      Grimm: I've seen that place. You might as well tie a noose around their necks and stand them on blocks of ice, if you want them to die a slow death. It will be cleaner.
  • Foreshadowing: In the prologue, Gwen tells her mother she does not need to go to school to learn more about crystals. She later helps Journeyman install a new lift crystal aboard Predator.
  • Generation Xerox: Gwen blasts her way out of her family home and runs off to join the Spirearch's Guard in open defiance of her mother's express wishes... exactly as her mother did at Gwen's age. For bonus points, her mother was a lot more violent in blasting her way out of the house.
  • Genre Savvy: Several times, Bridget muses on what dramatic heroines would do in her position, such as rush valiantly and futilely into a swarm of enemies to give her companion a chance to escape. She then says nuts to that, figures out a more reasonable method of escape and declares she'd make a terrible dramatic heroine.
  • Gilligan Cut: Early in the book, when Grimm is feeling guilty over the deaths of some of his crew due to the Itasca's ambush, he thinks some idiot is sure to tell him that being targeted by the Itasca was a compliment given its history and fearsome reputation. In the next scene, his XO does exactly that.
  • The Goggles Do Nothing: Averted. Goggles protect eyes from the sun and minds from exposure to etheric currents. Captain Grimm's also have a telescopic lens.
  • Glowing Gem: Etheric crystals glow when conducting energy.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The warriorborn seem to be some kind of feline/human hybrid, with Benedict being referred to by Rowl as 'the half-soul'. The story never really goes into fine details. However, enhanced senses, low-level superhuman speed, strength, and reflexes (though a sufficiently skilled Badass Normal like Brother Vincent can beat Benedict in a sparring match) fuelled by a higher metabolism that can literally eat them alive are mentioned. They've also got some animal instincts which particularly emerge when they're starving, and they're not considered officer material - at least, by the Auroran military, although that seems to be mostly Fantastic Racism (which is also present, to a lesser extent, in Albion). Bayard also claims to be part reptile, though given the context, he was probably just joking.
  • Hate Sink: Reginald Astor. Doesn't even have a character sheet... and disappears from the story promptly. He's just there to give Gwen's party something to do. Rook is another, but more important one.
  • Head Desk: Gwen's efforts at "diplomacy" end up making Benedict do this.
    Gwen: But I didn't even threaten him!
  • Holding Hands: Forms a sweet scene near the end when Benedict and Bridget hold hands.
  • Hold Your Hippogriffs: The phrase "seen the mistmaw" is used in place of the phrase "seen the elephant", to mean that a person has seen or experienced something new in the world at great cost to themselves. A mistmaw is a giant creature which inhabits the misty airs of the surface; we do not get many details of what they look like, but they're enormous (enough to swallow Predator whole), only aggressive at certain times of the year, attracted to powered webbing and are spoken of with genuine fear.
  • Huge Girl, Tiny Guy:
    • Captain Ransom is a head taller than her ex-husband, Captain Grimm.
    • Benedict isn't exactly short, but Bridget still towers over him. And everyone else, really.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: Brother Vincent, knowing he doesn't have long to live, gives Benedict a copy of a book Cavendish had sought and burned the library to make sure no one else has access to it.
  • I Can Still Fight!: Deconstructed slightly when Benedict carries on after being poisoned, until finally collapsing at the worst possible moment.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Tagwynn family name is ancient and honoured, but the last remaining member of the house is a simple butcher. His one remaining tradition to keep up the family honor is to send his daughter Bridget to enroll for a term in the Spirearch's Guard.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Folly uses the spent light crystals she carries everywhere. She can briefly convert them into miniature power crystals, creating what are essentially little electric caltrops that can burn cat-sized spiders to a crisp.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Master Ferus exclaims this. He justifies it because, while he is downing tankards in seconds, he needs to alter his normal mental state to see what he cannot normally sense in his current mind. Plus, if someone is looking for his mental imprint to target for assassination, he can hide as well.
  • Ironic Nickname: Bridget is a tall, extremely strong and buff woman, having worked hard labor all her life. Her name in cat-speak is Littlemouse; she was named such as a very small child and had the poor grace to outgrow it.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Following the encounter with Itasca at the beginning of Aeronaut's Windlass, Grimm is upset about the losses and thinks to himself that it's inevitable that some idiot will approach him and suggest the fact that Itasca was sent out specifically to deal with him is a type of compliment since it indicates how much trouble he was causing the Aurorans.note  On cue, Creedy comes to see him and, in the conversation, suggests exactly that. Cue a small sigh from Grimm.
  • I Was Never Here: In the coda, Grimm omits from his report any mention of obtaining the mysterious book from the Wayists or the copy from the Auroran infiltration cadre. Considering the implied value of these MacGuffins, his discretion is considered the wise action by the Spirearch.
  • King Incognito: At one point, a shabbily-dressed tea house patron is unthinkingly rude to Gwendolyn. She identifies him an aristocrat based on the value of his shabby clothing, and instantly demands either an apology or a duel. Benedict has to introduce her to "His Majesty Addison Orson Magnus Jeremiah Albion, First Citizen and Spirearch of Albion". Addison is quick to claim that he has very little real power anymore and just likes the tea shop and its owners. However, for all his protests that his position is obsolete and merely formal, he has no difficulty in wielding large amounts of power and influence behind the scenes by being a self-admitted world-class Manipulative Bastard - as Gwen observes when she looks around his apparently harmless private study, it's actually a throne-room in every way that matters.
  • Lethal Chef: The Captain of the ship is not the cook. Of course, when pressed, Grimm gives a detailed reason why this is justified - he and Creedy were somewhat at fault for not accounting for the lack of a cook, and did their penance in the crew's eyes by providing something edible (but intentionally bad tasting, so no one actually looks forward to the Captain cooking). Journeyman, the engineer, who was mainly responsible, ends up doing his penance by getting a double helping. Without salt. And with the crew present to make sure he eats every bite.
    Creedy: It was... perfectly nourishing, sir. With salt, practically palatable.
  • Long List: Gwen is on the receiving end of how her "diplomatic efforts" did not work.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Wayists are pacifists and refuse to take part in any politics, even with a war going on. So, Gwen finds asking them for help in finding safe lodging from the various gangs a fruitless venture. That is, until she phrases it as Benedict asking Vincent, as a friend, where to find a good place to sleep. Brother Vincent calls it sophistry and is hinted to be impressed by her nonetheless, especially when she turns a comment of his on around on him in the process.
  • Magitek: The bizarre crystal technology, such as what powers the airships or Gwendolyn's gauntlet.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Madame Cavendish to the Auroran marines. Spire Aurora to Madame Cavendish... the Enemy to Madame Cavendish.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Addison Albion, the Spirearch, is called "a manipulative son-of-a-bitch" by Grimm when the latter realises how Addison has effortlessly manoeuvred him into his service. Addison's response boils down to, "and proud of it."
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The etherealists seem to have this as a common trait: Sycorax, Folly, and Ferus. The names are apparently given from master to student, as Madame Cavendish asks Folly if that's the name Ferus gave her.
    • Captain Grimm. Really driven in with certain characters repeatedly referring to him as "the grim captain".
    • The names that cats give to humans tend to be descriptive.
      • Bridget's name is Littlemouse due to her being rather small as a child. Rowl thinks it was rather rude of her to grow out of it.
      • Bridget's father is "Wordkeeper" for always honoring his word, with humans and cats. Rowl mentions if Bridget doesn't join the Guard, as duty commands, it would not only reflect on her but change her father's name in the cats' eyes.
      • Addison Albion (the Spirearch) is "Longthinker" for their respect of his long-thinking mind and considering of various problems and situations.
      • Rowl calls Captain Grimm "Grim Ship-Trees" because he is a stern warrior with a ship filled with trees, i.e. masts.
  • Metal-Poor Planet: A variation. One of the changed natural laws now causes all iron and steel alloys to rust away within a matter of days (called "iron rot") unless clad within a coating of copper, brass or other metal. Thus providing the rationale for the steampunk aesthetic.
  • Mighty Glacier: Cats overall consider humans to be loud, clumsy, foolish, slow, and easily manipulated. However, Rowl does admit that humans have two major advantages over cats: they are very tough, and very, very strong.
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: Rowl, although they weren't all that minor. One of his biggest injuries turns out be... a broken leg reset in a cast. While it would be major if he had no-one to take care of him, Rowl considers suicide because of the blow to his pride, since he also suffered a head injury that required shaving some fur to treat, and he complains he looks like he has mange.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: One of Major Espira's men interrupts his civil meeting with Cavendish and assumes her to be a prostitute. She makes him claw out his own eyes.
  • Mistaken for Servant: After one battle, Gwen borrows a Predator engineer's clothes and helps pass time in the engine room. She's so covered in grease and dirt, Captain Ransom thinks she is just an engineer when departing.
  • Mugging the Monster: Shortly after arriving in Habble Landing, the group is being led to a supposedly "safe" inn and they notice that they are being subtly stalked by local criminals. Rather than let them do whatever they intended, Gwen promptly turns to the first one, blasts the wall near him with her gauntlet, and tells the thug to tell all of his friends that they are not easy prey.
  • Mystical White Hair: Half of Folly's hair, although it's uncertain if that's her natural hair colour, a result of her relationship with the ether, or dye, especially considering the other half is dyed red.
  • Never My Fault:
    • According to Gwen, Spire Aurora practices this on a national scale. Their government is corrupt and incompetent, so their economy is in shambles and their people suffering. Once a generation or so, they invent an excuse to attack another spire, which has the dual purpose of killing off their own citizens (lessening population pressures) and stealing loot from the other spire. Chapters seen from Auroran perspective seem to bear this out, with Espira thinking of the Albions of Habble Landing as nothing but thieves and rats for the crime of having a thriving economy (which, it should be noted, they got through generations of hard work building an extra dock on their spire).
    • Rowl also tends to have this attitude whenever things go wrong, as his first line of thought whenever trouble starts, such as Bridget and Folly being captured by Auroran infiltrators, is to assure himself that he did nothing wrong.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!:
    • At the beginning, Grimm's Predator is badly damaged from escaping Itasca, he has nowhere near the funds to repair it, and an old enemy wants to purchase it to get at its core crystal. Cue the Auroran raid, where Grimm distinguishes himself, catches the Spirearch's attention, and as a result gets Predator fixed up better than new.
    • When they are told by Madame Cavendish to send the verminocitor she has interrogated "up the ropes" (into the silkweaver nest), the Auroran marines break his neck as a Mercy Kill. This allows Benedict and Grimm to determine that his death was not an accident, to find out the place where the bad guys are, and to strike an alliance with the Verminocitors' Guild.
  • Noble Demon: The gangs that run Habble Landing. They run things to keep their illegal activities going, protect those who pay their protection fees, and deal with any outside criminal trying to make way in their territory, all for the name of profit. The Spirearch, uncertain if there was a mole in his own Guard, sent private word and money to the gang leaders to prepare in case civilians needed to be evacuated from the Habble. They kept to their word — civilians were moved to safety and the criminals helped with firefighting teams.
  • Non-Indicative Title: The first book is called The Aeronaut's Windlass, a windlass being a type of hauling airship that only travels between a Spire's docks (usually the bottom of the Spire to the top, though Albion has a middle dock as well). Grimm's ship Predator is not a windlass, but it is crippled early in the story and eventually comes to serve this purpose, taking the party from Habble Morning (the top of Spire Albion) to Habble Landing (the middle of Spire Albion). However, most of the action takes place on foot, has nothing to do with windlasses, and with the exception of the climax, the fact that one of the main characters is an aeronaut is of little consequence.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Whatever happened on Perilous and got Grimm cashiered from the Fleet. It's implied that whatever happened was really Rook's fault and the Fleet pressured Grimm into taking the fall because of Rook's powerful relatives (and that Grimm did so to protect the Fleet), but no actual details have been provided.
    • An almost-throwaway line at the end of the booknote  implies that Grimm has been to the surface, elsewhere referred to as a "green hell" and a place that people don't come back from.
  • Noodle Implements: Master Ferus keeps sending Folly to fetch them for him. They help keep him sane.
  • No-Sell:
    • As a rule, don't use gauntlet-style weapons against Etherealists. They can absorb it into their weapons, redirect the blast mid-shot to hit another target, or even prevent them from turning off until they fry the user into a burnt crisp.
    • Despite supposedly being a very inexperienced etherealist, Folly manages to essentially ignore the Enemy's attempt to brainwash her.
  • No Smoking: This was apparently one of the many laws the Builders left in place in the habbles they left behind. Naturally, people have found ways to break it.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Benedict, Gwendolyn, and Lady Lancaster all practice different variants - Benedict seems a distant, amiable observer of affairs; Gwen appears to be completely self-absorbed; and Lady Lancaster seems like a complete vapid twit (it's ambiguous whether or not Gwen realises that this is a facade).
    • Addison Albion, the Spirearch, is an ordinary looking middle-aged gentleman who putters around with messy hair, crumpled clothes, and maintains an air of affable scholarly distraction, dismissing his own rank as a powerless and meaningless relic from the past. He is also a keen judge of character and self-admitted "manipulative son-of-a-bitch" who quickly picks out potential agents and secures their loyalty, and whose study appears to be a jumble, but on close inspection actually displays perfect knowledge of the state of Albion's fleet, extremely confidential charts of the sky's etheric currents, and subliminal messaging in the very arrangement of the books on his bookcase. As Gwen observes, for all his protestations of being an irrelevant relic, Lord Albion is keeping a very close eye on the game.
  • OOC Is Serious Business:
    • When Benedict calls Gwen by her full name, she quickly re-evaluates the situation at hand. See You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious for more.
    • Bridget knows cats very well, having grown up with Rowl, so she recognizes the monumental import of her and Folly — two strangers to Nine-Claws clan — being brought into the presence of their young kits, when she herself has only seen the kits of the clan she knows well a handful of times.
  • Over-the-Shoulder Carry: Rare female to male example, when Bridget carries Benedict out of a burning house. For extra points, she also carries the cat.
  • Pacing a Trench: The brothers of the Temple of the Way have worn grooves into the stone floor with their accustomed paths. Deciding whether to follow these clear, if seemingly meandering, paths is part of a judge of character.
  • Pirate Girl: Captain Ransom, complete with swagger and cutlass.
  • Power Crystal: Power crystals, lift crystals, weapon crystals, lumin crystals... crystals are a pretty big part of the setting's technology base.
  • Praetorian Guard: The Spirearch's Guard. Mainly, it serves as a traditional token force composed of the children of the noble houses to supposedly teach them about duty and honor, as well as a kind of (fairly limited) police force. Like any such group, some are more motivated, more talented and more loyal to its ideals than others. The Spirearch himself, being an extremely good judge of character and a world-class Manipulative Bastard, uses it to pick out potential agents.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Rowl. He's a cat. In this setting cats are sentient and have their own language but they also have a cultural memory of once being domesticated pets, which they do not recall fondly. The worst insult you can levy at a cat is to insult its prowess as a hunter.
  • Precursors: The Builders of the Spires. Although to the reader they're obviously a high-tech culture who built the Spires as survival shelters, to the contemporary inhabitants they are mythic and incomprehensible beings of unsurpassed knowledge and power.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Played With. On paper, the crew of the Predator largely consists of sailors who were "habbled" or otherwise "cast in disgrace from service" by the Fleet for a variety of reasons and her captain was outright drummed out for cowardice. In reality, the crew is at least as good as any in the Fleet, and Grimm is compared favorably to a legendary Fleet admiral in terms of tactical brilliance.
  • Reality Ensues: Constantly.
    • Gwen frequently tries to insert herself into issues, or otherwise forcefully get her way. Unfortunately, people keep disagreeing with her way as the "best" way, and get upset when she insists. She ends up pissing people off as much as she gets what she wants.
    • Benedict, and Warriorborn as a species, are all extremely strong and heal quite quickly. As a result, they have extremely fast metabolisms and need to eat more often - and get testy if in survival mode and someone risks getting between them and food.
    • Gauntlets create energy blasts by focusing etheric energy through crystals. But it's not a perfect conversion of energy, which is impossible, and the waste heat can burn clothes, hands, and more.
    • Despite being very intelligent, cats still lack opposable thumbs, and putting on or taking off their metal battle spurs is usually a lengthy process requiring two "squire" cats to assist.
    • Perhaps most sharply, for most of the story, Gwen does what is necessary and never hesitates to act to complete her mission. By the end of the story, she has "seen the Mistmaw" and as is hinted through the story, is clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Really 700 Years Old: For an inanimate object — the core power crystal of the Predator. Power crystals, unlike all other etheric crystals, actually get stronger with age, with older crystals better able to generate power due to years or decades of power generation carving "pathways" into the crystal that make it more efficient as time goes on. The narration makes a point of stating that power crystals, as far as one protagonist's knowledge goes, have been polished and shaped with facets for centuries. This is right when she finds one that looks like it was installed almost directly out of the ground... And that's before Folly finds out that the Predator is sentient.
  • Restraining Bolt: Disabling an Etherealist requires identifying how they fill their "mind holes"note  and working against it. Folly is completely unable to interact with people or act at all if she doesn't have a weakened lumin crystal to speak to, and Ferus has to collect random, esoteric objects and keep them close: if they are removed by someone else, he experiences crippling physical pain. Cavendish's weakness is politeness: as long as someone is being polite, she cannot do anything untoward to them. This makes her grind her teeth in frustration when Grimm carefully and consistently follows proper etiquette in her presence: she would very much like to kill him, but is completely unable to do so.
  • Reverse Psychology: Lady Lancaster persuades Gwen to join the Spirearch's Guard by forbidding her to do so and begging her to do anything else. Gwen promptly blasts a hole in a door, fights her way past her family's guardsmen, and runs off to do that very thing. Although Gwen thinks that her mother is reduced to tears over her defiance, she's actually admiring her daughter's show of spirit. And she wanted her to go anyway.
  • Running Gag: Captain Grimm being woken up to deal with crises. He spends almost the entire novel desperate for a full night's sleep.
  • Sapient Ship: All aeronauts of any experience hold that their airships are unique living beings. However, Folly unambiguously proves this is true in Predator's case by having a telepathic conversation with her and recruiting her assistance in the hunt for Mistshark. It seems to be related to the etheric tech used to power and drive the ships.
    • There's also some indication that Captain Grimm is the ship, though he does not know this. Whether this is because he has projected a consciousness into the ship itself, or because the consciousness of the ship has attached to him is currently unknown.
  • Schizo Tech: Things like lab-grown meat and hydroponic gardens in a seemingly Victorian society are justified due to likely being set up by the Builders and just maintained through a technological Dark Age.
  • Self-Serving Memory: It's a cat thing. While Rowl is usually fairly good at assessing his abilities and limits in the moment, retroactively any success was entirely because of him, and any failures are clearly the fault of others.
  • Shirtless Scene: When Benedict has to volunteer his shirt for bandages. Bridget is... distracted.
  • Shipper on Deck: Rowl and Gwen (and it's hinted, Captain Grimm as well) pick up on the chemistry between Bridget and Benedict. According to their natures, Rowl considers that Benedict might make an adequate mate for his human once he's been trained up a bit. Gwen has already considered Bridget's virtues as a wife for Benedict, approved of the idea, and has already swiftly and happily plotted out how to get her mother (head of the House) to approve said marriage. Keep in mind, the couple in question had not even held hands yet.
  • Shock and Awe: Folly uses this once by simultaneously having her many light crystals reconfigure themselves from just emitting light into firing off electricity.
  • Shout-Out: Has its own page.
  • The Sky Is an Ocean: Sailed by aeronauts and their airships. The clear upper air of the "aerosphere" represents the surface where sailing is normal. The mists that cover the world are the "mezzosphere" containing hostile creatures and where ships dive to conceal themselves, representing the depths. Then there's the surface, which is certain death thanks to the creatures that live on it and where every aeronaut fears winding up, representing the bottom of the sea. There's also the high upper atmosphere, where the air is thin (requiring oxygen masks) and etheric currents are less powerful. If you can get there, it opens up new tactical possibilities, but it's implied to be dangerous: the light of the sun at those heights can be completely blinding, and if you run out of etheric currents, your ship is becalmed.
  • Sky Pirate:
    • As an Albion privateer, Grimm and Predator are certainly considered as such by Spire Aurora; enough so that they send the legendary Itasca to hunt him down.
    • Captain Calliope Ransom and the Mistshark will take on any work that anyone will pay them for and engage in piracy between jobs.
  • Space Cold War: Between Spires Albion and Aurora at the start of Windlass, with the two fleets skirmishing and Predator acting as a (deniable) privateer on behalf of Spire Albion. The events of the book ignite it into a fully fledged war.
  • Spanner in the Works: Espira and Ciriaco's Mercy Kill of the verminocitor that Cavendish tortured comes back to bite their plans in the backside, since when his body is found Benedict takes one look at it, deduces the man was dead before the silkweavers got to him — the broken neck was something of a giveaway — and sets the heroes on the trail of the villains.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Very few people can understand Cat, enough that most people don't even consider them more than clever animals instead of an intelligent race in their own right. Bridget can speak it, and Rowl (a cat) is a main character. Grimm and the crew of Predator do not believe cats to be intelligent, but Grimm is quick to pick up on Rowl's intelligence, and by the end of the book has one-sided conversations with two different cats, who respond as best they can.
  • Spot of Tea: Madame Cavendish frequently engages in a full tea sitting because of her obsession with "proper" etiquette.
  • Steampunk: The author's take on the genre. He specifically describes the series as "steam opera".
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: While it doesn't occur in the book, the topic is discussed by two surviving members of the Albion team. Grimm tells Gwen that her actions, the guilt she feels in killing a man, the horrors of seeing a Silkweaver mother attack and kill people, watching ship-to-ship combat so close, are things that her parents, friends, and others in the Spire can understand but lack the empathetic knowledge of having experienced it directly. If she needs to speak with a person, then others in the team, like Creedy, Benny, Bridgette, or himself, will be there to listen. That she feels horrible and doesn't wish to tell others to make them experience things second-hand is proof of her humanity.
  • Stronger with Age: Power crystals, unlike most kinds of etheric crystal, get more and more efficient with use, needing at least 100 years to be considered properly broken-in. This means Predator's millennia-old crystal is one of the most powerful and valuable crystals in existence.
  • Supersoldier: Warriorborn, like Benedict and Ciriaco, are considerably faster and stronger than regular humans. Unlike most Super Soldiers, they were born this way and are viewed as undesirable for political offices.
    • They also have Necessary Drawback problems: their heightened metabolism generally means that they are always hungry, they can lose themselves in the thrill of battle, operating on instinct, and as shown when Benedict is laid out for several days, they don't lose those drawbacks by being unconscious: Bridget has to make sure not to threaten Benedict's food supply when he wakes up, lest he perceive and act against a threat to his needs.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Rowl always seems to have an excuse ready whenever he's being affectionate to Bridget. Cats in general seem to live on this, making it very clear they are doing precisely what they always meant to be doing in all but the most dire circumstances.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Like Codex Alera, the chapters switch between Captain Grimm, Gwendolyn, Bridget, Folly, Espira and Rowl's points of view.
  • Taking You with Me:
    • When Gwen, Bridget and Benedict meet the Auroran infiltrators, Gwen threatens to detonate the Auroran explosives and kill them all if they don't back off.
    • Captain Ransom warns Madame Cavendish that they will both die if the latter tries anything on Mistshark.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Gwen, after the final fight, can barely sleep without remembering the Auroran she killed.
  • This Is My Human: Rowl the Cat considers Bridget (whom he has named "Littlemouse") to be his pet.
  • Third-Person Person: Folly when speaking to anybody but Master Ferus or her pet crystals. She can talk to Grimm on Predator, since she can address him and the ship at the same time: it's a Living Ship and they're linked.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The assassins who attacked an etherealist using gauntlets.
  • Town Girls: Bridget and Gwen are excellent subversions of Butch and Femme, respectively. Bridget is a large, strong former butcher's assistant, but a sweet Kindhearted Cat Lover with no stomach for violence at all. Gwen, on the other hand, is a five-foot noblewoman who is described as looking like a porcelain doll, who is also a Hot-Blooded Wrench Wench who smooths the paths she takes in life with swift, uncompromising violence. Folly is a Neither, but has none of the practicality or grounded nature that normally comes with that position. Instead she is a full-fledged Cloud Cuckoo Lander whose dress sense veers somewhere between Harley Quinn and Pippi Longstocking and who is incapable of communicating directly with anything other than a jar of crystals.
  • "Uh-Oh" Eyes:
    • Madame Cavendish has flat, gray eyes that rarely blink.
    • One of Sark's eyes is off-centre. It doesn't help that he has feline pupils, which are disconcerting enough to begin with.
  • Unobtainium: Spirestone, the material the Spires are constructed from. It is, for all intents and purposes, nigh-indestructible and beyond the means of the contemporary inhabitants to reproduce. It took generations of work for the inhabitants of Habble Landing to bore a hole through the side of the Spire to build their airship yard and docks, and the process is described less as "drilling" or "digging" and more as "wearing away".
  • Unwanted Assistance:
    • Gwen accidentally triggers the duel between Bridget and Reggie by inserting herself into the situation and trying to force Reggie to back off.
    • At one point when Bridget's trying to negotiate with the Aurorans who are holding her hostage, Gwen tries to interject. Bridget, remembering what happened with Reggie, asks her to please stop interfering.
  • Villain Ball:
    • Grimm considers the attack on the Black Horse Inn to be the enemy holding this. Before the attack using a giant silkweaver, the heroes had no confirmation there was even an enemy infiltration of the Spire at all.
    • When Madame Cavendish succeeds in capturing Ferus' collection, she keeps it in the hope of learning something from it. Had she simply destroyed or dumped it, Windlass would have been a major victory for her side. As it is, Captain Grimm manages to take back the collection, turning the events of Windlass into more or less a draw.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: Folly utters what really isn't one when she wakes up in the middle of a life or death battle against silkweavers:
    Folly: Oh! We escaped!
  • What a Piece of Junk: While not junk exactly, Predator is an old, small vessel still showing signs of damage from its last encounter... and is equipped with both an overpowered core crystal, an overpowered lift crystal originally made for the biggest class of ship on the fleet, and overpowered trim crystals, with Deflector Shields more powerful than its size should allow.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: If Bridget's initial reaction is anything to go by, it's pretty common for the occupants of the Spires to be agoraphobic. The first time she went outside she started to panic when she realized there wasn't a roof over her head anymore. Justified: the setting is a Death World so most people live their entire lives inside the Spires, and on top of that the unshielded sunlight will drive you insane.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Whatever it is that etherealists do has a price in sanity and/or plain rationality. All of them inevitably become permanently catatonic at one point or another. In a twist, it's the Cloudcuckoolanders who aren't dangerous.
  • The Women Are Safe with Us: Played with. When Bridget is trying to negotiate the end of a Mexican standoff between Ciriaco, his soldiers and her friends by allowing herself to be taken as hostage, she believes she'll probably be "raped and murdered". Ciriaco sincerely tells her that if such a situation had played out, he would have gutted any man who tried to lay a hand on her. "If it had to be death, I'd have given it to you quick and clean." Bridget is not particularly comforted by this knowledge.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Heavily borrows from this genre.
  • Xeno Fiction: The chapters from Rowl's perspective, which obviously includes Humans Through Alien Eyes. He has a completely different moral system and outlook than a human, even though they overlap well enough to understand each other, and while he's very intelligent in many ways there are things he just can't understand about human society.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: During a crisis, Gwen is relieved to see some of the Guard ready and on hand. Benedict gently calls her "Gwendolyn" and notes they shouldn't get in these men's way. Gwen realizes Benedict never calls her by her proper name and quickly deduces these "Guards" are infiltrators, as in the confusion of the attack starting 15 minutes ago, no patrol would be that ready and prepared unless they were already aware of what would be happening.


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