The Olympian Affair by Jim Butcher: Review


review Fans of Jim Butcher may be aching for more in the author’s long-running Dresden Files series, but the second book in his alternative Cinder Spires world is still a meaty and satisfying follow-up set in a complex and intriguing post-apocalyptic crystal-punk universe.

If you haven’t heard of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, then you haven’t spent much time in Amazon’s fantasy category over the past two decades. This long-running pulpish wizard cum detective narrative has been dominating sales charts and causing minor heartthrob moments for fans of all genders since the year 2000.

With a new book in the series coming out almost each year since that date, there’s been a lot to love about Jim Butcher for those who like hard-boiled urban fantasy action.

But recently Butcher’s been taking a break from the Dresden Files, and while some may prefer the author to be focusing on finally resolving Harry Dresden’s personal quandaries, this doesn’t mean Butcher isn’t also onto a winner with his new series, The Cinder Spires.

Butcher has clearly put a lot more effort into world-building with The Cinder Spires than he really had an opportunity to with the Dresden Files. The first book in the Dresden Files, Storm Front, was Butcher’s writing debut, and set in a slightly supernaturalish version of his own familiar home city, Chicago.

But as with contemporary science fiction and fantasy authors such as Brandon Sanderson before him have done with their own fresh takes on established genres, Butcher appears to have carefully considered the world of the Cinder Spires before settling his characters into it.

The Cinder Spires books introduce what appears to be a future post-apocalyptic Earth, likely scarred by nuclear warfare. Most known inhabitants of this world live above the clouds in floating city-states (the titular ‘spires’), and traverse between them through means of crystal-equipped sailing craft.

It’s basically a crystal-infused version of the 18th century, complete with complex naval battles, strange beasts, forbidden lands and countries which are caught in the nexus between trade and conquest. Oh, and there’s also pirates, duels and the crystals do more than just power the spaceships … one might almost call them ‘magical’.

In the first book of the Cinder Spires, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, Butcher introduced a cast of interesting characters including the battered privateer and airship captain Francis Grimm, the spunky heiress Gwendolyn Lancaster and her half-cat warrior brother Benedict, the soldier recruit Bridget Tagwynn and … a few intelligent actual cats including Bridget’s best friend Rowl.

These same characters, who helped defend their home spire Albion against the predations of the rival spire Aurora in the first book, largely return in The Olympian Affair, for a new story that advances the characters and plotline of the world of the Cinder Spires in a solidly satisfactory manner.

Let’s not beat around the bush here — The Cinder Spires doesn’t paint as grand a narrative as an epic such as The Wheel of Time or A Song of Ice and Fire. The canvas that Butcher is working with is most likely not as large, and the characters likely not as diverse. At least that we know of so far.

However, as with the Dresden Files, there is just so much meat here that The Olympian Affair is hard to put down. It’s a comfort read through and through. I can’t think of many readers who wouldn’t enjoy it.

The characters are put in just enough personal danger to give us a thrill at their chances of survival; the world is just mysterious enough for us to desperately want to know more about its lore and history; and its villains are just deliciously dastardly enough that we chuckle at their witticisms even as we cheer for our heroes to defeat them.

This is what Butcher’s great at — putting meat into his books — and it’s here as well, set against a stage that is potentially much grander than the author used in the Dresden Files.

I did wonder, when I read The Aeronaut’s Windless, whether the world that Butcher created in the Cinder Spires would be sustainable and durable. The characters were great, but the story in that book was a little limited to really get a grasp of what Butcher was planning.

With The Olympian Affair, Butcher has answered this question. His vision is undeed grand enough and his detail fascinating enough to sustain this second series. (And yes, I know Butcher also did have another series — Codex Alera — published through 2004 through 2009. Perhaps I’ll get into that at some point as well.)

The author is planning for The Cinder Spires to be nine volumes. I can’t wait to hear more about Harry Dresden. But until Chicago’s own dark knight arises again for his 18th adventure, I’ll be more than happy to content myself with more from The Cinder Spires. And I strongly suspect you will be too.


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