Best-selling author Jim Butcher’s most famous series is the Dresden Files, but here’s a treat for fans beyond that ongoing contemporary fantasy: The Olympian Affair, the second entry in his Cinder Spires steampunk series, is arriving in November—eight years after it began with The Aeronaut’s Windlass.
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io9 is excited to share a first look at the cover, along with an excerpt, from The Olympian Affair. Here’s a summary of the plot for some context:
For centuries the Cinder Spires have safeguarded humanity, rising far above the deadly surface world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses rule, developing scientific marvels and building fleets of airships for defense and trade.
Now, the Spires hover on the brink of open war.
Everyone knows it’s coming. The guns of the great airship fleets that control the skies between the last bastions of humanity will soon speak in anger, and Spire Albion stands alone against the overwhelming might of Spire Aurora’s Armada and its new secret weapon–one capable of destroying the populations of entire Spires.
A trading summit at Spire Olympia provides an opportunity for the Spirearch, Lord Albion, to secure alliances that will shape the outcomes of the war, and to that end he dispatches privateer Captain Francis Madison Grimm and the crew of the AMS Predator to bolster the Spirearch’s diplomatic agents.
It will take daring, skill, and no small amount of showmanship to convince the world to stand with Spire Albion—assuming that it is not already too late.
Here’s the full cover of The Olympian Affair—as well as a look at a brand-new cover design for the first book in the series, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, which is getting a trade-paperback release on October 3. Keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from The Olympian Affair, which comes out November 7.
Colonel Renaldo Espira, resplendent in his gold-and-scarlet dress uniform, stalked through the streets of Flamecrest, uppermost habble of Spire Aurora. Though the city-sized space could have housed far more people than it did, it was more of a royal palace in itself, beneath the lean, hungry rule of His Majesty, Juan Francesco Tuscarora del Aurora, Spirearch of Aurora and master of her scarlet-bannered Armada.
Flamecrest had changed in his time in the Armada’s service, Espira reflected, and not for the better. The Ashen Halls of the Armada, headquarters of the service, remained as they had always been, stark and spartan and gloomy—but the rest of Flamecrest blazed with the light of hundreds of thousands of brilliant lumin crystals. They flashed and rippled through various colors and patterns, as always, though the artists the palace chose to arrange the specific palette of light had grown steadily more unrestrained in their tastes, and the current light arrangement created an uncomfortable suggestion of the buildings of Flamecrest blazing in a smokey inferno.
Espira’s nostrils flared. The smoke was all coming from the new vatteries. Acres of space had been cleared and devoted exclusively to the new masonry buildings, which produced red light and black smoke in equal measure, and was where the new ember-colored crystals were produced in numbers far greater than should have been possible. The new vatteries stank. Greasy, chemical-smelling smoke lingered in a semi-opaque pall on the floor for a block in every direction around them, and the air smelled of acrid things that would sear the flesh and burn the eyes if exposed to them.
The Ash Guards walking in a box formation around Espira marched him past the vatteries—but instead of turning down the street toward the palace, they took him on a different route, passing the palace and the Ministry of Intelligence and clear on to the Etheric University.
Espira shuddered as they passed through the copper-clad steel gates of the university.
His stomach twisted and turned as memories of two years past flashed through his mind. Cold and smoke and fire and blood—and sometimes outright horror, all centered around the calm face of the most terrifying etherealist Espira had ever met.
“Someone looks like he’s eaten from a tainted batch of meat,” murmured a woman’s voice.
There was a motion in one of the severe, gloomy alleys between buildings—the brightest lights resulted in the darkest shadows, Espira supposed, and a lean woman as tall as most men appeared from them. She wasn’t a great beauty, but there was a rakish, magnetic quality to her that more than compensated. She wore aeronaut’s leathers over a man’s tunic. Her face and neck showed an aeronaut’s light-beaten skin, and crossed belts on her hips carried half a dozen compact pistols along with a broad-bladed fighting knife.
“Captain Ransom,” Colonel Espira said stiffly.
She fluttered her eyelashes at him in a parody of coquettish behavior. “Oh, please, heroic Colonel, call me Calliope. Aren’t you pleased to see me?”
She opened her mouth as if shocked, and then grinned widely. “How rude.”
“I thought I had best take the opportunity to do so now,” he said, “as I might not have much opportunity in the future.”
Captain Ransom’s smile became brittle. “Ah, that explains your expression, then. Intelligence often results in a sour stomach when one can see what is coming.” She fell into pace beside Espira, taking long, confident strides.
“You’ve been summoned, too,” Espira said, frowning.
“In my experience,” Captain Ransom said, “the reward for a job well done is generally to be given a more difficult job. The fastest ship in the sky is at Spire Aurora’s disposal. For the proper price, of course.”
Espira frowned at the woman. She dressed and comported herself like a barbarian from Pike, but she clearly had wit and an education as well. She had chosen to discard the mores of modern society. If doing so had disturbed her confidence, it didn’t show. He had to look up at Ransom slightly to frown in disapproval, of which he disapproved.
“Second fastest,” he said diffidently, “according to my observations.”
Something stiff slid up her spine, but her smile didn’t change. “We shall see.” She gave him a look that said she had guessed the general direction of his thoughts, and her smile became sunny and sharp again. “Go ahead,” she said. “Ask.”
“Ask what?” Espira said, as politely as possible.
“Whatever it is that’s rattling around in there,” she responded, affably enough. “Colonel, you may be a capable commander, but I advise you strongly against playing cards.”
Espira straightened his spine and sighed. “Have you seen the madwoman, since Albion?”
Ransom chewed on one side of her lower lip for a moment before answering. “Colonel,” she said finally, “the answer to that question could be worth your life. Do you want it?”
Espira cocked an eyebrow at the woman.
If she hadn’t seen the etherealist, there’d be no reason to be evasive—so she’d given an answer to him without actually giving it to him.
“I get in less trouble when I keep my teeth together,” he said. “You would, too.”
Ransom tilted her head back and laughed, and damn the woman, it made Espira want her to do it again. “How likely does that seem to you, Colonel?”
“About as likely as me being given a quiet post at the academy after being summoned to Flamecrest in the middle of the night, Captain.” He paused. “Or you being hired for honest work.”
She laughed again. “I have no objection to honest work, provided it doesn’t get in the way of business.” She narrowed her eyes. “Have you met Tuscarora?”
“His Majesty?” Espira asked. He quieted a flutter in his belly and touched his fingers lightly to the Star of Gallantry, Aurora’s second-highest military honor, pinned in golden glory on his left breast as the highlight of his commendations. “Only during the award ceremony. I’ve never spoken to him.”
“We didn’t speak the first time I met him, either,” Ransom said, though her tone filled the sentence with wry, lazy libido. “Stay in my shadow, and I’ll give you what cover I can.”
The Ash Guards paused at the gates to the university. Passwords were exchanged and the gates slowly rolled up. Espira fought off a yawn. Then they were through the gates and walking through the silent campus, past the row of dormitory buildings, through the amphitheater, and into the teaching and research halls. The guards took them to an inconspicuous building whose door was heavily fortified. This password exchange took longer, but eventually the doors were unbolted and opened, and the group proceeded into the spirestone building.
They were taken to the basement. Espira had rarely been on the campus and never in this building, but from what he could see of the laboratories and workshops they passed, he guessed that they were in the School of Medicine.
The guards took them up a couple of staircases, down a nondescript hallway, past two more checkpoints of squads of the black-robed Ash Guard, and into the observation seating of a surgical theater.
Inside were only three people.
The center of the surgical floor was occupied by an enormous glass tank full of what looked like water. A man stood beside the tank, before some kind of control panel, his hand on a brass dial. Cables ran from the control panel to long copper rods that thrust down into the tank and the fluid it contained. He was head and shoulders taller than average, like most warriorborn, and by the same token his build was both athletic and muscular. Hair stood sparsely upon his head, face, and neck, and upon the visible surface of his large hands, all clipped to about the same short length, like some kind of bipedal spider. His feline eyes, able to see in the darkness with perfect clarity, were set at slightly different angles, and it was difficult to tell on what they were focused. His bare arms were steady on the controls and covered in a tapestry of pockmarks, each one raised from the skin beneath it and shaped roughly like the tip of Espira’s little finger. His name was Sark.
A woman floated in the tank, submerged completely. An air hose had been run into the water, and her lips were sealed around its mouthpiece. Dark hair as long as her body drifted like a storm cloud around her, lifted by some kind of current emanating from the bottom of the tank. She was as innocent of clothing as a newborn—and some . . . thing . . . was in the tank with her.
It looked like an amorphous blob of urine-colored gelatin, moving slowly. It might have passed for some kind of oceanic debris, except that it was moving against the current in places, and it had wrapped its translucent body completely around the woman in the tank, folding her gently into its very form.
The woman twisted one hand so it was palm up and lifted it, and in response, Sark turned the dial slowly higher.
Suddenly she thrashed, her body arching in a weird paroxysm that struck Espira as both arousing and utterly unsettling. Her body strained against some unseen force, gathering in tension and seemingly helpless motion—and then suddenly convulsed, her mouth opening in a scream that spat the mouthpiece of the breathing tube clear of her lips and sent a thick, dense column of bubbles rushing toward the surface.
Madame Sycorax Cavendish, master etherealist and agent of Spire Aurora, writhed in either pain or ecstasy; Espira could not tell which.
“God in Heaven,” Captain Ransom breathed from beside Espira. “The lunatic did it. She actually did it.”
Sark lifted his hand from the dial and turned toward the tank.
“No,” said the third man in the room calmly. He was seated in a cushioned chair that had evidently been brought into the surgical bay so that he could watch the procedure from extremely close range. “She will not die for minutes at the least. I want her to have control for as long as possible.”
Sark paused and stared hard at the man for a moment.
Then he subsided and returned dutifully to his station.
In the tank, Madame Cavendish thrashed, screaming in silence, bubbles eventually slowing and thinning.
Excerpted from THE OLYMPIAN AFFAIR by Jim Butcher published by Ace, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 by Jim Butcher
The Olympian Affair by Jim Butcher will be released November 7; you can pre-order a copy here.
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