The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis opens with an aerial battle between the combined fleets of the Azure Admiralty and the infamous super-dreadnought "The Golden Aegis", platform of a series of mass atrocities inflicted on the world by its creator, the mad genius Absalohm. Not to spoil anything, but the Admiralty Armada is hopelessly outgunned. The opening is super-strong (I bought the book immediately after Westland figured out the fleet admiral's plan to destroy the Aegis), and throughout the story the airship battles are highlights.
The story then jumps ahead in time, taking up the story of Baen Harlan, brother to an officer serving under the Admiralty Captain whose POV opened the novel. Baen is a Mal Reynolds type figure on a Serenity type boat--a man with an angsty past doing everything he can to keep his ship and crew together.
Although the novel wouldn't show strongly in a direct comparison to Firefly, I still enjoyed the interactions between the various crew members as they grappled with the implications of the hunted boy Jack on board the Silverhearth. The world-building is solid, and the dynamics of the Sha Mercantile, the Admiralty, and the Corsair Fleet, provide interesting terrain for Bael & company to navigate.
The villain is one creepy bastard and he holds all the cards: wealth, ships, information, and hired guns. The heroes, meanwhile, are trying to scrape by in a beat-up airship two generations out of date, with half a tank of gas and only vague idea of where they should try to run next. This sounds like it should be a set-up for an exciting story, and it is.
Cons: the novel felt like it needed the loving hand of an editor to trim it down a bit--scenes usually ran long, and a couple, such as the tale of the unfortunate former-prisoner Jacob Hadrick, could have been dispensed with entirely. Aegis is also desperately in need of copy-editing--not unusual for a self-published book, but still a pity.
Much of what doesn't work in this novel could be remedied with support from a publisher. I will cross my fingers that Rhyme finds an audience and we can look forward to a nicely-edited Book Two. I will be on the lookout for it. A possi, Av esseh!