(It would be impossible to write this without some ‘spoiler’ information. Short version, go buy the Dresden Files series and you won’t be disappointed).
A year ago, I reviewed Ghost Story, the 13th book in the long running ‘Dresden Files’ series and expressed the opinion that it was the first time that I was less than impressed with the series. It wasn’t that it was bad. It was just that it was a quieter more introspective book. It moved the storyline forward and had some really good individual scenes but it had the misfortune of coming after what I thought was the strongest book of the series. I basically gave author Jim Butcher a pass but I suspect that a small part of me worried that it was the beginning of a long downward slide. Many long-running series got worse as time went on. Jim Butcher has already gone on record as saying that he had twenty-three total books (20 + a final capstone trilogy) planned for Dresden and perhaps he had let his story finally get away from him.
I am happy to report that I was wrong because the latest Dresden book, Cold Days, is one of the best of the series.
Harry Dresden is back from the dead and ready to meet his obligation as Queen Mab’s Winter Knight. The early scenes of the book are devoted to Harry’s training and introduction to Mab’s Court and the setting up of the big challenge/conflict of the book back in mortal Chicago. A whole lot happens but this book happens to do a good job of keeping the central conflict interesting. One minor quibble with Harry’s past challenges are they have often been predictable enough that you could guess the outcome several chapters in advance. This book managed to keep me guessing on who the villain actually was and then once it became clear who it was, I had no idea how the final confrontation would play out come the ending.
And oh what an ending! It was easily one of the two best endings of the series. The villain was defeated but the manner of the defeat, the cost of the victory, and the implications for the final books of the series was unexpected and jaw-dropping. It would have been one thing if the cost of victory was the death of a major character (a major character died). Instead, several characters were irrevocably changed. The cost of victory was necessary, but brutally high.
The book also managed to pull off another trick that in retrospect, I am pretty impressed by. Butcher had stated that the main adversary for the remainder of the series would be introduced in this novel and that it would frame everything that went on before. As much as I enjoyed Dresden’s books and respected Butchers ability to entertain, I had my doubts. I suspected that Butcher had gotten several books into his series before he decided on an overarching plot. After finishing reading this novel, I think I have to revise my opinion and say that he may have had the overarching plot in mind much earlier in the series than I suspected, quite possibly as early as the 3rd book in the series. I found that when Mother Summer finally laid it out for Harry, everything made sense and more important, Butcher had not cheated. He had pulled it off and it all makes sense…and the stakes are only the end of the world.
I am very much looking forward to the next book (Butcher releases them once a year). There are a huge number of juicy threads lying out there right now: How long is Harry going to remain in exile? What is going to be the Adversary’s next move? How is Harry’s relationship with Molly going to be after what happened? How are the Carpenters going to react when they find out what happened to their daughter? What is going to be the fallout with Summer once Titania finds out what Harry did? These are only a few of the lingering questions that are out there that need to be addressed.
In my last review, I categorized the Dresden novels as escapist fiction but I think I am selling it short. Over the course of 14 books, Butcher has become a better story teller and writer. The initial books were good humored urban fantasy chock full of pop culture references and lots of action. More witty and entertaining than the Sookie Stackhouse novels but related nevertheless. That being said, the Dresden books have matured past anything written by Laurell Hamilton or Charlaine Harris. It is hard to read about Sookie Stackhouse or Anita Blake’s latest relationship clusterfuck with oh so tragic, hip and ravishingly handsome Monsters when Dresden is out there trying to save the world and suffering real consequences in the process. I highly recommend picking this series up for that reason alone.