Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher, Book 14 of the Dresden Files

Harry Dresden is back from the dead, convalescing in the less-than-tender embrace of the Winter Court and newly empowered as the Winter Knight. Winter Court politics are far from easy – especially when Mab, the Winter Queen, seems to be feuding with Maeve, the Winter Lady. And politics in the Winter court come in the form of constant assassination attempts.

Not that he has time for politics. We learn the true nature of his island, Demonreach and that it’s poised to explode and destroy a significant portion of the US – if not more – unless Harry acts. And he has to choose between killing Mab or Maeve – with the bonus of not knowing how to achieve either.

It’s a good thing he has the new power of the Winter Knight – and, even more, the support and strength of his good friends. But there is a darkness that connects all of Harry’s cases and the Nemesis can corrupt anyone.

And the new power of the Winter Knight comes with a cost – it changes people and Harry can feel its influence slowly eroding who he is and turning him into a monster like his predecessor.

I have been looking forward to this book for so long – counting the days. The minute I got my greasy hands on this book I sat down and started reading. Anyone who came near me was treated to the death glare until they retreated to minimum safe distance. I continued to read until the book was finished and I looked up to realise it was now 5:00am. I then spent an extra 10 minutes staring sadly at my Kindle and trying to figure out how to magically make it continue.

This is what Harry Dresden does to me and my sleep patterns.

Just about everything that makes the series one of my favourites was there. We had some amazingly awesome fight scenes, some excellent action and some truly amazing epic. There is no author I have ever read that comes close to packing the amount of blood-fizzing epic into a book as Jim Butcher does in the Harry Dresden series. I find myself torn between not moving my eyes from the page and just needing to move because to the power and pace of what is written. It may not be as epic as riding a Zombie Tyrannosaurus Rex through downtown Chicago – but leading the Wild Hunter and Father Christmas in an amphibious assault against demons is pretty up there. The pacing is electric, the snark is funny to hilarious and it was a joy to read.

But more than just the glorious epic, is the meta development. After 14 books of epic stories and occasional hints it has come together and the Nemesis has been revealed. And it is tying in everything – the previous Summer Lady, Harry’s very first case, the Shadow Council, the courts of the vampires. The Nemesis has had a hand in every previous book and it’s all coming together in a wonderfully complete, epic tapestry. With that has come a considerable amount of world building including expanding the nature of the Outsiders and filling in the role of the Winter Court. We also have a lot of very shiny major powers being expanded and developed – like the Queens of the Courts. These major, epic figures are expanded and heightened that add such excellent flavour to this awesome world.

The side characters in this book were very present but they were largely focused on backing up Harry after his long time comatose/ghostly. After the last book concentrated so much more on them and how they grew in his absence, this was an interesting work to bring them back together and to bring the new, Winter Knight Dresden together with the changed people in his circle. I do think we could have seen more of this – but feel it may come in another book when he doesn’t have 2 – or maybe 3 – life threatening disasters with a very short time line to deal with. I am glad that his friends greeted him without the drama of “ZOMG YOU LEFT US!” which is so common in the genre

And the big romance with Murphy – acknowledged and road blocked again! Aaaaaaie, so frustrating.

Unfortunately, everything that makes me curse and spit about the Harry Dresden series was also there, in spades. The Dresden Files don’t have the best record with women and this book certainly doesn’t improve matters.

First of all, every woman in this book is extremely attractive and yes Harry notices. And this is a problem with the whole series, are there no women in Chicago Harry doesn’t find attractive? I can’t picture being attracted to every member of a gender. I mean, even some guys who are extremely attractive just, for random reasons, don’t push my buttons. So why has Harry never met a woman that didn’t make the blood rush to his second head? Even the 18 inch flying pixie was described as sexy. Which is another thing – can we not have these endless descriptions of the sexiness? And especially of Molly, I don’t care how many times Dresden acknowledges that her being an apprentice makes her off limits and how creepy it is to lust over someone you knew as a child – you can’t throw that in as a proviso and then do just that. “It would be totally creepy to lust after her – now let me describe how much I lust after her.”  Well, you were right, it is creepy.

Which brings us to the Mantle of the Winter Knight. As the Winter Knight, Dresden has a power boost but also gets some dark and terrible urges. Winter is cold and predatory and murderous. So, I’d be totally ok with the short temper, with the anger, with the constant urge to hunt and kill – even just because. Because that’s winter, the eternal predator. That’s what winter is. But why is Winter also the eternal rapist? What, in the name of all that is sensible, did that add to the story? Do you think Harry having to fight the urge to rip out throats left, right and centre wouldn’t have been enough? Do you think him having to stop himself from attacking anyone who dared to challenge or question him wouldn’t have been evil enough or enough proof of how corrupting the Winter Mantle is? Harry constantly fighting down the urge to rape every woman around him was gratuitous, vile and completely unnecessary.

In terms of race, this highly erased series continues to be highly erased. We had an appearance by the Gatekeeper to be powerful, distant and inscrutable and that was about it. We had continuing GBLT erasure only for some utterly bizarre reason, Titiana, the Queen of Summer and Harry decide to have a debate on the morality of being gay (complete with lots of judginess, completely ignorant understanding of the closet, why guys are hooking up and yet more judginess) in the middle of a gay cruising area. If you’re not going to include GBLT people in your exceedingly long series, at least don’t use the community as a way of making a tangential point. We do continue having Justine bringing home women for a threesome with Thomas – because Thomas can’t touch Justine. So potential female bisexuality for the enjoyment of a man.

The terrible issues with marginalised people bother me more in the Dresden Files than they do with most books. Because these books are epic. They are awesome. They are easily in my top ten series. And then I read them and constantly have to cringe at these inexcusable fails and erasures. I want to fanpoodle!