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Cold Days by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #14) {allusions to plot hooks, no spoilers} Cannoli Send a noteboard - 30/11/2012 04:40:58 AM
The Fourteenth Book of the Dresden Files is a definite improvement on its predecessor, Ghost Story, which was more of a transitional book as the situation of the character has undergone a radical alteration of his setting and status. It is possible that upon retroactive consideration, this volume also improves GS by proving to have consummated issues and details brought forth in that one.

Anyway, while I am not qualified to discuss the literary merits, there is one point I would like to talk about. A while ago, on this or the wotmania equivalent board, someone asked about what the point of worldbuilding was in fantasy. I think this book proves the utility of the same, in that a lot of the enjoyment of the book rests on having more than a dozen novels of world-built background in the details of the Dresden-verse and how it works. There does seem to be less in the way of explaining the mechanics of magic (aside from the usual refreshing of details, like “magic has trouble with water,” or “wizards ruin technology” ), and more character-driven, rather than magic-driven plot threads than prior books. I think that is the payoff of the extensive world-building of the earlier books.

The characters established over a dozen books also pay off in the in-jokes and characteristic humor, and the effect a secondary character's fate can have on the reader. Also, unlike most of the other books, it isn’t really a flurry of horrible adversaries and situations showing up at once, but more about the internal issues with which Harry grapples. While there is a supernatural threat to both the physical world (as in Summer Knight, the first book involving the warring courts of Faerie), and a crisis threatening the structure of the supernatural world, the real story at work is about the nature of power and the human response to it, as well as the inherent threat of corruption.

Furthermore, revelations about the nature of the overall antagonistic force of the series suggest a more character-driven and internalized tone for the remainder (6-10 more books, according to Butcher’s estimations in prior interviews). It also seems to me that the books are becoming less standalone, and more serialized than the prior novels, up until the appropriately-named Changes (book 12).

This book, like Changes, features major changes in the status quo in the supernatural world and for at least one character, in a way that is sure to significantly affect the story as a whole. A new potential threat is set up for Harry in the resolution of this book's crisis, and previously glossed-over but hinted-at issues are established as significant threats down the road. The previously established practice of giving Harry a cool aspect or feature which is a huge source of trouble at the same time is continued in a big way (let’s just say that this makes Lasciel’s shadow in Harry’s head seem like a trivial toy and minor inconvenience by comparison). The plot of the book seems relatively self-contained, but feels like it almost plays second fiddle to the on-going development of the characters, which is definitely a to-be-continued story. Despite shaking up the Dresden-verse more than any other book aside from the climax of Changes, this could in no way be considered a finished chapter/closed-case in Harry’s career

The revelations of the Big Bad and how it has influenced the increasingly retroactively connected events of the series prove either just how talented Butcher is at the ret-con business, or how much effort he has been putting into setting up that villain as far back as Grave Peril, ten books ago. This novel is not just the payoff to threads in Changes, or to Ghost Story, it is the payoff to things from Summer Knight, from Grave Peril, from Blood Rites, from Dead Beat, from Proven Guilty, from White Night, and from Small Favor.

As for details of the story & characters themselves, in a non-spoilerish way:

- Eventually over the course of the books, we get to see Murphy, Thomas, Molly, Butters, the faerie queens and a few other supporting characters, though Marcone, the Carpenters, the White Council and White Court (barring the aforementioned exceptions) are pretty much absent, so fans of those groups shouldn’t get their hopes up. It probably also says something about Harry’s new situation that at least half of his reunions with his supporting cast involve ambushes or getting held at weapon-point. The relationships of most of the characters with Harry are different, largely due to the changes in their circumstances since his “death” though there is none of the forced antagonism I was half-fearing. Respect is paid to the history of the characters and to their experiences since their last encounters with each other.

There are not many new characters introduced, and most of those who are, are merely expansions of previously established casts, basically just new Faeries.

One aberrant note is Molly’s situation. Radically altered since she was portrayed in Ghost Story, not much of an explanation is given, and we are left to wonder if this was the end result of her educational experiences as depicted in the last book, her interactions with Harry in the same, or something else that happened in the interim. A reference to a specific event set after Ghost Story suggests a forthcoming short story by Butcher might fill in some of the blanks, but you could not have really extrapolated her current character and material situation from the end of Ghost Story. Nor, for that matter, Murphy’s. In fact, neither character really tracks with what we saw of them in the previous book.

- And speaking of Ghost Story, despite what I said earlier about possibly being thematically consummated in Cold Days, not a lot of events from that book are continued. If you went right from Changes to Cold Days, you wouldn’t feel like you missed much, aside from a few brief references to events and background introduced in that book. The major players from GS, like Fritz, the ghost world and the new alliance among Harry’s friends are barely even alluded to or absent entirely. Honestly, Butcher could have swapped out the book for a short story or novella covering Molly’s arc in GS, to provide Harry with the lessons about teaching and responsibility, and bring the readers up to speed on how his friends managed in his absence. The circular mystery of his murder and the adventures with the street kids, Mort and the Dead Beat villains were kind of pointless to the rest of the story. Maybe that book should have just focused on Molly, included her so-far unknown adventures in between GS & CD, and trimmed a lot more of the fat out of GS (and/or shortened the 2½ year wait between Changes and Cold Days).

- The stuff about prior world-building should not be taken to mean there is not as much in this book. Rather we get an expansion of previously established stuff, and the first clear glimpse at the connecting and overall enemy for the series, as well as the explanation for how the oft-cited examples of villainy encountered by Harry over the series connect to one another and the ultimate threat. We also get a hint about the meaning of the oft-used expletive “empty night”.

Among the details revealed or expanded upon in Cold Days, include
- the ultimate purpose of the two courts of Faerie (and by extension, it can be extrapolated why they involve themselves in non-Faeries matters, such as their occasional aid to the wizards, or the Unseelie Accords)
- the purpose and origin of Demonreach island (IMO, if the “Lost” island was way, way more badass, it would be Demonreach)
- the significance of a lot of details and glimpses of things shown regarding the Winter Court and the Leanansidhe which mostly happened off-camera, as it were.
- the source of the headaches that have been randomly bothering Harry for the last few books (though technically, that source was actually mentioned in an offhand comment in Ghost Story)
- the real significance of Halloween in the Dresden-verse
- the importance of Harry Dresden himself, and why various powers, particularly those in Faerie have taken such an interest in him over the course of his career (yes, wiping out the Red Court was pretty much batting practice compared to the implied role he has coming up).
- the identity and true nature of Santa Claus (well, they can’t ALL be world-shattering revelations).

Overall, this book is where the series is really starting to pay off for the long-time reader, and where the haphazard skimmers who appreciate the episodic nature of the series should pretty much bail out. I don't think it's too hard to follow if you have not been paying attention up until now - enough reminders are put in that should cover people who don't recall the details of say, Aurora's death, or the battle at Arctis Tor - but for those who HAVE been paying attention to the details and trying to puzzle out the oblique references and hints given thus far, the book is really satisfying. I also think that from here (or maybe the previous two books) on out, the individual books have to be considered as portions of a whole, rather than standalone works. Where most of the first 10-12 books could be viewed either way, with a roughly equal success rate from either perspective, I have the feeling that things are getting too big to fit in a self-contained narrative. Or maybe I'm wrong, and this was simply the final portion of a mid-series internal trilogy, after which the self-contained plots will reassert themselves. I'm looking forward to the next one more than just about any other book, and not in the "WTF?! A cliffhanger?!" sense of Changes, or the "Good, now on with the real series" sense of Ghost Story.

Delta out of Q7 stars (Cannoli cares not for quantifiable grading systems! )
Cannoli
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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Cold Days by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #14) {allusions to plot hooks, no spoilers} - 30/11/2012 04:40:58 AM 5669 Views
Agreed - 30/11/2012 04:51:27 PM 634 Views
Gah, I need to find a bookstore today *NM* - 01/12/2012 01:23:47 PM 308 Views

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