Wednesday, November 25, 2015

REVIEW | Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2012
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Dresden Files #14
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: James Marsters

Why?:  Because despite my occasional grumbling I ADORE this series and I was determined to catch up with all the books (as of this date there are 15 published).

Whenever I read a Dresden Files novel I feel like I am reading two different books and that each one is giving me a vastly different reading experience.  It's a bizarre feeling.  I grumble and curse and even rant from time to time while reading but when I close the back cover, I usually feel quite satisfied and happy with the ride I've been on.  I can't decide if this effect the books have on me is good or bad but I do suspect it is only this way for a "special" kind of reader.  In this context special is not necessarily a positive.  My view of these books' fans is this: there are readers who read the books for the adventure, the interesting lore, the non-stop heart-pounding action and the snark.  They do not wonder about Harry's romantic leanings, they may relish the lascivious descriptions of buxom ladies, they enjoy the characters but don't spend a lot of time thinking about their emotional life.  I sadly am not that reader.  I love the lore and non-stop action but I also can't help dissecting all the character's motivations and relationships, particularly Harry's.  Being this "special" kind of reader makes for a volatile reading experience but in the end it's worth it.  I think.  Check back with me after the next 6 books are published.

With all that said SPOILERS AHOY!  I found it impossible to talk about this book without revealing some pretty major spoilers for the two previous books because while it is book 14 in the wider series it is also the third in a trilogy of linked books that tell one big long story arc.  This arc started with Changes, continues through Ghost Story and ends with this installment.  I don't think there is too much spoilery about this book but there are definitely spoilers regarding Changes and Ghost Story.


All the spoiler phobics gone?  Okay.  So Harry's not dead! Yay!  But he is now officially Queen Mabs's Winter Knight. Damn.  This is a huge change for Harry because he's used to being Mr. Loose-Cannon-I'll-Do-Whatever-Feels-Right-To-Me-Because-I-Answer-To-No-One.  He now answers to someone and is in fact required to do what Queen Mab tells him to do.  On the up side the winter knight gig imbues him with super strength and endurance however these enhanced abilities have a downside as well.  A pretty serious one and one of the main conflicts in the book is Harry's better nature fighting against the strong instinctive and primitive feelings that come along with being the Winter Knight.  

While Harry is adjusting to his new powers as well as the extra libido and violence it comes with, Mab gives him his first assignment and it's a doozy: to kill an immortal.  Of course Harry eats these types of impossible tasks for breakfast these days but this one comes with a whole lot of political ramifications and ends with a great big shake up to the Fairy, as well as, once again, to Harry's, world. 

There was much to like here.  Harry has a lot to deal with on top of his assignment from Mab and the other world-ending things going down. He is struggling with how to re-connect with his loved ones after almost a year of being "dead" and unsure how they will accept his new status as winter knight.   It's cool and intriguing to get a more immersive look at the fairy world which becomes more morally ambiguous with each glimpse.  We learn a little something about Harry; that his most primitive instincts are pretty scary and a little vile but Harry knows this about himself and the thing that makes him, him is that he chooses to act quite differently.  It becomes harder with the winter knighthood giving those instincts strength but he manages to keep them in check.  The book does a nice job of wrapping up the "three part episode" here in the middle of the series, effectively establishing the new Dresden world order while still leaving a lot of questions and conflicts to carry the series forward.

As per usual, the action and the conflict are piled high and the ending action sequence in this book may have been one of my favorites.  It features the Wild Hunt, Kris Kringle and a flying motorcycle driven by a kick-ass Murphy.  Murphy and Dresden make a fantastic team as they take down bad guys and work together flawlessly.  It killed me that Murphy negated the whole awesome action scene by interpreting it as two people destructively egging each other on.

Which brings me to the things that made me curse and gnash my teeth.  The first roughly quarter of this book is pure dude fantasy land.  There is not one but two gorgeous naked women not to mention a "hot nurse" type all of whom want a piece of Harry and all of which are described in lush, lascivious detail.  Being not a dude, I mostly just rolled my eyes during much of this section and I should note that I think it did have a purpose; making it clear that Harry's libido has been ramped into overdrive by becoming the Winter Knight.  It is also worth noting that despite many lustful thoughts about all the beautiful ladies (including Molly later on in what I found to be a very squicky scene/conversation), he does not act on them.  Also?  None of these lustful thoughts are directed at Murphy despite the fact that at the end of Changes he had decided to pursue a more romantic agenda with Murphy.  More about that later however in a special section for weirdos like me who are obsessed with Harry's love life:).

I also, because of my card carrying Murphy fan girl status, hate that Murphy really screws things up in the end.  She doesn't understand all the supernatural rules and machinations and so ends up making a very bad call.  No one blames her for this even a little.  It is not even discussed but I wonder if it is Butcher illustrating that Murphy is in over her head.  Perhaps not as over her head as most ordinary mortals would be but still out of her league.  

Overall the book is a deep one for the Dresden universe.  All three books in the trilogy are.  They are intensely emotional, and the stakes are particularly high.  Dresden is getting farther and farther away from the modest Wizard P.I. from the beginning of the series.  At the finish, there was no doubt I immediately wanted more.

James Marsters is back reading the audio book and it made me so happy.  He really is absolutely the perfect voice for these books. He's got Harry and the tone of  the books down flat.  I highly recommend the audio.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book is intense and more action-packed even then usual, so be prepared for a wild and crazy ride.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

Special Section for the Special Dresden Files Reader - Harry's Romantic Life

So I implied up top that special in this context was not particularly positive but just between you and me?  We're awesome:).  My interest and engagement in Harry's relationships adds a level of anxiety and frustration to reading the series, causing me to take over-the-top ranty notes, but it also adds mystery and some depth to the books. 

So what's up with Harry and his "feelings"?  Back in Changes, just before Harry died, he and Murphy had crossed a line.  They had decided to go on a date or at least hang out together with carnal intentions.  Ghost Story left me scratching my head when Harry left Murphy crying her damn eyes out with grief at losing him with little more than a shrug on his part.  Cold Days muddies the waters even further.  Murphy is practically the only woman in this book Harry does NOT lust after, or at least the reader isn't privy to his lustful thoughts.  As he spends time at the Winter Court, he seems to spare nary a thought for her while he develops tender feelings for his nurse.  So umm... what the hell?

Later, there is a great scene at Molly's place where Murphy asks Dresden some hard questions and is awesome and shows how much she cares.  She will push him and question him when no one else will. Shortly after, however, he and Molly have a conversation where Molly tells him that she can tell how much he wants her and that he doesn't have to hold back, he can have her (while my skin crawls with the serious squickies).  Harry of course has no thought like, "I may find Molly sexually attractive but the person I want to be with is Murphy so not gonna happen".  Nope.  He says it's not gonna happen because it would just be wrong for him to take advantage of Molly.  No kidding but is that the only reason?  Really?

Finally there's the end.  First, Dresden and Murphy have a great scene fighting bad guys on a flying motorcycle (see above) at the end of which they kiss.  A few hours later they sit down and have the most frustrating talk ever where Murphy says she needs time alone to think because she's worried about a) that she's an ordinary woman who will get old and die, while Harry will stay young and live much longer b) that they both like violence too much and they feed each others bad sides and c) Molly and feelings she suspects Harry has for her.  Harry's response in general is basically "okay". No strong denial of having feelings for Molly, no re-assurances that he cares for Murphy and they can deal with the aging thing and the getting off on violence thing together; just yeah you are probably right about all that so see you later.  It is so insanely ambiguous and frustrating for a Murphy-Dresden 'shipper.  Of which I may be the sole crew member.  Seriously, internet searching reveals that most Dresden Files fans either a) don't care about the lovey-dovey stuff lets get back to blowing things up or b) like the idea of Harry and Molly together or to a smaller extent some of his other ex-girlfriends. 

So what the hell is Butcher up to with all this lovey dovey stuff?  I have no idea and I think that is the way he'd like to keep it.  He has set up this triangle with Murphy and Molly and I fear that he is setting up Murphy as just one more traumatic loss for Harry before he finds true love and partnership with Molly.  If he does go this way, I'm not sure if I'd be able to continue reading.  Harry and Molly together makes me feel super uncomfortable and Murphy is my absolute favorite character in the books, probably even more than Harry.  The thing that keeps things so vague is that we almost never see Harry's inner thoughts about Murphy - we do about Molly and many of them are lascivious - but not Murphy.  Butcher might do this to, in fact, keep people guessing but I do have some other, perhaps overly hopeful thoughts.  Harry is not someone who has sex lightly.  He has a LOT of appreciative thoughts about women's bodies and is attracted to many but he never acts on those urges.  He only sleeps with women he cares about.  Murphy is practically the only woman in the series that doesn't get described, in Dresden's mind, in lascivious detail, as a sexual being.  My one hopeful thought is that this is an indicator that Harry's romantic feelings for Murphy are deeper and more substantial than they are for other women including Molly.  There are a lot of beautiful women in these books, a LOT, but the women Dresden has dated and loved have never been the most beautiful ones.  They are the ones he connected with in a different way.  Hmm... we'll see.  I have probably now officially given this much deeper thought than Butcher has ;0). 

There are further developments in the next book Skin Game so until then, that's all for the Murphy Files.

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