Cold Days by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ll admit to a lot of trepidation about reading the latest Dresden book. I didn’t particularly care that much for the last one and on the whole, I’m not overjoyed at the direction Harry is going in. That said, it would have been impossible not to read this given where the last one ended. I’m just going to say this now. This whole review is one big spoiler. If you’ve not read the book yet, you might want to skip this review.
Now this was much more like it. If not for a couple of things, I might even have given it five stars. This recaptures some of the fun of the earlier novels. It opens with Harry in Arctis Tor being rehabbed by a nurse named Sarissa who seems to be a human changeling at risk from Mab, the Winter queen and the rest of the baddies in Winter. This was a bit slowish with Mab trying to kill him daily because she doesn’t want a Winter Knight who is weak. (in fact, it takes a full 50 pages before thoughts of his friends and family even cross his mind) It culminates on Harry’s near-Halloween birthday where Mab gives him his first job as Winter Knight: kill her daughter Mab.
Harry returns to Chicago puzzled by this. Maeve is a sadist with psychosexual derangements without a doubt but he doesn’t want to kill her out of hand. Moreover, he wants to know why Mab wants her daughter dead. Worse, he’s slowly realizing that the Winter mantle shares Maeve’s sadistic psychosexual derangements (and Butcher picked some real peaches out of the serial killer/rapist line to have been former Knights). There is much ado made about Harry’s internal battle with his new faerie nature which mostly manifests as pure need, domination and lust directed at the women in his life (a bit too much is made of it and honestly, I thought it should have been balanced with a bit of competition with Thomas because two alpha males can’t occupy the same space without whipping it out to see who’s is larger and it would be exactly what I’d expect of Winter Knight.)
Harry begins to reestablish contact with his friends and family albeit reluctantly with the idea that he is a danger to him, especially since Maeve and her men are after him. Toots and the little people brigade are quick to return and Molly has had a turn around since he last saw her. She is now very willing and able to help him out, no longer the teen apprentice. She’s carved out her own niche and helps him out as he has nothing but the clothes on his back at this point.
Harry needs to go to Demonreach, the island in Lake Michigan. He feels it calling. Molly helps but as they take Harry and Thomas’s boat, they learn the vampire has been called there and isn’t too keen on believing that Harry is Harry. When he comes to terms with it, Thomas very rightfully calls Harry out on the whole Winter Knight thing and arranging his own murder (if this was clear last book, I totally forgot it) so he wouldn’t be a monster like Thomas. If there was one thing that was almost pitch perfect in the novel, it was the brothers back together again.
As if Maeve and Mab weren’t problematic enough, Demonreach manifests itself to tell Harry the real purpose of the island. Merlin had made it as a prison for the worst things in this dimension and out of it. Harry is now the warden and someone is trying to engineer a jail break at some point in time which will culminate on Halloween, the time with the faerie will walk freely one earth. The one time Maeve will be vulnerable to his attack.
Finally, at mid-point Karrin Murphy joins the team (seriously, half way almost to the page). She’s been working out with the Valkyrie. I’m not sure what she’s doing for money since she’s no longer a cop. With most of the team reassembled, they set out to do what they do best, fight impossible battles. It gets one level more difficult when Maeve and Lily, the Summer Lady, reveal to Harry that there is something in the background, infecting people and making them go bad. Maeve claims Mab is its victim, making a very good case for it. Then things really go sideways when things from beyond the dimensions begin to arrive just in time for the final Halloween showdown.
It’s a long novel, over 500 pages. It moves fast. Butcher does that very well. There is almost NO break in the action. Sometimes it’s almost too much, no time to catch your breath. That said, I didn’t really like the ending. I don’t want to give that away. I’ll just say this. I actually liked Molly for once until the final plot twist for her. I wanted to bang my head on that one. Yes it’s very complicated and all but it’s something I didn’t really want to see (i.e. more Molly in a more important role). I did like that Karrin and Harry start making some progress on their relationship. I liked the snarky humor. I loved seeing Harry go toe to toe with one particular winter elf with a fondness for red.
I was less thrilled with the repetition of Winter Knight’s sadistic sexual thoughts. It might have been repeated once or twice too often but it did set up what Harry could become. He would be a bigger predator than his brother. Unfortunately with this being first person and coupled with the fact that Butcher never took a moment out for them to just sit and talk until the very end, we only learn how molly pulled herself together but not really Karrin or Thomas. That’s a shame. Especially Thomas and not just because I love him. Harry himself mentions that in their last fight together, Thomas had been tortured nearly mad. I would like to see more on the aftermath of that. I know there was a Karrin short story about Harry’s death and a Thomas novella that was before that. I’m rather hoping to see something like that again. My mild irritation with the ending aside, I’m looking forward to the next but still with a hint of trepidation. Once you take characters to this level of power, where does that leave you to go?
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Dogs: Bullets & Carnage, Volume 7 by Shirow Miwa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had mixed feelings about this one. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked it but it was a little too heavy on the action. After a while, nothing but action scenes with no dialog gets dull (at least for me). However what was done with Naoto and Heine was very good storyline wise.
As for Badou and Mihai, we do see them but they don’t add much to the storyline other than to move them from above the city back down and to let us know that actually the down below is physically separated now by the dog soldiers’ attack, tons of rubble to clear. Badou knows a way down. Too bad the enemy knows this way too but it allows them to drop in on a plan that bodes ill for Badou’s friends. In the midst of this we see snippets of what happened to Giovanni after the Mayor got him (I would have liked more of this but that’s probably my desire to see bound men popping up).
As for Naoto and Heine, it picks up where it left off with crazy Magato finding her. Naturally they fight. He and Heine fight. Heck even Loki, Noki and Fruhling show up and fight. There is a bit too much of it really. But in the middle of these scenes (and one bizarre scene when the twins go home with Heine and Nill) we learn a lot about Naoto that I simply wasn’t expecting. It’s very strange and tightens the connections between the characters. I don’t want to say more than that since it’s a major twist. It ends with one of the major players moving to the next level of her game and with, of course, Heine and Magato fighting some more as Magato learns just what Heine is. (he seems to know more about Heine than Heine does).
I liked it. I wished it balanced plot with action a little better though. And now I have to sit and wait because we’re about caught up to where it is in Japan (I think…maybe) because they’re only putting out like one a book a year and this just came out in December. That part sucks.
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