Cold Days by Jim Butcher
Dresden Files 14, and I review it with a hint of sadness, because it’s the latest book in the series to date, with the next not due until January 2014 at the earliest. I’m not sure I’ll be able to cope with the withdrawal.
As with recent books in the series, discussion of the plot is kind of a problem, due to the massive amount of spoilers that even setting out the background to the plot would entail.
Suffice to say: fuck me, Cold Days is incredible. Flat out fantastic from start to finish, in every possible way: story, characters, mythology, twists (fuck me, twists!), it’s just an absolute joy to read. There are major reveals about the overall plot of the series as a whole. The twists are beautifully handled and entirely unexpected. The reveal about the actual role of the most mysterious of the Senior Council, Rashid the Gatekeeper, is fantastic. As is the word play on Harry’s role as a Warden. And the final action sequence. Constant, incredible fun. Definitely the highpoint of the series to date, and at the time of reading (a couple of months ago), it was my favourite book of the year.
One thing that I really loved about Cold Days was how it sits in the context of the whole series, and particularly in conjunction with the recent books.
A bit of background: Jim Butcher has previously said that his plan for the series is 20 (!) standalone books, plus an “apocalyptic final trilogy”, and has also said that the events of Cold Days sit at about the midpoint of the series (so he’s ever so slightly behind schedule). If there’s a plan to build up to an apocalyptic final trilogy, it’ll have to go some way to better the near-apocalyptic mid-point trilogy of Changes, Ghost Story and Cold Days.
Those three books have been more sequentially and thematically connected than any others in the series, to make them feel like a trilogy. Sequentially, each book picks up immediately after the last concludes, compared to the usual chronological gap of at least a few months between books. I mean “immediately” too. From Harry’s perspective, both Ghost Story and Cold Days start almost the second after the last book concluded, while it seems that Cold Days draws a bit of a line under this, as it’s hard to see how something similar could happen its conclusion.
The feeling of a trilogy extends beyond simple chronology though, because thematically there have been a couple of things that have drawn the books together to make them feel part of a cohesive whole. Overall, you could see the three books as two different escalations, both of which work as a basic three act structure across the piece.
First off, there’s the escalation of what Harry has to do: Changes is about setting Harry up to make some horrifically difficult choices; Ghost Story is about Harry trying to extricate himself from the dire consequences of those choices; and Cold Days is about Harry dealing with those consequences and coming to terms with them. That alone is sort of a classic rise-fall-rise structure typical of films. He’s doing well; it’s all gone to hell; he’s sorted it though.
There’s also an escalation in terms of what Harry is fighting for. Changes, through him fighting for his family, feels in retrospect like it’s about him fighting for his own heart; Ghost Story is about him fighting for his own life; and Cold Days is about him fighting for his own soul (and the fate of the world too, but that’s just a little thing). It’s a great escalation that, like the chronological links, I can’t see continuing seamlessly through to the next book, because where do you go after that?
I guess the battle for Harry’s soul will be an ongoing theme for future books. The stakes, and the sort of cases Harry is set up to investigate, have increased beyond almost all recognition compared to those which he was investigating before Changes (making that title quite appropriate).
It’s absolutely brilliant that these two arcs lead to Harry’s character noticeably changing through the course of each of these three books. He’s a different guy at the start of Changes compared to the end of Changes, and from there to the end of Ghost Story, and from there to the end of Cold Days. And it’s perfectly handled, so that after going through the wringer and becoming less and less like the Harry Dresden he wants to be, by the end of Cold Days Harry has ended up becoming even more like the guy he wants to be than had ever seemed possible. It feels like he’s somehow managed to destroy himself with compromises, and rebuild himself into a more refined version of Harry Dresden. It’s an absolutely beautifully realised character arc that spans the three books.
I’m really excited to see where the series goes from here, particularly given Butcher’s timescale for the series. It feels like things are starting to come to a head, and gaining huge amounts of momentum, such that stepping back from the main overarching plot, now that it’s been fully introduced, would feel like a step back. But if the grand apocalyptic trilogy is still a minimum of six standalone books away, such a step back seems likely. But that being said, there are still a lot of sub-plots that have been chugging away which need resolution, and which will probably feed into the main plot.
Seriously though, I’m not sure I can actually wait for the next book. I probably should have tried to ration them a bit better, rather than blowing through 14 books in about six months. Oops. I’ve enjoyed every one though.
Why you should read it: so that I can talk to you about what happened, and what might happen next.
Why you shouldn’t read it: because the odds are that the series has at least another six or seven years left to run, so maybe leave it five years or so before starting to blow through the lot of them.
Up next: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood.