Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Review: "Cold Days" by Jim Butcher

After ending “Changes” with a jaw-dropping event that left readers wondering what was to become of their favorite wizard Harry Dresden, Jim Butcher followed up with the sort of strange “Ghost Story,” a tale that really didn’t live up to the previous volumes of The Dresden Files. The good news for those of us left scratching our heads is that with “Cold Days” ($27.95, Roc) that little bump in the road has been completely smoothed over.

Not only is “Cold Days” a return to form for Butcher and The Dresden Files after the lull of “Ghost Story,” it’s easily one of the best volumes in the series.

After his little jaunt through the spirit world, Harry wakes up in Arctis Tor, the home of the Winter Court of faerie. He’s made a deal with the Winter Queen Mab to take the mantle of the Winter Knight. Mab’s rehabilitation techniques are somewhat unique, but they leave Harry back in fighting form – somewhere he’ll need to be to deal with the treachery of the Winter Court. Not the least of his problems is Maeve, Mab’s daughter and the slightly insane heir to her throne. His introduction at court makes her the first of his problems.

After an altercation with Maeve and several of her minions, Harry is transported back to his home in Chicago. He’s determined to get information that he needs without letting his friends and family know that he’s back in an attempt to keep them safe. It doesn’t work out very well for him. What’s more, he learns that there is a catastrophe afoot, centered on the island in Lake Michigan that he has nicknamed Demonreach. The island, it seems, holds far more secrets than Harry ever knew, and his efforts there have given him more responsibility than he expected. He must stop an attack on the island, while avoiding the enemies he’s made in faerie. But first, he has to find out who – and when – the attack is coming from.

Though heftier than most of the previous volumes in the series, there’s little padding in “Cold Days.” Harry gets thrown in the fire right away and then bounces around at warp speed for the rest of the book trying to counter the bad guys, dodge attacks and figure out what he’s supposed to do to save the world. In other words, it’s exactly what we want and expect from Butcher and Dresden.

It’s also a relief to once again see a more familiar Harry. The mantle of the Winter Knight, while having some serious negative effects, also seems to have revived his spirit again. What we have here is the ass-kicking, wise-cracking wizard of old, for the most part. There’s still a bit of the brooding, contemplative spirit of “Ghost Story,” and there’s a definite touch of darkness and anger that goes with the new job, but when the punches are being thrown, he’s mostly back to the character that we know and love.

I had worried that, after so many books that seemed to continue to get better and better, the story of Harry Dresden had finally run out of steam and reached that point that most long-lived series hit sooner or later. I’m happy to report that rumors of Harry’s  death were greatly exaggerated. Harry, and the series, both are reborn in “Cold Days,” and both seem to once again have a promising future.  

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