~~Moved from GR~~
Cold Days (Dresden Files #13)
by Jim Butcher
Recommended to Carly by: 13 other books in the series
Recommended for: action-loving Dresdenites
Welp, the pun must be spoken: this book left me cold.
As regards this review:
- If you're new to The Dresden Files, don't start here. The first books are a little shaky, so if you're not a purist, I suggest trying Summer Knight or Dead Beat.
- If you've read the last 13 books and are trying to gauge this one, just go pick up the book. You know you're going to anyway.
- If you've already read this and are interested in other peoples' reactions, if you're a fan...well, I had some issues with this book. Please don't hurt me. One of the impressive aspects of the series is that it appeals to a very wide audience, and I'm apparently the lone voice cheering on Ghost Story, which pretty much predicts my reaction to this. If you're bored enough to read this, I suggest scrolling to the bottom instead--I have a compendium of currently unsolved mysteries and my favourite crackpot theories.
(So spoilerific for the previous books that it gets a pagebreak--but although it's freaking Spoiler City for the previous books in the series, it's Cold-Days-spoiler-free.)
The truth is that I simply did not enjoy reading this. Put it this way: I read at the gym, and when I was trying to read Cold Days, I skipped, procrastinated, and even read scientific papers to avoid jumping back into Cold Days.
In terms of plot, there is a lot of action. A lot. Harry Dresden's life has a pattern: three or four days of hectic action, injuries, and crisis, followed by six months or so of downtime and recovery. Here, the timespan is constricted: other than the first chapter, this entire 500-page book takes place over less than 36 hours. It is probably also one of the biggest game-changing books apart from #3 and #12. We finally get to see the face of the Big Bad who has been manipulating so many of the events since Storm Front (and it's exactly who you think it is). Actually, I thought it was a bit of a letdown, as I don't find that particular paranormal particularly scary.
We find out more about Demonreach and Rashid. A few more mysteries get opened up, and certain characters' lives are changed irrevocably. Perhaps the biggest change, however, is the power level. Dresden has continued to "power up" throughout the series, but here he finally swaps from an impressively strong mortal to a supernatural mover and shaker. And one consequence that I loved from this is that, although the conflict between the underdog and the big strong supernatural continues, Dresden is no longer the underdog. Instead, he's the one underestimating his enemies and getting outwitted by his magical inferiors. Maybe it's due to my current ambivalence about Dresden, but I loved this.(show spoiler)
My lack of enjoyment here made me try to understand what I love about the Dresden Files. I love it in the same way I loved the Harry Potter series: a wide, imaginative, and well-built kitchen sink world, a huge host of entertaining characters, plenty of humour and absurdism, and--joy of joys--a huge and well-thought-out plot arc with tons of clues sprinkled into the various books. As an inveterate mystery reader, I love developing intricate conspiracy theories, galvanized by the knowledge that the author is intentionally trying to drop clues.
My favorite moments of the Dresden Files are the crazy absurdist collisions between worlds: plant monsters at WalMart, Dresden attempting to hold a woman up at duckpoint, attack by flying purple monkeys, a cabbage patch doll as a humunculous, the holy water paintball gun, a villain attempting to sell Harry on ebay, accidental computer damage, and, of course, zombie Sue. In terms of characters, I identify most heavily with sidekicks and have more of an affection-exasperation relationship with Harry Dresden. The books where I warm to Harry are the ones in which he tends to be innocent, but outcast and distrusted by those he loves. My favorite book is Small Favor, partially because of that confrontation with Michael. I also really liked Ghost Story--I loved it when Harry lost the power to mindlessly blast difficulties out of his way and was forced to confront the consequences of his actions. I thought that in Ghost Story, Harry had finally begun to grow up, to recognize the fallout from his choices, and, during his interaction with Fitz, begin to see that you can't divide the world into "good guys" and "bad guys" and just blast all the "bad guys" to hell.
Which is probably why Cold Days was such a shock. I mean, I get it. Dresden is on one of those textbook "Hero's Journeys"--let's say he's on Leeming's Mythology: The Voyage of the Hero, because I like that one. He recently went through that whole "death/lament" part and now he's on the "descent into the underworld" bit: he might be alive, but he's bound, body and soul, to a chaotic and malignant force. But even if I understand what is happening, it doesn't necessarily make for a likable book. And seriously, how did he learn nothing from the last book? Nothing at all? One of the things Jim Butcher has always been quite good at capturing is negative twists in Dresden's psyche. Dresden's infection by Lash is extremely noticeable from book 6 onward, where he suddenly becomes uncharacteristically savage. I didn't enjoy that, and I really didn't enjoy this. Dresden's winter mantle not only makes him revel in violence; it also increases his pride, his tendency to do harm to any who oppose him without regret, [I was appalled by his murder of the Sidhe who tried to make the same sort of wiseass comment that Dresden himself would have made.] to treat those around him as his expendable lackeys, [Don't believe me? Go back and look at the boat scene, where he actively puts Thomas in danger and commands Molly to expend almost all of her energy.] and--the part I was least able to cope with--an obsessive temptation to rape every woman he comes in contact with.
Cold Days Dresden made me sick.
In general, this probably would have been fine, but I felt that the minor characters were also lacking. We get introduced to a whole new host of faerie creatures--including Santa Claus, who felt reminiscent, in a badass sort of way, to Pratchett's Hogfather-- and most of the minor characters make an appearance, but there just isn't any character development. Possibly due to the whole "36 hour crisis upon crisis" plot, all of the personalities felt superficial and static to me. There wasn't even much confrontation with Harry over the changes in his personality--almost everyone seemed happy enough to play the part of comedic sycophant. There was also what I would like to think of as a regression in the way women are portrayed, possibly because I was just fooling myself that the books were getting less sexist. (Every woman but Murph and Mab [ and Lacuna ] use sexuality as their primary weapon, and at least three women literally beg Dresden to "take them." Please, pass the barf bag.) And Molly. Good god. Everything that ever disturbed me about that relationship is here in spades: his continual viewing of her as a sexual object, his tendency to manipulate her because of her feelings for him, his tendency to make decisions for her and then pretend she has free will, and their weird sexually charged interactions...add to it that he now is dreaming about raping her and that because of her gifts she can tell and I nearly stopped reading this every time she walked on-scene.
Most irritating to me were several multipage sections in which Dresden broke the fourth wall to smithereens and went off on tangents that sounded more like Jim Butcher writing some author commentary than Harry Dresden. Master of retcon Jim Butcher may be, but subtle he ain't. Perhaps the most obvious insert was a completely incongruous four-page conversation Harry has about homosexuality and
people gay men having anonymous sex in parks ([sarcasm] because apparently only gay men do this[/sarcasm]), to which Harry comments that it's not his business to judge morality, etc. I know this is probably an attempt by JB to placate those who complain about the homophobia in his books, but unfortunately, I think it contains far too generalizations and is tinged with too much disgust to placate anyone. Quotes under spoilertag:
Runners-up were "Harry" talking about women (specifically girlfriends/wives) communicating on multiple levels and "Harry" being uncomfortable at parties (I'm pretty sure the last party he went to was the shroud heist one in #5). I was also weirdly exasperated by 'Cat Sith's pronunciation--it's actually from "Cat Sidhe", and pronounced more like "the immortal She" than a red lightsaber dude. I feel like an editor should have caught and/or deleted these.
One of the most interesting things I discovered is that I must have liked Harry more than I thought, because reading a book with a Dresden that I pretty much actively disliked was excruciating. Detached from the main character, I also rediscovered how well the books function as noir mysteries. Sure, I'll keep reading the series--I'm addicted, they were my entrance into Urban Fantasy, and I still think they're probably some of the better "canon" UF out there. But maybe I'll wait a few books until Dresden makes it to the next step in the hero's path and I can bear to read his thoughts again. So will you like this book? Well, if, like me, you are sickened when reading the thoughts of someone daydreaming about violation and rape and murder, then be prepared for a bumpy ride. If you're there for the comedy and characters, I'm not sure. But if you like the Dresden Files for the action and excitement and drama, then this is the book for you. Stop reading reviews and go pick up Cold Days already.
Appendix (because I read this book as a mystery):
Current inexplicable anomalies/mysteries (at least, those that occurred to me while writing this review):
Current crackpot theories:(show spoiler)
Also, one last thing: the cover bothered me,but it took a while to figure out why. Is it me, or is Dresden wearing a peacoat (with princess lines)?
Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.
[#1] Storm Front [#2] Fool Moon [#3] Grave Peril [#4] Summer Knight* [#5] Death Masks [#6] Blood Rites [#7] Dead Beat* [#8] Proven Guilty [#9] White Night [#10] Small Favor* [#11] Turn Coat [#12] Changes [#13] Ghost Story* [#14] Cold Days