The Short Version: Harry Dresden, no longer mostly-dead, has a new job – Winter Knight – and his first day is a pretty bad one. Some pretty catastrophic forces are lining up and all is not right with the Winter Court… but, as usual, saving the world is only one of Harry’s issues at the moment…
The Review: Alright, here we go. After the literal strange interlude of the last book and the Major Dramatic Reversal of Changes, we’re back to Sweet Home Chicago-style ass-kicking. Both dished out from and brought upon our dear Harry. But there’s also something new here. By Book 14, you’d maybe be forgiven for thinking that a series was losing its way or wobbling a bit – I can’t think of many series that’ve even lasted this long, to be honest. Certainly even fewer good ones. And while there’ve been some ups and downs in the quality of the actual plots, the one thing that has remained constant has been Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden – and therein lies Butcher’s ace in the hole. He’s created such an awesome character that we’ll follow him to the ends of the world and beyond.
Which, I’m pretty sure, is what’s going to end up happening. Man oh man are things getting dark for our hero. Remember when it was just crazed sorcerers and stuff? You thought it was bad when they went down and took out the Red Court… you ain’t seen nothing yet. Briefly mentioned a few times prior to this novel, we get our first real look at the Outsiders – and hoooo boy are they nasty. There’s some Lovecraft to them, sure, but there’s also something a bit less explicitly HP going on. Or maybe we just haven’t seen enough, I don’t know. But Butcher takes the time to expand our knowledge of the universe here, even allowing Bob to go off on some tangents about exactly that (dimensions, etc), and it pays off not just for the plot but for the thinking reader’s enjoyment of the series at large. When you can walk away from a book that has such a kinda-silly cover (man, I miss those file-folder UK covers…) and be able to seriously contemplate what that very book just made you think about, on a serious concept-of-the-universe way… that’s pretty cool.
But this book is also pretty cool (pun so totally intended) for the pretty much non-stop action we’ve got taking place. It’s Halloween and, apparently, that’s the one day where immortals… well, aren’t. They keep that hush-hush, of course, but naturally that’s why everyone goes a bit crazy that day. From an epically ballsy fight with a Fae douche (he was, seriously) at his birthday ball to the final just-plain-epic fight on Demonreach, it really doesn’t let up. These ticking-time-bomb plots can seem a bit ridiculous, even in fantasy, but I loved the idea that Dresden’s new mantle as Winter Knight allows him to actually push through such human things as tiredness and pain. He’s not Superman, but Butcher gives him the chance to be something close to it – even as he gets pretty beat up in the process. It’s a more organic way of allowing a hero to be a little more than human without blowing past the realm of plausibility.
I saw plausibility, of course, with all seriousness. This, despite writing about a book set in a series that makes me want to visit Chicago again – let alone a book that has wizards, vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc. Oh, speaking of: just about everyone’s back in action in this book. When last we saw the Scooby Gang (sorry, Buffy fans – and Dresden fans. Sorry everyone.), they were all a bit worse for wear in the wake of Harry’s apparent death. It’s unclear exactly where Harry comes back (other than it being his birthday) in their timeline, but things have changed since his ghostly visitations. Molly is doing a bit better, Thomas has started to rebound a bit, Karrin is doing better… and while there are a whole lot of things we’re going to need answers to and a whole lot of people acting behind the scenes (or in other simultaneous plays, perhaps), it’s nice to see our core gang back together and up to their old tricks. And yet, Butcher keeps pushing the story forward, changing their dynamics even as he refreshes and repeats them. It’s just wonderful on all levels.
Rating: 5 out of 5. Really solid stuff, pushing the series forward in a terribly intriguing way. Harry as Winter Knight is going to be a tough thing to sustain for TOO long, but I’m suddenly thinking it’s way more interesting than it first appeared to be. Perhaps the crispness of Winter is what’s given new pep to Butcher’s writing. …I’m sorry, that was a bad one even for Harry. Forgive me? Or don’t – I can take it.
ANYWAY, rock on, Mr. Butcher. Harry might not be the roguish Wizard PI anymore… but I won’t miss it so long as his story keeps evolving so smoothly. Winter Knight, Warden, probable hero of the Apocalypse… yeah, I’m in.