Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files
by Jim Butcher
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
Review by Drew Bittner
Roc Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451464408
Date: 27 November 2012 List Price $27.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
In Cold Days, Jim Butcher takes his hard luck hero to all-new levels, literally. Harry Dresden now serves Queen Mab directly as her Knight, there to enforce her will and kill whomever she commands. His first hit: an immortal. But why? And how can Harry kill someone who is supposed to live forever?
That's only the beginning of his problems. Having returned from the dead, there's the little issue of reconnecting with (and regaining the trust of) his circle of friends and allies.
Needless to say, it doesn't go smoothly or all that well, and he makes some new enemies in the bargain. A demented "birthday party" in the Winter Court goes wrong when Harry is tested not once but twice. He survives a bit of hazing at the hands of the Redcap, with coaching from the feline quasi-deity Cat Sith and Sarissa, a very human subject of Mab's; then he's confronted by the Winter Lady Maeve, who tests Harry in her own inimitable fashion.
Taking a break by returning to Chicago, Harry clashes with his old friend Fix (who is now the Summer Knight and his mortal enemy), retrieves an even older friend, catches up with his apprentice Molly (who has done very well for herself in the meanwhile) and fesses up to Karrin Murphy about all that's going on... including his fear that being Winter Knight will twist him into a demonic killing machine.
Then the other shoe drops. The countdown has started on something truly cataclysmic; in a day or two at most, something will destroy most of the United States and plunge the world into chaos. And only Harry can stop it. To accomplish that, he'll have to uncover the supernatural world's very deepest secrets, figure out if Mab is insane (as he's told by reliable sources), survive an onslaught of killer pixies, and evade an Unseelie crew out to kill Winter's newest Knight.
Just another day in the life of Harry Dresden.
Except that isn't quite true. Butcher is not only raising the stakes in this novel, he's providing a grand, sweeping context for the battles Harry now faces. What does the Winter Court really do? It's here. Why does Rashid have the title "Gatekeeper"? We find out. And what is behind every last one of Harry's problems, from the beginning? We start to get an inkling...and it's pretty damn scary.
Harry is, at heart, much the same guy he's always been: fierce, loyal, single-minded, and unstoppable. That hasn't changed. What's different now is his awareness of the world and where things are headed. He can't operate at the level of streetwise private eye/wizard any more. For better or worse, Harry is now one of the biggest players in the supernatural realm; if the world is facing an apocalypse, it will be up to Harry Dresden to fight it. So far, he's doing fine--but he knows that he's fighting against the influence of Winter (and winning, mostly) and the unseen powers of something dark and angry that wants him dead.
Harry also has to navigate a complex, seemingly capricious etiquette as Winter Knight. He makes some serious mistakes along the way, such as treating a defeated enemy as his "guest"-- and thus invoking a set of rules he hadn't foreseen -- but he is (as ever) quick on his feet and able to adapt, calling on a new set of powers he has only started to comprehend.
With new enemies like the Redcap and new allies such as Kringle (whom he meets at his birthday party), the supporting cast is growing as well, but Butcher has not forgotten his key players: Bob, Murphy, Molly, Thomas Raith, and Butters all have important roles to play. Also, by omission, the Carpenter clan figures large in Harry's thoughts, for reasons better left discovered by the reader.
However, it is Queen Mab who grows most as a character in this book. Always a villain before, her motivations are shown to be far more complex than anyone suspected; she's a character who has had to make some unbearably hard decisions and be damned for it. She is sadistic and cruel, sure, but there are amazing new aspects to her in play here. Butcher has created a remarkable individual, whose impact on the series is only starting to be revealed.
The series is unmistakably shifting toward becoming epic urban fantasy, which is a whole new ball game for author and readers alike. It isn't hard to imagine that Butcher has the end firmly in sight by this point, with all these various plotlines converging toward a magical Armageddon. It's thrilling to see this evolution handled so skillfully, with each novel building to new heights. Just when you thought the last story was breathtaking, along comes the next which ups the ante even further.
Fans of The Dresden Files will love this book. Readers who want to jump on board probably should not start here--begin at the beginning and work your way through, so you get the full effect. Butcher is a master storyteller and Harry Dresden is swiftly becoming a hero for the ages.