Book Review – Cold Days by Jim Butcher

My review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Jim-Butcher/Cold-Days.html

In the Heart of Winters domain ‘Artcis Tor’ Harry recovers from his injuries after Mab returns him for the edge of death.

Mab’s rehabilitation techniques could be considered unique; constantly trying to kill Harry Mab is merciless and devote of compassion. Harry must heal quickly or be replaced as the Winter Knight. As the Winter Knight Harry has access to great power. Can Harry control the predator within or will Winter’s lust for death and destroy control Harry?

The schemes of Mab are twisted and elusive, and Harry is ordered to kill Meave, the Winter Lady. He must contend with how can you kill an immortal being of immense power and what game is being played. Will Harry be more than just a pawn!

Finally returned to the world Harry unmasks the fantastic purpose of Demonreach Island. Crafted by Merlin as the most secure prison every built, the Outsiders creatures of hate and malevolence from beyond the Void are seeking to destroy it and release countless nightmares upon the world.

Along this voyage the true nature of Sidhe is revealed to Harry. The battle for the Universe has been going since time immemorial at the Gates between the Void and the Universe. Winter, cold, strong and enduring defends all humanity and beyond. Countless numbers have fallen and now it is down to Harry as a lone defender to protect the Island and the world from the Outsider insurgents.

Harry must work fast, think quickly and count on his friends once more if he is to come out of this one.

As is to be expected from a Dresden novel there is some good humour in Cold Days. My first good chuckle was finding out Santa Claus is part of the Winter court and Harry’s reaction to it. When you think about it it’s pretty obvious. And I won’t spoil a good Santa twist at the end… but the concept that the gods of old have been reshaped into modern legends, well I found this idea to be a clever way of bringing the old into the new. A good question from Harry after a meeting with Mother Winter and coming to this realisation is, “Who is Mother Winter really?” and remember to stay on her good side!

Merlin. I have never sure about Merlin as a character construct for the series; he is just too common in the fantasy world. The flip side to this is, as we get more background on the Island and the fact that Merlin was its creator, you get the feeling more is going on than what is said on the packet. The details about how Merlin creates the “power” behind the Island hints at the ability to travel though time, something what we haven’t come across before. If I am being honest, I am not sure I am in favour off this type of magic in the story. We begin to get a taster of questions to come, how does Merlin tie in with Harry and Harry’s link to the Island? We all know Harry is going to be top dog one day so how does Merlin and the Island come into it?

As the Winter Knight Harry has access to the power of Winter and I have enjoyed that it’s not just a power boost for him, it’s something he has to battle to control. The power itself is corrosive, polluting and engaging and if he were to give into it fully, to give into the lust for death and his baser instincts, he would not be the same man. There is the potential for a continual battle, an internal conflict to be played out everyday. I find this a nice little metaphor for everyone’s internal struggle, “Anger, fear, aggression… the dark side are they”.

Harry is always on the back foot and constantly out-manoeuvred as he tries to make sense of what’s happening around him. This is as true in Cold Days as in the rest of the novels and I think it’s one of the reasons I enjoy the series so much. It’s not simply that he is unaware of what’s happening, he is always trying to figure it out and keep rolling along until he does; bruises, broken bones and deals with the devil aside. It shows that Harry is human and can get things wrong, even though he now has access to fantastic powers.

One of my favourite moments in Cold days was the return of the ‘Hunt’: Harry riding an enchanted Harley Davidson across the river, armoured by smoke! I will be honest – it put a nice wee smile on my face. Sometimes it’s just fun to have the author let loose and throw some magic powered fun into the story.

I am glad that Harry is now getting more involved in the grander schemes and plots and not just stuck protecting his own city. The concept of the Battle at the Edge of Universe I found to be very World of Warcraft and a little hard to swallow. I am not saying that is a bad thing but it just doesn’t gel with how the Sidhe has been previously portrayed: calculating, indifferent and only interested in their own entertainment, not defenders of the Universe; at least no one said “By the power of Grey Skull! (actually that would have been cool!)”. I think I will reserve judgement until the next book and see how it pans out. I would loved for Harry to cross that border and see what’s beyond the universe inside the void.

I may be being a little precious but I have seen it increase greatly over the years: product placement. It is on TV and in the movies constantly and in Cold Days I got that feeling also. In the previous novels there has been references to Coca Cola (Harry’s drink of choice) and movie quotes which tended to tie into the scene. However, I found the constant reference to Coke in Cold Days to be fairly blatant product placement or just lazy rehashing of known themes. I love a good quote from a movie or TV show (see above) but I really felt they could have been dialled back a little. We know Harry loves Coke and movie quotes but we don’t need the filler!

Last page closed and book down my first thought was there appeared to be a washing away of Harrys past adventures and connections to a degree. It’s like Harry is being rewritten/transformed into something more than Harry, and while change and growth of a character is good and hoped for I did have the feeling it was a little rushed. Cold Days isn’t a Dresden novel in the old style; it tends to be concentrating on expanding the Dresden world and having Harry step up to play in the big leagues, to steal an American baseball quote. Some aspects I would have liked are missing and some only get a small piece in the story. A good example of this is Karen, who does not appear in the book until half way through and when she does she is a powerful and strong character written well who adds value to the story.

I missed Harry but this didn’t have the depth I was hoping for but I still got that Dresden feeling, no crunchy involved. Yes I know that three terrible quotes! I can see the transition of Harry to something more and looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

7/10

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