The Dresden Files are behaving like London Buses. I’ve waited six years since reading ‘Skin Game’, which I thought was rebooting the series, and now we have two books coming along almost together: ‘Peace Talks’, released as an audiobook on 17th July, and ‘Battle Ground’, scheduled for release at the end of September.
I had pre-ordered ‘Peace Talks’ and fell upon it as soon as it appeared in my library. Reading it was like visiting an old friend after too long an absence, after a brief period of orientation, I was reminded of all the reasons I loved the best of the Harry Dresden books.
Firstly there’s Harry Dresden himself. I’ve watched Harry change from the glibly defiant PI-with-powers, taking on cases, tracking down bad guys, protecting the weak and keeping Chicago safe that I met in ‘Storm Front’, to become the driven-by-vengeance scourge of the vampire Red Court, who died in ‘Changes’, to a man who came back a little broken, his humanity fractured and his once-clear boundaries between good and evil a little blurred. A man who had become many things, a Warden and White Council Wizard, the Winter Night, the guardian of a sentient prison island but who was no longer glib and no longer entirely sure who was innocent. In ‘Skin Game’ I finally saw Harry become more than the roles he played and start to find his way towards being human again, a man with a daughter and a lover and a life.
The Harry I met in ‘Peace Talks’ is a man who is trying to be a father to his daughter and a lover to his partner while still honouring the obligations his various roles place upon him. He’s grown up. He knows the odds. But he’s still Harry and he’ll always stand up against the bad guys. It’s just that, these days, it takes longer to figure out who they are.
Another thing that pulls me back to The Dresden Files is that no one does supernatural fight scenes as well as Jim Butcher. The first one comes fairly early in the book and it’s a classic example of how to get fights right. Jim Butcher starts with Dresden being attacked by a knee-weakening, apparently invulnerable monster that you know even Harry will struggle to defeat. Then he escalates again and again until that first attack feels like the easy part. But the power of the scene doesn’t come just from summoning up truly scary monsters and desperate situations, it comes from how Butcher makes every step in the fight physical and immediate so that, by the end of it, you’re exhausted.
Then there’s the ensemble cast, the people Harry has been working with for a very long time, who have gone through changes of their own and who have become important to me. Molly, gone from perky apprentice to major power. Murphy, broken but still defiant. Maggie, now old enough to be a person and not just a hostage to fortune. Thomas the brother whose hunger never sleeps. Butters, the Medical Examiner turned light-sabre wielding Knight Of The Cross. Jim Butcher takes the time to bring them all in, give them all something to do, and keep them all growing.
Finally, there’s the always changing but never for the better politics. Harry lives in a world where everyone with power can become an ally or an enemy or both. I love the way Jim Butcher shares the complexity of this political world without letting me drown in it.
There’s so much going on in ‘Peace Talks’ that I was struggling to summarise it in a spoiler-free way. Then I read this review by The Irresponsible Reader and decided to go with ‘what she said‘.
As I got towards the end of the book and Harry’s problems kept getting worse and the threat kept escalating, I began to fear that I was heading for the hated cliff-hanger ending. Jim Butcher spared me that. There’s enough of a resolution that I felt the book ended rather than stopped. Still, I’m very glad that the next book comes out in a few weeks time because ‘Peace Talks’ felt like a spectacular HBO Series Finale that gets split into two long episodes so that you don’t miss anything. I’m seriously wondering if ‘Battle Ground’ will be the final book. But then, I thought the series was going to end when I finished book twelve, so what do I know?
I switched over tho audiobook version of The Dresden Files for the last book and I’ve stuck with it because I enjoy James Marsten’s narration. He makes Harry (finally) sound quite grown up, partly because he’s not rushing through Harry’s internal reflections. He’s giving them some weight. He also does the action scenes with total conviction and has an appropriate voice for each of the main characters. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.