Themes: / fairy / wizard / urban fantasy / near-death /
After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…His soul.
After a slight departure from normal Dresden Files form in the preceding Ghost Story–owing to Harry’s (near) death and all–Dresden returns to corporeal form in Cold Days. But he can’t expect a warm welcome, even from his closest friends, because he’s now fulfilling his service as Winter Knight to Mab, the fairy Winter Queen. And this novel manages to raise the stakes again, for Harry, for Chicago, for the world. There have been so many Dresden Files novels now they actually fall into categories: there are vampire novels, fairy novels, wizard council novels, undead novels, and so forth. As the series grows there is more and more crossover, but Cold Days easily qualifies as a fairy novel.
I have two equal and opposite reviews in mind for Cold Days, and instead of choosing which to write, I’ll write both.
The first review argues that Cold Days, the fourteenth installment in the Dresden Files, suffers from serious series fatigue. With a few exceptions, it features largely the same cast of characters, the same locales, and the same themes that readers have grown accustomed to. Despite some glimpses of growth, development, and transformation, Harry Dresden is largely the same smart-mouthed, down-on-the-heel practicing wizard he was in Storm Front. His all-too-frequent pop culture references that once seemed amusing now strike a chord of annoyance. The frenetic action sequences that a few novels ago felt exhilarating now come off as trite and paint-by-numbers. In short, the novel makes me feel as if my once solid relationship with The Dresden Files has fallen a bit flat.
Some of the problems present in Cold Days are inherent in the stagnant conventions of urban fantasy as a whole. Except for a few quick jaunts to Edinburgh or Mexico, the entire series has largely taken place in Chicago. While Aristotle’s unity of place might be best practice for a play or even a novel, it certainly doesn’t work for a series of this length. This reader, at any rate, longs to see the heroes face other challenges in far-off lands. Worse, the single, small, isolated locale undermines the severity of the universal threats posed by the series’ villains. It’s difficult to take seriously a dangerous entity bent on world destruction when the only destruction in evidence takes place within a few city blocks.
With all the storylines introduced over the course of thirteen previous novels, it’s inevitable that not all of them can be picked up or carried along in a sequel, nor should they be. However, a pretty major development took place in book 12, Changes, prior to Harry’s apparent death, that is surprisingly absent from Cold Days, even in Harry’s continuous flow of internal monologue. He makes oblique references to it a few times, but I’d hoped that particular surprise would herald a shift in the series rather than merely the plot for a single novel. It is to be hoped that Jim Butcher will pick up this important thread in future novels.
The other review in my head praises Cold Days as a worthy installment to the Dresden Files series. This is largely on account of Jim Butcher’s vigorous writing style and strong characterization. Pop culture reference overload notwithstanding, Butcher’s writing, like a fine oak-aged whiskey, has only improved with age. Though the action sequences as a plot device are overused, there’s no denying they’re well-written. There’s a knock-down drag-out bar fight early in the novel, and you really can feel every shotgun blast and flying bar stool. The witty, flippant language that jaunts through the novel makes the few moments of gravity or pathos all the more powerful. There’s an exchange between Harry and his friend/love interest (to quote Facebook, “it’s complicated”) Karin Murphy that’s poignant and dramatic enough you’d expect to find it in a Scorsese flick.
And while Harry Dresden himself might wear thin at times, the host of supporting characters still haven’t lost their charm and complexity. Harry’s half-brother Thomas, his apprentice Molly, and polka-infused Medical Examiner Butters all make welcome and notable experiences. These characters crackle with life, personality, and possibility. For me, fantasy and science fiction novels, however wonderful their locales and however revolutionary their ideas, are only as strong as their characters. In a series of this length, the importance of characters increases exponentially. And even if some, including the protagonist, rub me the wrong way at times, they’re still characters I know and care about.
So, two equal and opposing reviews–how to break the tie? Simple: will I read the next Dresden Files novel? The answer is a definite yes. I don’t say this lightly. It takes a lot to keep me, and probably most readers, invested in a long-running series, especially in a sub-genre I don’t usually read. (Incidentally, the fact that I don’t often enjoy urban fantasy means you should take my first, negative review with a pinch of salt.) I bowed out of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series after book seven, and I put down Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels after the third installment. Blasphemous as it sounds, I’m even losing patience with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet through thick and thin I’ve stuck with The Dresden Files for fourteen novels filled with great characters and complex supernatural elements. And I’m eager for a fifteenth.
The audio edition marks the return of James Marsters, best known as Spike from the Buffy the Vampire Series TV series, as narrator. Ghost Story, the previous novel, was narrated by John Glover. I feel sorry for narrators who have to pick up a series mid-stream, like John Lee who stood in for Roy Dotrice in narrating George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows. John Glover performed admirably in his reading of Ghost Story, and if he had read the series from the beginning there would have probably been no cause for complaint. But for the previous twelve novels, James Marsters was Harry Dresden. His dry, sometimes deadpan style perfectly fits the Chicago detective noir tone of the novels. So his return to the series is a welcome breath of fresh air. Also, major props to Marsters for hitting the sustained high notes in the dialogue of the minuscule fairy underlings.
Posted by Seth
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
Audible Download – approx. 16 hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Themes: / Fantasy / Urban Fantasy / Magic / Chicago / Wizard / Faeries / Vampires / Black Magic
By the time most fantasy series reach their eighth novel, they’re usually showing their age. For proof, one need look no further than Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, in which the eighth book, Path of Daggers, is seen as the beginning of the cycle’s decline, although some would place this event significantly earlier. In any case, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series certainly doesn’t follow this trend. In fact, Proven Guilty suggests that the series just keeps getting better.
The novel initially follows the series formula: Chicago wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden faces a series of seemingly-disconnected incidents which, as the plot progresses, reveal themselves to be connected in a sinister way. The White Council is on the lookout for black magic; monsters from the big screen are wreaking havoc at a horror fan convention; and Molly Carpenter, daughter of Harry’s good friend Michael, is in some kind of mysterious trouble. Harry must juggle all these fly balls and, as usual, keep himself from getting killed. He’s aided by the usual cast of supporting characters like officer Karin Murphy and the elemental Bob the Skull., and White Court vampire Thomas.
Harry soon discovers that the faerie courts of Summer and Winter have taken an interest in recent events. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed Proven Guilty so much, since it evoked themes from the other faerie-centric novel in the series so far, Summer Knight, which is also one of my favorites. Butcher writes about the fae as if they are both inscrutably beautiful and incalculably terrifying. In general, the Summer Court tends to side with the “powers of good”, while the Winter Court allies itself with “evil”, but faerie politics aren’t quite that simple. Summer can be incredibly crafty and deceptive, while denizens of Winter are prone to occasional acts of kindness and sacrifice.
This moral ambiguity cuts to the heart of the success of Proven Guilty. Themes of morality, self-control, parenthood, and responsibility abound. Butcher’s early novels felt like little more than exciting detective thrillers with a supernatural twist–entertaining, witty, humorous, but lacking any real depth. In later Dresden Files novels, Butcher has cultivated a heightened emotional sensitivity. in Proven Guilty, this manifests most prominently in Harry’s complex relationship with the Carpenter family. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that the execution of a young boy at the hands of the White Council for misuse of magic holds more than a hint of foreshadowing.
James Marsters, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, narrates the novel flawlessly. His hard-boiled narrative style perfectly fits the book’s genre as a detective story, and his dust-dry rendition of Harry Dresden’s dialogue captures the wizard’s lonely character perfectly. Marsters also handles the female characters deftly, avoiding the pitfall of overacting that some other male vice actors fall prey to.
Readers might get away with reading Proven Guilty as a stand-alone novel, since it does a passable job of weaving backstory into the plot in an unobtrusive manner, but it’s worth reading the Dresden Files series from the beginning. Unfortunately, books six and seven (Blood Rites and Dead Beat) haven’t yet received the audio treatment, though they’re schedules for release sometime in the coming months. It’s well worth plodding through those two volumes in print.
Also take a look at SFFaudio’s favorable review of Small Favor, book ten in the series, which I’m immensely looking forward to once I’ve read the intervening White Night.
Posted by Seth Wilson
By: Jim Butcher Read by James Marsters
Book 10 of The Dresden Files
Audible Download – 13 Hours 50 Mins [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audible / Buzzy Multimedia
Themes: / Fantasy / Mystery / Magic / Private Detective / Wizard / Noir /
No one’s tried to kill Harry Dresden for almost an entire year, and his life finally seems to be calming down. For once, the future looks fairly bright. But the past casts one hell of a long shadow. An old bargain has placed Harry in debt to Mab, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, the Queen of Air and Darkness-and she’s calling in her marker. It’s a small favor he can’t refuse…one that will trap Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally, and one that will strain his skills-and loyalties-to their very limits. It figures. Everything was going too well to last…
Before I start let me say that I am HUGE fan of the Dresden series having read all the paperbacks and watched the failed television series. That being said Buzzy Multimedia and James Marsters actually manage to improve the book each time they release their audibook version of a Dresden novel and in my opinion Small Favor is their best effort yet.
The 10th Book in the Series opens with Harry enjoying a peaceful moment with his friends that soon comes to an end when he is reminded in a very Dresden-esque way that he has a debt to repay and the favor is being cashed in. Harry is quickly thrust into a situation full of plot twists that has him squaring off against evil faries, demon possessed people, and in the middle of the largest supernatural power grab ever. Whats worse is he is tasked with saving a crime lord who he has grudgingly partnered with in the past.
The “Small Favor” referenced in the title is a debt owed to an evil fairy who in the opening of the book has Harry’s back pressed literally up against a wall. Faced with angering Mab, fighting off a fairy Hit Squad looking for blood, and an angry Detective Murphy; Dresden wisely shuts up and commits to the favor. What unfolds is an amazing ride with a decisive battle for the future of mankind being waged and Harry is in the middle of it and like most of the other books in the Dresden series Small Favor focuses on this conflict and the difference that one intuitive magic wielding detective can make.
One part Sam Spade two parts Merlin that is the recipe for Harry Dresden a detective able to put the pieces together and is not afraid to charge in staff blazing. As with Jim Butcher’s other novels in the series Harry is able to follow clues that others would miss and often times it leads him the right direction, if not a moment or too late. Intuition aside the thing I like best about Harry is his ability to face overwhelming odds with a well placed quip. Small Favor is also a bit of reunion of sorts with some of the most notable characters from the series making an appearance; Johnny Marcone, Hendrix, Kincaid, Ivy, The Denarians, Lucio, Michael and the other Knights, Thomas, Murphy, and even mouse.
With epic battle scenes and rich attention to detail; the world of Chicago comes alive and it is hard not wonder if there are indeed evil fey, demons, and holy sword wielding knights waging war in the streets. One of the best things about the book and the series in general is the perspective the story takes. Written as narrative it feels more like recounting of past events rather than a piece of fantasy. This perspective combined with the masterful reading of James Marsters makes this an incredibly enjoyable book and even better audiobook.
When Buzzy Multimedia selected James Marsters to read the book they must have held a casting call or something because he has the perfect voice. He absolutely embodies Harry Dresden furthermore James Marsters doesn’t just read the story he acts it out. For instance when it says in the book that Harry roared out FUEGO James Marsters actually does just bellowing it like he was hurling a fireball at an evil Fairy or Demon.
Attention to detail is apparant throughout the book and there do not seem be any errors in recording, mispronunciations, stumbling over words or anything to disturb the listening. In addition to the excellent production quality the audio levels were very clear and even throughout and when James Marster’s got loud there was no crackle in the speakers.
The worst thing about this book is that is comes to an end. As I said in the begining I am a huge fan of the Dresden series and while I believe that the first-time reader could start with Small Favor and enjoy it thoroughly. It is probably best if the first time reader begins with the first book as there are details about each of the major character’s explained throughout the series. That said if you are a fan of the Dresden Files series pick up Small Favor if you are not yet acquainted with the series do yourself a “small favor” and start at the begining with Storm Front.
Posted by Mark Flavin
Fool Moon: Book Two of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
1 MP3 Disc or 8 CDs – Approx. 10.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia
Themes: / Fantasy / Mystery / Magic / Private Detective / Wizard / Noir /
The fantastically grey world of Wizard Harry Dresden is back in this, the second book of the series. Harry Dresden is still a private investigator who has special supernatural powers that people who believe in him would call being a Wizard. Those who do not believe in such things might call him a fake. This coupled with the fact that Dresden still has the ability to get himself in to the deepest and darkest of trouble makes for a equally fun and entertaining read.
Fool Moon takes place less than a year after the climax of Storm Front (Dresden, Book 1). As the title suggests, Fool Moon spends much of its time dealing with supernatural creatures of the night known to us as Werewolves. And as it turns out there is a lot I did not know about werewolves. There are many different ways to become one and there are many different versions of them as well. So, even if you are not an expert in werewolves, don’t worry, because neither is our hero, Mr. Dresden.
For two months, when the moon is full, certain people have been dying horribly gruesome deaths and Dresden finally gets a call from his friend and main source of income, Detective Murphy. She’s the head of the city’s special investigations and leans on Harry whenever the mystery has a twinge of the unexplainable. When Dresden gets the call from her, he jumps at the chance to pay the bills and put some food on the table. The moon is full for four nights and that’s all the time they have to solve the murders. As they start to connect the pieces to the puzzle, they both begin to realize that they are not prepared for what is about to happen.
The details and story are dark and horrifying. Dresden is the consummate intuitive detective, acting on things that he isn’t quite sure about, but just has a solid hunch or gut feeling. His sage-like wisdom often leads him in the right direction, but also leaves him asking the question, “Now what?” These intuitions are what I like best about Harry. His wizardry is more than just using magic. It’s more like an innate ability to look at any given situation from a different perspective.
It always gets him in to trouble, not because he is wrong, but because he is right about so many things. You might find yourself pitying the poor wizard as he follows his nose and heart in to trouble. He gets beaten to a pulp more than once and I was wondering how much more could he take? Trust me, Harry Dresden gets pushed to the physical and mental limits in this story and the depths he visits, both magically and psychologically, are sure to get your heart pumping. The thought “don’t go there” crept in to my mind more than once. The Harry Dresden “hat tricks” will put a smile on your face and keep you asking for more.
I like the way Dresden is written, always telling the tale in a first person. It sucks you in to Dresden’s brain. It’s from his perspective, which isn’t always correct. But, you’re in it with him. Dresden often makes decisions based on his point of view or the facts that he has at the time, like we all do and some times. It’s just not every day that we are all making life or death decisions on how to best defeat a violent, man eating beast, like Harry does in this book.
The first person narrative is perfect for the audio book outlet. In fact, it’s almost as if these words were meant to be spoken out loud. The text is not too proper and not too relaxed either. Just right. The book is narrated stunningly well, once again by James Marsters, AKA Spike of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. He’s able to capture the essence of the character, moment by moment. He immortalizes the wit, sarcasm, and underdogedness of Dresden in a single paragraph, all while sounding incredibly relaxed. It’s just another telling of a story straight from the guy it happened to.
Fool Moon is not unlike the previous production of Storm Front. In some places the audio production is flawed. There are periodical flubs by the reader, things that could be easily edited out of the soundtrack to bring the quality of the production in to the same level as the writing and performing. You can also hear the faint sounds of page turns and other pesky undesirables that only pull you out of the story that Jim Butcher and James Marsters are working so hard to keep you sucked in to. I have spoken about this before and will resist the urge to go on another tirade about the virtues of audible storytelling and the need for quality to assure the listener’s total absorption in to the world that they are listening to. So, I will only say that it is a little upsetting, because these are simple problems that even podcasters, such as J.C Hutchins and Scott Sigler, with their homegrown recordings have figured out how to avoid. Why not the professionals at Buzzy?
But, all criticism aside, if you are a fan of audio books and a fan of Harry Dresden, the flaws and inconsistencies in this production of Jim Butcher’s wonderful concoction Fool Moon are few and far between. The world he has created grows richer and deeper with every word. The story starts strong on page one and continues on full force until the end. That’s said of Harry Dresden, as well. He is growing as a person and a wizard and I am looking forward to listening to the next installment of the Dresden books. And with eight more of them published, including the newly released Small Favor, I am sure to have many, many more hours of Dresden to spark my imagination and to keep me wishing I had some of those tricks up my sleeve.
Editor’s Note: Let’s give a big hand to our newest reviewer, Michael Bekemeyer. When Michael isn’t writing screenplays and shooting pictures, he writes and reads his own stories on his podcast, Scatterpod.
Storm Front: Book 1 of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher; Read by James Marsters
1 MP3 Disc or 8 CDs – Approx. 10.5 hrs [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia
ISBN: 0965725561(MP3 disc); 0965725502(CDs)
Themes: / Fantasy / Mystery / Magic / Private Detective / Wizard / Noir /
Fans of the Dresden series of books will probably recognize this title as the first in the widely successful series authored by Jim Butcher. Those of you who have been living under a rock somewhere, like I have, might only have known this as a TV series on the Sci-Fi Channel. Either way, once introduced to the world of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, you are most likely to find yourself under his spell and wanting more.
If first impressions count the most, you might not think much of Harry Dresden. He is the classic underdog; a private investigator complete with a sagaciously dry sense of humor, a cat called Mr., a car that breaks down more than it runs and oh, yes, magical powers. That’s right, he’s a wizard and a P.I. and therein lies the charm of this series.
The story starts like a lot of detective stories. The unlikely hero is hired by a seemingly normal client, who is trying to find her missing husband and the mystery that is woven is tight and spellbinding, as well as thoughtful and told in first person. So we, the reader (or listener) find things out as Dresden does and are never allowed the luxury of knowing what’s going on before he does.
Sounds pretty cut and dry, I know, but as the mystery unfolds we are introduced to a holistically inventive cast of characters that includes vampires, demons, giant scorpions, a dark wizard, prostitutes, fairies, drug dealers, gangsters, a nymphomaniac and even a peeping-pizza-delivery-guy-Tom. Each of these characters adds to the story and texture of the Dresden universe with richly orchestrated layers of darkness, humor and a never-ending sense of impending doom. And, since being underestimated is part of Dresden’s charm, we find that he has more than just a few card tricks up his sleeve.
The story is narrated by James Marsters, who you will most certainly know as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. His dry reading of the text does an excellent job of expressing the internal monologue of Harry Dresden. Since the story in first person, from the perspective of the main character, Marsters does not do a lot of voices, or interpretation of the characters. I think, as an actor, he may have been more inclined to capture the dramatic truth of the moment as opposed to using animated voices to tell the tale. So, it feels like we are gathered around a campfire while Dresden is personally recounting the details of the story for us.
The production value of this audio book is high, with rich sound that is full and easy to listen to. However, there were a few minor things that stood out to me. At times the reading sounded rushed. For instance, there are several times when the narrator almost flubs a line and doesn’t stop to correct himself. Also, there were several times when the background noise and page turns really jumped out at me. I know it may sound a bit picky to mention such things, but the beauty of listening to a story in audio form, is that the listener can enter the audible world of the story. Even the slightest glitch can instantly kill the mood.
All in all, I highly recommend this audiobook. I am happy to say that the hiccups in the production do not deteriorate the stellar performance and storytelling that you will find in Storm Front, Dresden Book 1. So, if you haven’t already found yourself under Dresden’s spell, this audio presentation by Buzzy Multimedia is a fine place to start.