Author: Jim Butcher (website / twitter)
UK Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
See Also: Storm Front
When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago – and all he holds dear?
I have been waiting for this book for about five years. You would think that in this time I would have taken the opportunity to re-read the other instalments in the series to remind myself what had happened, so I would be fresh and ready when I finally got around to getting this new paperback (to match my other fifteen paperbacks). Reader: I didn’t.
I talked in my revisit to book one that the series strength is how vast it becomes, how every new detail then gets called back to in future books, even if they seem insignificant at first. Butcher has built something massively complex, and there are a lot of characters, and I will be honest, I spent a lot of time googling people in this so I could try and remember who on Earth they were and kick-start my memory into action. It was a bit of a tough one, and more than once I did curse past!Me for not taking the time to do a re-read.
At this stage in the series, Butcher has pretty much stopped trying to ease the reader into the action as he did with the earlier books. You’re walked straight into the relationships without much recap as to who anyone is or how he knows them. This is worse than usual as well, as this book opens with the preparations for all the members states of the Unseelie Accords are gathering for a peace summit in Chicago. Except when a member of one of the signatory nations is assassinated shortly before it begins, and Harry’s half-brother is the culprit, tensions rise even further, and Harry has to walk the knife-edge between duty and family.
This felt a little different from the other Dresdens I’ve read, in that it’s not as pacey. It takes place across a similar period of time – a week max, probably less – but it’s less frenetic. I thought this as I read it, there seemed to be a lot more time spent setting things up, negotiating between characters. I wondered if this was indicative of Harry finally growing as a character past “blast first, ask questions later” attitude. It turned out, no.
The answer to why this book felt different actually lies in the fact that there were five years between the previous book, Skin Game and this one, but only six months between this book and the next in the series, Battle Ground (which I don’t have yet, because I’m waiting for the paperback, for matching reasons), came out only two and a half months later in the US – ten months later in the UK. I can only assume these are parts one and two of the same story, split into two for length reasons. On the one hand, this is great – prior to Peace Talks, the books had been getting increasingly chunky. By splitting it, this means that Butcher can actually take the time to really explore all stages of the story without rushing it, giving it the time and attention it deserves.
The downside is an obvious one: there’s no real resolution to the story in this novel. Instead, it ends at what – with any other volume in the series – would be the narrative midway point. It’s a pause for breath rather than an ending, and as such you don’t feel a satisfaction from finishing the book. There’s nothing to say you can safely unwind. Instead, if you’re a moron like me, you buy part one as an MMP and then have to wait another four months for part two to come out as an MMP. Curse my need for bookshelf cohesion. I could buy it as a hardback right now, but then my shelf would look wonky, and that is arguably worse than having to wait
(if you’re me).
It’s a good solid entry into the series, but it very much benefits from a re-read of a few of the previous books beforehand, and buying it with Battle Ground to get the full story in one go. If you’re a Dresden fan, you won’t be disappointed (except if you haven’t got Battle Ground at the same time), but it’s definitely not the book to start the series with.
- A solid later Dresden novel, but feels slower-paced and more around talk and negotiation. This is because it’s only part one, with Battle Ground composing part two. I’m assuming that it’s a two-parter, but at this stage in the game we may be on a runaway train of Dresden novels, with no clean endings any more.
- If you can, definitely re-read a few of the previous novels beforehand or at least spend some time on the Dresden wiki. SO MANY CHARACTERS. SO MANY THINGS I HAD TOTALLY FORGOTTEN. Shame on me.
- Two books in one year after a five year wait is a little like a monsoon after a drought, and I’m curious to see if this will be the pattern for the remaining series – allegedly a twenty-two book case files run, with an “apocalyptic trilogy” to follow”, so at least eight more books after Battle Ground (phew!) – or if there will be more regular instalments. This also has to be balanced alongside Butcher’s other series, The Cinder Spires. But then, I’m still waiting on my sequel to Shades of Grey from Jasper Fforde, and that’s been 12 years now, so Dresden might be finished before I see that and feel positively prompt.