TLDR: “It’s a two-parter.”
So. If you’re someone who has had their head under a rock, it’s been five years since the last Dresden book, and this one was supposed to have been completed by last October. It wasn’t. Then, when it was completed, the story goes, it needed extensive editing because of the gap between novels and the “extended” fashion in which it had been written. Skipping ahead a bit, we’re getting two books this year, Peace Talks (see below) and Battle Grounds in September.
There are two main theories: a) that the full Battle Talks novel would have been massive, and God knows that fans who have waited five frikking years for their next fix would haaaaate to have a book they couldn’t finish in a mere three hours (cough), publishers decided to split it in half. Or, b) the full Battle Talks novel was massive (the preliminary chapter count from last year/this spring seems to confirm this), and the publishers saw the opportunity to milk money out of an extremely reliable franchise which hadn’t actually produced anything in five frikking years.
Then, there’s also c) which seems to have some credence given that it was Jim Butcher himself who stated it: Battle Talks was going to be massive, and he was going for a gimick…that didn’t work. Now, I have forgotten the details of this interview and am too lazy to go look it up. But basically JB said that he was going for two separate gimicks, one involving short-term memory loss (the cornerhounds’ special attack power) and then the other one involving an abrupt genre and tonal shift to the novel half of the way through. (Probably when all the screaming and dying breaks out.) Apparently his test audiences and more importantly his editors weren’t sold on this. So splitting the book was the best solution, really. Honest.
One way or another, Peace Talks is supposed to be a two-part episode, in the tradition of those old TV shows where the two-parters would herald Something Big, something truly epic, that needed lots of setup and gave lots of payoff. It’s not supposed to be a stand-alone novel.
Which makes reviewing it, in the absence of Battle Grounds, tricky. The book does not stand on its own.
Does it suffer for it? Wrong question, because this book does not stand on its own. Any answer is going to have to include Battle Grounds in its calculations.
But? I’m willing to wait.
Jim Butcher really does have what it takes (if and when he’s willing to put the work in, because sometimes the guy really doesn’t and it shows). Going by the Dresden Files subreddit, some aren’t. But the average IQ of Reddit is the temperature of the pavement outside divided by the time of day, so there really isn’t any worthwhile perspective to be gained from that fact anyway.
So. Plot! The Fomor have declared their willingness to sit down at the table and hammer out some kind of agreement with the rest of the Accords signatories. The talks are going to be hosted in Chicago by Baron Marcone and with the assistance of the acting White Queen, Lara Raith, and the governance of the Accords’ creator, Queen Mab.
One Harry Dresdent is going to be present, not only as Winter Knight and Mab’s enforcer, but also as a wizard of the White Council. Problem: the White Council does not trust him–even the Wardens he’s fought alongside are wary and closed-off–and the Council is actively considering expelling him from their ranks. His grandfather, Ebenezar McCoy, wants him to leave Chicago and go play politics for a while to reassure people….but this plot thread gets lit on fire when an argument breaks out on the best way to Protect One’s Offspring, hey, how well did your way work out for my mom? Oh wait, she hated you and now she’s dead, isn’t that right?
And, of course, Harry can’t go to the White Council, because as Winter Knight, he’s just been loaned out to Lara Raith in payment of favors owed. Ebenezar also has things to say about this, because, it turns out, he hates White Court vampires with the passion of a thousand incandescently flaming suns, hates them to a degree we’ve never actually seen before.
Kind of bad news, given that he has one White Court vampire grandson, huh.
The problems continue, because said grandson, Thomas Raith, somehow gets caught trying to assassinate an Accorded head of state. In the house where his brother and his young niece(s) live. Now, that beyond “Thomas, you idiot, what have you done?” territory, and we’re either in mind control or (what everyone assumes), blackmail. Harry proceeds on the assumption that someone unknown has threatened Thomas’s girlfriend, true love, and soon to be mother of his child, Justine, and panicked him to the point where he would do something like this. (This assumption seems somewhat justified, given that everyone and their kind brother who has ever watched a spy movie seems to be watching Justine. Including the FBI and someone we are assuming is Paranoid Gary the Paranetizen. Is it just me, or is this guy overdue for some actual screentime?)
Anyhow, so the svartalves are pissed to the point of slowly torturing Thomas to death and the clock starts ticking. Fortunately for Harry, whatever it was Lara was intending to use him for gets converted to “get my/our brother back.”
And…that’s basically it.
Until the Fomor show up. Spoiler (as if there wasn’t an entire short story dedicated to the idea that the Fomor are chaotic assholes who exist to break their given word and destroy other people’s lives and power): The Fomor are chaotic assholes who break their given word and destroy lives and power structures. They are, in fact, aiming at exterminating the rest of the Accords signatories.
And also Chicago.
And they have the power to do it.
And the Outer Gates are under heavy attack.
Dun dun dunnnnnn.
(PS, here is pre-order link to next book in series Dresden Files, book Battle Grounds, pls order now kthxbai)
There are a couple of main criticisms.
1) People acting out of character. Mostly, its understandable just with the context given. The Wardens don’t trust Harry–though they do want to–because he’s turned into a seriously scary guy and, frankly, a little bit of reassurance that he’s on the side of the angels would help. So that’s that. But mostly, people are wondering WTH is up with Ebenezar.
Eb is borderline irrational in this book–and crosses that line near the end–boiling with White Court Vampire hatred to a level that hasn’t been seen before. He’s also worried about Maggie. And by worried, we mean, Harry has to explicitly warn him not to even think about grabbing her away FROM HER FATHER and stashing her “somewhere safe.”
I think that this can be explained with some subtext: first, Eb is REALLY, really, really worried about something. It’s basically the Zeroth Law of the Dresden Files that There Is A Lot Going On That Harry Doesn’t Know About. Something big is going on with the White Council, and….an old man is worried about his only living relatives. Second–Ebenezar McCoy, like most of the Senior Council, is only just barely hanging on. I’m willing to wait for the reveal (post Eb’s death, of course), of what was happening, because the knife just has to get twisted.
Then, there’s Lara. My problem? She’s way, way softer and nicer than she’s ever been in this book. Lara Raith isn’t a nice person, no matter how chivalrously Harry tries to view her. She’s an inhuman monster with one or two redeeming values. But here, she’s risking her own neck–in person–and her Court’s standing, to rescue Thomas…when there’s a perfectly good cats’-paw right in front of her WHO WOULD DO IT FOR FREE. Seriously, Lara wastes an entire Favor just making Harry introduce her to Cristos/Marcone.
So for some reason, Lara is both much kinder and gentler than she should have been…and far dumber. I’m going to give JB a very very large credit here, and say that maybe it’s because Harry’s perspective has changed. He’s no longer in a position where he’s threatened by Lara Raith…at all…and is, in fact, more than a match for her physically, psychically, and (to a degree) politically. So maybe it’s not Jim Butcher making his characters dumber to make the story easier. Maybe it really is clever writing.
Then, there’s Marcone. Why? Because rescuing Thomas (spoiler, DUH) is absurdly easy for the heroes, even given the level of distracted everyone is…by a puppet show. Well, for this one, I’m just going to go with, Marcone’s gonna Marcone.
2) This book is very horny. Now….this one, honestly, is kinda true. Despite the fact that Harry is actually getting some (WITH MURPHY AND IT’s <3, SUCK IT HATERS BOOOYA HARRY/MURPHY 4EVER WOOOOO), there still is quite a lot of him noticing when he’s in the presence of supernaturally, or even just humanly, beautiful women and getting turned on.
Winter Knight Mantle, maybe? But I do think that this was overdone, myself, too.
3) People hate Butters, apparently.
Whatever floats your boat, fam.
So–overall, I’m slightly convinced that the gimick is: we’re already in the parallel/Mirror Dresden universe. We might even have been watching Alternate Harry Dresdens for the past few books, at least since Changes. Maybe the Mirror Mirror Harry is actually Harry Prime and all the rest of the books have been his shadows. This is just a feeling, mind, but it’s based on the fact that there have been inconsistencies in the text that just aren’t really adding up.
– Why does Harry keep referring to his coat as a duster, when he should be mentioning that it’s actually an Inverness coat? Harry spends enough time reminding the audience about his gear/what it does/how he made it, and so forth–and we used to get the “this is my duster, it has spells on it,” etc, quite often when he had it. You’d think that would continue, wouldn’t it? And by the way, what happened to the red jewel in the middle of his pentacle necklace? You know, the one that his mother left for him, that gives him access to her knowledge of the Ways?
– Why does Butters keep warning Harry (once per book) about the dangers of the Winter Knight mantle in almost the same terms each time?
– Why does Harry say he’s never been to the BFS castle…when in that same breath he references the scene in which he did exactly that–the denouement of the previous book, no less?
Hell, I liked it. I liked it, and the inconsistencies don’t bother me because I have faith and the mysteries are intriguing rather than irritating, and I don’t happen to be annoyed by the characters. (except Lara, I don’t like Lara).
So I’m not going to play any cutesey 2.5/5 stars games. This is a 9/10 book–and maybe it’ll go higher when they give us the rest of it.