After some much-needed time off, Harry Dresden is now back in town. However, he is no longer just the only guy in the Chicago phonebook under the heading “Wizards.” Oh, no. He is now the Winter Knight and beholden to Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Unseelie Court of the Sidhe. Mab’s word is now Harry Dresden’s command, no matter where she wants him to go, no matter what she wants him to do, and no matter who she wants him to kill. Guess which one she wants first?
After months of intensive job training, Mab has given Harry his first assignment. And, of course, it won’t be a mundane assassination. Nope, Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No biggie, right?
If that wasn’t bad enough, Harry uncovers a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that will land him in a kind of trouble that makes death look like a holiday. And to top it all off, Harry can feel his newfound powers eating away at him, slowly forcing changes upon his being. So not only is it a race to save the world (again), but this time, Harry is playing for the one thing he has left to call his own: his soul.
Playing in the big leagues
It becomes readily apparent within the first quarter of Cold Days that this novel is going to be setting the stage for the next phase of the series. Harry has reached that point now where other supernatural entities are starting to take notice—without him mouthing off to them first. For not only is he on the Summer Court’s hit list, he’s also on Winter’s—because, in Mab’s philosophy, what good is a Knight who can’t defend himself and win?
And because Harry is Harry, he does begin mouthing off to the big fish in this new pond he’s found himself in. And some of the things he has the audacity to mouth off to? Not very nice.
“You’ve taken your fist step into a larger world.”
With the change into the big leagues, so to comes a shift in the world around Harry. Because of this, Butcher is able to flesh out some of the details about the big pieces on the board, both character-wise and story-wise. It is finally revealed why exactly Bob lives in a skull and is terrified of Mab. While it is fantastic to finally know the answer to that question, Butcher’s craft has developed to the point where he’ll answer one question but leave you wanting the answers to four more. That’s how I felt after reading Bob’s big reveal.
Also, remember that teaser about Demonreach from the end of Turn Coat? Oh, maaaaaan. That comes back in a big way. Big as in “going to go boom in about one day unless Harry can find a way to prevent it”—which only leads to more questions about the island: the who, the how, and, most importantly, the why. It’s a fantastic amount of history of this world that Butcher has created, and really starts to put things in perspective—the world is an even crazier, awe-inspiring place than we’ve yet realized.
And this is just the beginning. Some of the major differences between the Winter and Summer Courts of the Sidhe are fleshed out. We get to see what Molly has done with her life since Ghost Story. Toot-toot and the Za Lord’s Guard make a reappearance. The Wild Hunt. The Gatekeeper. And that’s just to name a very slight few.
The “Holy @&#%!” factor
This book has it. This book has it in freaking spades. The only other book that has come anywhere close in this is Changes, and Cold Days blows it out of the water. This is a combination of the realization that Harry’s now playing in the big leagues and the world building mentioned above. Some of the things that occurred took me completely by surprise, yet, in retrospect, I could see exactly where and how they had been set up in the previous novels. Especially some moments in the final battle sequence. Man, the feels.
In addition, it seems that every couple of chapters or so, Harry is discovering something new, something big, something drastic that could ruin his day in eighteen different ways and still have time for dessert. Now, in most other scenarios, something like that would likely get stale and lose its effect after a while. Not with Jim Butcher, however. And that’s going into the novel with no expectations other than “He’s going to blow your mind in multiple ways; brace yourself.” I’ve been reading Jim’s stuff for years, building theories, analyzing the bejeebus out of it, and Cold Days still proceeded to blow my mind, repeatedly and without mercy. And it was awesome.
It’s difficult to find a working balance between external conflict and internal introspection in a novel like Cold Days. It’s even more difficult to find a balance of the two that feels absolutely natural and doesn’t leave one side lacking. However, that is exactly what Jim Butcher has done with this novel. Harry has kept up with some of his introspection from the last novel, and makes for a very engaging read (all the while, y’know, furthering the plots). If I had to pin down a singular theme that Harry is dwelling on, it would be the old adage: “Power corrupts.” Now the Winter Knight, Harry has access to the full power of Winter, and from the get-go, he can feel it trying to subvert who he is.
Along with that, Harry’s seen what the power did to the last guy who held it. He also knows that he’s done some terrible things in the past. And knowing what he knows now, Harry also knows that he would do those things again without hesitation. What Harry has a difficult time coping with is the idea that he himself might be becoming what he has always fought against: a monster.
On top of that, now that Harry is back in town, he has to come to terms with the people he had left behind. It’s been a while; he’s changed, they’ve changed, and everyone is wary. Some people, such as Molly and Thomas, take to his return better than others. Things get…interesting between Karrin Murphy and Harry, and it’ll be a trip to watch and see where things progress from here. However, there is one person of whom he is afraid of interacting with more than anything: Maggie. The conversations centering around her are some of the most heart-rending scenes I’ve read this year.
All of this serve to create a character who is inherently flawed, who is inherently human. And it’s something that has made the last three installments of The Dresden Files my favorite books in the series. Because, prior to this point, we haven’t really seen Harry deal with serious corruption of power. Neither have we seen him have to deal with those who he cares deeply about after they don’t really trust him anymore.
It’s gut-wrenching and horrible to read. And yet, it is the little things like those interactions that truly sell this novel as something that could happen in our world.
The stage is set
Cold Days, more than anything, is the setting of the stage for the next phase of Harry Dresden’s story. It feels at once both an ending and a beginning. It is the end of the transitory period that began with Changes and continued with Ghost Story. At the same time, it is also the beginning of the next stretch of Harry’s life. He is no longer simply a wizard private eye or a Warden of the White Council. He is something greater that holds a far more terrible potential now. And that’s just the personal touches.
Butcher is also setting the stage for some of the conflicts to come at points down the line. There’s an epic level of foreshadowing in Cold Days. And, ironically enough, a good chunk of said foreshadowing comes from tying together loose threads left over from earlier novels. Things come to Harry’s attentions, things that are unnatural with both the mundane and supernatural worlds. In addition, there some really chilling and disturbing things introduced that will definitely be coming back later in the series. Things like the Outer Gates and baddies that make the naagloshii skinwalker look like a two-bit punk kid sorcerer. Oh, and if you’re familiar with Christian scripture, there is a reference to something from the Book of Revelation. And that one scared the freaking crap out of me.
Why should you read this book?
Because if you don’t, you’re crazy. As always, if you’ve not yet picked up the series, I highly recommend starting at the beginning with Storm Front. While Cold Days can function better as a standalone than Ghost Story, it is still building off of a lot of what happened in the last two books.
But, really. Why should you read Cold Days? It’s a fantastic entry into The Dresden Files, and is one of my favorite books to date. It has action, it has snark, it has one of the most trippy and twisted plots I’ve ever seen, and it has fantastic world building out the wazoo. It is an epic entry to a series that continues to improve upon itself, and it proceeds to set the stage for the novels to come. With Cold Days, Jim Butcher has crafted a story that will make you laugh your butt off, that will leave your mind reeling with all of the possibilities, and that cuts straight to the core of the reader’s humanity with surgical precision and refuses to let up on the pressure and suspense until the very end.
Garrett received a review copy of Cold Days courtesy of Roc Books.