Monday 28 September 2020

#CBR12 Book 64: "Peace Talks" by Jim Butcher

Page count: 352 pages
Audio book length: 12 hrs 52 mins
Rating: 3 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 16 in a long, ongoing series. This really isn't the place to start. Normally, I'd recommend that you start with book 1, but the first three books of The Dresden Files are pretty bad, so you'd be better off starting with book 4, Summer Knight. I highly recommend the audio books, narrated by James Marsters. They're what finally sold me on the series. 

Official book description:

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?

It's been six full years since Butcher published the previous Dresden Files novel, if you don't count the short story collection Brief Cases (and I don't). Unless you're one of the people who still haven't given up on George R.R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss (which I'm honestly close to doing, just finish the books, guys), that's a very long wait in between installments of an ongoing fantasy series. 

It's certainly long enough that I had to go online and read detailed plot summaries of the last few books in the series because I remembered only the barest hints of what happened in them. This is most definitely not the book you want to pick up if you're a Harry Dresden newbie. 

As the brief book description says, there's going to be a big supernatural peace summit in the middle of Chicago, and Harry Dresden has been selected to be on the White Council's security team, despite the fact that there are clearly a whole bunch of wizards who distrust him and question where his true loyalties lie. Harry doubts that the various parties meeting for the summit can ever find common ground, but he also has bigger worries to deal with, when Thomas Raith is taken down after trying to assassinate the leader of the Svartalves, causing a major supernatural diplomatic incident. Thomas' sister Lara certainly doesn't intend to let her brother be sentenced to death and uses favours owed to her by the Winter Court to get Harry to help her rescue him.

I haven't really looked into why it took Butcher so long to write this book. I know that Peace Talks and Battle Ground (out tomorrow) were originally intended to be one book, that just grew far too big and subsequently was split in two. As a result, this book very much feels like one of the many YA movies they decided to split in two to make more money. There's very few efforts made by Butcher to make this storyline wrap up neatly, and while some things seem a bit more resolved at the end of this book, it's clear that there's a whole lot more coming in the next book, making it impossible for me to rate the book, or even get proper closure to the story.

I listened to the book in audio, because to me, James Marsters is now the voice of The Dresden Files, and it felt very comforting to hear him telling me the story once more. For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me (maybe Butcher just had a weird misogynistic backslide), there's a whole lot more of the rather uncomfortable male gaze that happened all the time in the earliest books in the series. If this isn't explicitly explained to be something that's happening to Harry because he's losing control of his baser urges because of the Winter mantle, I'm going to be pissed. 

I like that Butcher has a number of interesting and different female characters make up part of the supporting cast now, but I really wish we didn't need to feel like Harry is leering at all of them, all the time. I'm a big fan of the further developments between Harry and Murphy and will rage quit the series if something bad (or at least worse than she's already suffered) happens to my girl Karrin. 

It's taken me long enough to get round to this review of a book that came out at the end of July, that the second half, Battle Ground, will be released tomorrow. I hope that the various story strands left dangling come to a slightly more satisfying conclusion, and am very curious to see what Butcher has planned - it sounds like it could have wide-reaching ramifications for the rest of the series.

Judging a book by its cover: These books have very little variety when it comes to cover design. Broody dude with a dark coat, big black hat and a staff, supposed to portray our hero Harry. This cover is even more forgettable than some others earlier in the series, with the cover model crouching down and random debris apparently flying around him. It gives you little to no idea of what the book will be about, except that it's yet another installment in The Dresden Files. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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