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Cold Days by Jim Butcher

Cold Daysa review by Nalini Haynes

Cold Days is the latest in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

For those who’ve come in late: Harry Dresden is a wizard with a Peter Falk/Colombo-esque voice with added comedy and geek pop-culture references.  The Dresden Files has a feel of Indiana Jones and Die Hard – action adventure with comical elements – but with added magic as if Harry Potter grew up (after being abused at Hogwarts), moved to Chicago and took on Dumbledore as well as the Minister of Magic.  None of this is exactly what happens, but the Dresden Files has elements.  The pop culture references are a bit like Big Bang Theory if it was written by geeks instead of jocks, so the pop culture references are correct instead of building up to a climatic faux pas.  Butcher doesn’t do the comic-book-store social inadequacy gags: in the Dresden Files the geeky gamer guys often get gamer girls.

The Dresden Files is a series of 14 books so far, original and adapted graphic novels, one short-lived TV series (I enjoyed it but the books are better) and a multi-award-winning RPG game.  I have reviewed Ghost Story (the previous novel in the series) and Side Jobs, a collection of short stories. 

Right.  So.  Cold Days.

Harry has woken up to find himself the Winter Knight serving Mab, Queen of Winter fae.  He’s been out for months, the entire duration of Ghost Story, so he needs a lot of physical therapy to get back on his feet.  Mab lovingly provides this therapy by attempting to murder Harry on a daily basis, and this is only the beginning.  After Harry is released from physical therapy, the Winter Court celebrates Harry’s birthday with a party and a serious attempt on his life.  Mab instructs Harry to kill Maeve, Mab’s daughter and the Winter Lady.  Harry sets out to figure out why, knowing the capricious and deceptive nature of the fae.  Demonreach, a magical island off the lakeside coast of Chicago, is about to go ‘boom’ in a big way, taking much of the US with it, so Harry also has to figure out who and when the attack will take place in order to stop it.

In the beginning Harry was a gentleman with human sex drives, which I find very attractive in a character.  At some stage it got a bit sleazy as there was a bit of salivating and titillation over a vampire, Thomas, and his love, Justine, setting up house as a menage a toi to overcome the problem of the vampire being burnt by Justine’s love: if her last kiss was true love, even though Thomas is her true love, Thomas will be burnt by kissing Justine.  So Justine has sex with women for Thomas’ enjoyment, yadda yadda.  Very male macho, blah blah.  Not a fan of that aspect of the series.  In Cold Days, Butcher refers to that relationship but it’s toned down somewhat from previous novels.

The Dresden Files is very hetero-normative (you’re normal if you’re straight), with a cast of characters who are all straight unless, maybe, they’re evil and twisted (the fae, for example, may have varied appetites).  I don’t think any of Harry’s friends over the entire course of the series have been gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered.  In recent books as the cast has expanded, this is a point of increasing concern.  I mean, I have wondered if I’m not in a minority as a straight person into SF and fantasy and creating content because I have so many LGBT friends, so why doesn’t Harry have ANY?  I’m guessing that Jim Butcher has been lambasted for this as there was some discussion shoe-horned into Cold Days, looking for all the world like a defence of this hetero-normativity.  Harry heads out to a park where people watch birds and in the off-season gay guys hook up for anonymous sex.  He summons Titania, the Queen of Summer Fae, who demands to know Harry’s views on homosexuality, her demands ‘justified’ by the illicit nature of their meeting being likened to the illicit nature of the liaisons for which the park is renowned.  Harry hedges then talks about how he’s not perfect so he refuses to pass judgement on anyone, that love is good but he thinks the anonymous sex in that park is sad.  Assuming that this is Butcher’s personal viewpoint, it still doesn’t explain why none of the good guys or Harry’s friends identify as LGB or T: the omission appears to be a form of judgement.  As Jim Butcher was sufficiently responsive to address this issue in Cold Days, perhaps he’ll respond further by introducing a new character, after all he’s said he has plans for over 20 books…

Cold Days shows Butcher back in fine form: much-loved characters reunite with sardonic dialogue, pop-culture references are applied liberally, misdirection and revelation lead the reader on.  Every long-running series has its ups and downs; Butcher’s energy and love for the series is fully restored in Cold Days.  Also, STORY ARC.  This is working like a TV series with a story arc surpassing the seasonal hiatus.  Apparently Butcher has plans to take the series up into the 20s if he has the support of his publisher.

When I began reading this series, Dymocks (an Australian bookseller) flagged it as ‘bubblegum for the brain’; I wholeheartedly agree with this description.  The Dresden Files does not aim to be deep and meaningful, it’s an action adventure comedy firmly planted in the urban fantasy genre.  With this in mind, I highly recommend Cold Days as a fun read for Dresden fans and fans of urban fantasy with a Columbo voice laced with humour.  If you haven’t read the series, I suspect you’ll need to start at the beginning as the stories are woven together.  Butcher even references his short stories from Side Jobs in Cold Days.

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Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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