I'm very pleased to say we're finally drawing to a close to my project to "catch up" to the (at the time of posting) latest release of the Dresden Files in Skin Game (reviewed here). Having had a chance to re-read and review all of these books has been a pleasure and I'm glad for all of my fans who have decided to stick by me as I did so. I'm looking forward to the next book on the list, "Peace Talks."
So where were we?
Ah, yes, Cold Days.
Harry has gotten over his whole 'dead' thing and become the Winter Knight for the Queen of the Unseelie fae. This is a job which Harry has dreaded taking up since it requires him to be the assassin for the decidedly less-than-moral Mab. A sense of how things are go is given when Mab assigns him a physical therapist to recover from his brush with death and, as part of his training, she tries to kill him every day. Harry makes the obvious Princess Bride joke, for which I am very grateful.
After recovering his full strength, in no small part due to the efforts of a attractive half-blooded fairy named Sarissa, Harry has a "coming out" party which presents him to the Winter Court. He gets to meet Santa Claus, a King of Winter, and the Cat Sith who is the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland's Cheshire Cat. During a slow dance with Mab, he receives his first assignment from her: to kill Mab's daughter Maeve.
Impressive set-up, especially since Maeve has been a longstanding character in the series as well as Mab. It's also complicated by the fact that, despite having a body count in five figures, he's not the sort of man to serve as an assassin. He also isn't the kind to just accept an assignment like that since he knows Mab loves Maeve despite her, literally, cold-blooded nature. Harry can't just refuse the assignment, though, and Maeve isn't exactly his friend either.
This moral dilemma is just a small part of a complex story of Harry trying to adapt to his new situation. Gone are so many constants of Harry's life like his apartment, his office, and even his business as a consulting wizard to the Chicago PD. Finding out where he stands with many of his friends and loved ones is a major thrust of the story and Jim Butcher handles it well.
Sarissa is a fun new character and one I enjoyed. Given how crazy the majority of the cast has become after years of oddball adventures, it's nice to have someone perfectly sane to contrast them to. The fact she's Mab's BFF (as Harry says), also adds an interesting new layer to the latter's personality. I look forward to seeing more of Sarissa even if I don't hold out much hope we'll have any follow-up to Harry and her sexual tension but I also liked it for however long it lasted too. Harry needs a stable relationship and none of the women in his life can presently provide it.
I also enjoyed seeing a softer side of Queen Mab. For years, we've been told she's the most ruthless and hate-filled being in the entirety of the series but this didn't always gel with her actions. Here, we get a nuanced portrayal which shows her hard-edged persona may just be what happens to a person who wants to do good in a world as soul-suckingly evil as the Dresden Files world. You don't just have to be ruthless to survive in the world of the supernatural, you have to be the most ruthless individual. The fact Harry has been steadily going down that road himself for over a dozen books now is an enjoyable bit of fridge brilliance.
Longtime fans of the series will be pleased to see the return of Fix and Lilly from Summer Knight, characters who have been absent for the majority of the series. While they have made enough appearances to let you know they still exist, both have grown significantly since Harry last saw them. The fact they're familiar and friendly without being Harry's friends makes the twists very believable. Neither is particularly pleased that Harry is allied to the traditional enemy of the Summer Court and this fact bears in on the plot our hero is currently caught up in.
I'm especially interested where the story involving Molly Carpenter, my favorite of all Dresden Files characters, goes. The twist at the end of the book regarding her future is one I did not see coming and I enjoyed being pleasantly surprised there. I hope we'll also get to see her and Harry have a few conversations about in the future. Harry has looked at her as someone less than himself, either in experience or age for a long time, and this has the potentially to finally reverse that dynamic.
Cold Days also gives us some insight into the overarching story of the series. We meet a new enemy in "Nemesis" which seems to function as a contagious form of mind-control that is related to the Outsiders. I have no idea if this is responsible for the Black Council, is unrelated, or is related to it somehow. I won't lie to you, fellow Dresden fans, but I won't be happy if the Black Council plot is completely replaced by Nemesis. Nemesis is fine as a villain but the Outsiders are too one-dimensionally evil to be the powers behind folk like Cowl. I'm hoping the Black Council is able to give an explanation for its evil even if it's not one Harry would accept.
In conclusion, this is another excellent entry into The Dresden Files. I liked the ending as well. It managed to make the loss of some characters meaningful while taking others into bold new directions.
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