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If _Changes_ was a season finale, this one's a Season Premier,
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This review is from: Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files (Hardcover)
If you haven't read the prior books in this series, and especially if you haven't read Ghost Story and Changes, stop reading this review now, go back, and start at the beginning with Storm Front.
If Changes was a season finale for the first major arc of the Dresden Files, this one's the Season Premier for what looks to be the latter half of the series (if Butcher sticks to his planned 20+ book arc). Briefly, Harry wakes up from the (near?) death experience of Ghost Story in his new role as Winter Knight, and promptly discovers that he has to
1) kill an immortal,
2) prevent person or persons unknown from blowing up his personal island and half the east coast along with it; and
3) fend off all the various people who are (as always) trying to kill him.
Not even to mention (4) getting back in touch with the friends and family who might be more than a little upset with him over his suicide. In the process, Harry finally discovers the common pattern that's lurked behind all the various villains in the first half of the series, and (begins) to get answers to many long-term questions.
What I like best about these books is Butcher's talent for "fist-pump moments", and as I read this I lost count of how many times I cheered out loud, or jumped up and down, or shouted out to the empty room; this one's full of red meat, and if you liked the prior volumes you'll love this one. In some ways it's more of a pivotal volume than even Changes was; where Changes burned down the old arc, this one builds up the new.
Butcher's writing is consistently improving with each volume, and this one's no exception, even playing off of and using his prior habits to trick Harry and the reader -- often, just when you think "wait, villain is doing [corny predictable thing they've done before] *again*?", it turns out that said villain is deliberately playing on Harry's expectations to throw him a curveball; similarly, when Harry does something predictable, he usually gets punished for it. There are stylistic improvements too -- the horrible puns and jokes are still there, thankfully, but Butcher's prose steps up yet another notch; one marked improvement is that Butcher does a much better job than he ever has before of grounding this book in actual Chicago streets and landmarks.
Overall, fans of the series will have a lot to enjoy with this volume, except perhaps the always-too-long wait for the next one. The one real flaw in this book is that the denouement is a little short -- another chapter or two of wrap-up after all the _Sturm und Drang_ of the last few books would have been nice.