Writer Reading Report: Battle Ground

Battle Ground releases on 29 September, 2020. I received an ARC through NetGalley and I aim for non-spoiler reviews, but read at your own risk.

(from the NetGalley description)

THINGS ARE ABOUT TO GET SERIOUS FOR HARRY DRESDEN, CHICAGO’S ONLY PROFESSIONAL WIZARD, in the next entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files.

Harry has faced terrible odds before. He has a long history of fighting enemies above his weight class. The Red Court of vampires. The fallen angels of the Order of the Blackened Denarius. The Outsiders.

But this time it’s different. A being more powerful and dangerous on an order of magnitude beyond what the world has seen in a millennium is coming. And she’s bringing an army. The Last Titan has declared war on the city of Chicago, and has come to subjugate humanity, obliterating any who stand in her way. 

Harry’s mission is simple but impossible: Save the city by killing a Titan. And the attempt will change Harry’s life, Chicago, and the mortal world forever.

I enjoyed the previous volume in this series despite its lack of a truly satisfying ending, which says good things about Jim Butcher’s skill in the art of spinning out a narrative. The mix of humor, conflict, magic, and mystery always keeps me coming back for more.

I enjoyed Battle Ground too, but again it was a liking despite elements.

I knew Battle Ground would hold a lot of action. I knew conflicts of duty, honor and heart-ties would multiply, and decisions would come home to roost. I knew all those things going in, and it was still a grueling read. A GOOD read, but a hard one.

No one coming into book 16 needs me to tell them what’s good about this series. So. Below, the things that stuck out to me as memorable.

  1. There were no breathers beyond a paragraph or or two of character interplay between epic fights and interpersonal demolition derbies. There just wasn’t page space for narrative relaxation or much of the typical Dresden banter. The whole book takes place over a single night of nonstop end-of-the-world battling. The stakes are sky-high, the forward momentum is relentless, and the tone is… blood-drenched.
  2. Character Development? I didn’t see much, but I didn’t expect much. There are big revelations, uncomfortable epiphanies, and questionable choices, all the juicy, twisty goodness that makes Dresden a wonderful train wreck of a character to follow, but nuance took a back seat to plot raveling.
    That blood-drenched tone I mentioned? I don’t see it lightening up any time soon. This book is the beginning of the end, the rise into the big, bad boss resolution of the whole series, which looks like a war to end All Of Time And Space.
    That means there’s some hard moral work for Harry Dresden ahead, and after his performance in Battle Ground, I am not sure he’s up to the task. That’s disappointment enough to pull my liking for the book down a bit.
    I’m sure I’m meant to feel doubt, but the ambiguity never develops. Will Harry turn to the light or the dark? Will he make the selfless decision when it comes down to the wire? Battle Ground leaves that answer thoroughly up in the air yet again, and not in a way that felt character-driven.
  3. My last impression concerns the “redemptive power of a child” trope. The larger story arc has already headed far down that road. Now, I love reading and writing about family bonds, and I am all-in on the ineffable wonder of love, but, um. It isn’t up to bearing the weight of so much narrative. I reserve judgment until the series is finished, but Harry’s relationship with his daughter makes me uneasy. It’s precious but feels…awfully pat.

Battle Ground is everything Harry Dresden turned up to eleven, the good parts and the problematic ones both. And with all the the virtues and vices of protagonist and plot are cranked up past maximum volume, some of the things I like about the music got lost in the noise.

(All that said, I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT)

That’s it for this one. Until next time!

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