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!

Masks. Is yours comfy?

Early in the Age of Mask Mandates I noticed a puzzling thing: I had adapted MUCH more easily to wearing masks than others I knew.

Masks leaves a large percentage of my friends feeling breathless or dizzy, they give people headaches or leave them exhausted after a short time. They hurt. My friends are NOT using these problems as excuses to endanger themselves or others by going mask-free, mind you, but they do suffer major discomfort to be safe and save others.

But me? I’m not suffering. I find masks relatively comfy. This surprised and puzzled me, because as a rule, I have major problems adjusting to new physical demands. (Just ask my very, VERY patient optician.)

So why has mask-wearing been such a breeze? The answer came to me, after much pondering, while washing my face after a 3-hour mask-wearing shift at work.

I don’t mind masks because I was a competitive swimmer for six years, and I’ve spent countless hours swimming laps for exercise in the years since.

No, seriously. Here’s what I’ve learned from playing in the pool:

  1. Swim caps & goggle taught me how to endure the literal pain of straps and seals diging into my head. Anything that presses near the ears or nose, covers the sides of the head, or ties above the neck in back can lead to mysterious, horrendous headaches. You learn which precises spots on your head will tolerate intrusions by trial and error, and even then, tiny adjustments make a huge difference. I do all that without thinking.
  2. Wearing goggles also taught me how to tune out the sensation of things grinding against my cheeks and sinuses. Yes, that matters. We all have lots of nerves there. New experiences and sensations are exhausting even when they’re nice ones. Masks aren’t nice.
  3. Lap swimming taught me how to override my body’s interpretation of pressure. There’s nothing natural about putting your face into water and convincing your lungs it’s FINE, GO AHEAD AND WORK. Inhaling deeply when your senses tell you there’s resistance goes against instinct and sets off an unconscious stress response. Cloth doesn’t create that much resistance to inhaling, but it doesn’t take much to make the experience stressful. And stress = headaches, weariness, and anxiety. Me? I just…tune it out.
  4. Swimming taught me breathing discipline. Exertion in water ups the volume on that constant “not enough air getting through!” message the brain is sending. There is no way to compete without passing out from O2 deprivation unless you re-learn how to breathe in specific resistance-avoidance ways.
    Now that I’m looking for it, I catch myself breathing in through my mouth and giveing the breath a little deeper oomph than I “normally” would whenever my mask rides up against my nose. And then I exhale just that tiny bit more forcefully through the nose than I would without the mask on. Exactly as when I’m swimming.
  5. Competition taught me the importance of evaluating equipment. Comfort, looks, and performance all matter, but comfort has to be priority 1. If my cap gave me headaches, my goggles fogged, or my suit dragged, they weren’t right for ME, even if the whole Olympic swim team swore by them. Whichever one fits me best, meets the monimum specs and won’t get me disqualified.
    Same for masks. I don’t understand anyone who accepts the first mask type as the Only Type. I went through 5 styles and 3 different material combinations to find ones that I can wear all day.
    I am aware not everyone can afford that, but I think everyone should learn that they CAN find a different mask if the one they’re wearing is uncomfortable.
  6. Swimming also taught me how to accurately gauge a 6′ distance, to avoid touching my face, and to read people’s emotional state when half their features are obscured, but those skills aren’t quite as critical as the other ones.

Are masks the best thing ever? Ugh, no. I hear people better when I can see their lips move. I have a better chance of interpreting non-verbal cues correctly if I can see mouths as well as eyes and bodies. They fog my glasses. They make my face sweat. I constantly want to fidget with them.

But the kind of serious issues that make healthy people understandably unhappy about wearing them at all? Nope.

Last little point of interest: people masking up hasn’t significantly affected my ability to identify them. That isn’t a trick from swimming, though. That’s an unexpected silver lining to my faulty facial recognition software. I didn’t recognize people by faces before they wore masks!

So for me, a mask is just another head accessory, and I am thankful for that. I suspect I’ll be wearing one in public spaces for a quite some time yet. So it’s a good thing I love having the right accessories.

I am curious how all y’all are dealing with Mask Life. If you want to share which of your life experiences have helped you make your peace with wearing them, I’d love to read about it.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Until later!

gold carnival mask with red feathered headdress
This is not a protective mask, but it is pretty.

My sister reminded me about this one

Today in Klingon fables, as told by Kahless to Gowron in the STtNG episode “Rightful Heir:” 

Long ago, a storm was heading toward the city of Quin’lat. The people sought protection within the walls, all except one man who remained outside. I went to him and asked what he was doing.

“I am not afraid,” he said. “I will not hide my face behind stone and mortar. I will stand before the wind and make it respect me.”

I honored his choice and went inside. The next day, the storm came, and the man was killed.

The wind does not respect a fool. Do not stand before the wind.

Gee, why does this story feel so relevant to the experience of living in America right now? Oh, right. Willful ignorance & pure hubris.

Wear your mask. Keep your distance. Stay in your lane.

It’s windy out there. The storm is already here.