Writer Reading Report: Peace Talks

cover185217-miniI received an ARC of Peace Talks by Jim Butcher through NetGalley. The one drawback? I’ve already read it, so now I have to wait longer before I can read the NEXT book.

Peace Talks is (will be?) a solid entry in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, but it wouldn’t stand well on its own even if it wasn’t novel #16. It concentrates on setting up big-picture conflicts, and it ends on a chapter-break cliffhanger of epic proportions.

True confession: I loathe cliffhanger endings with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns. I have quit following series after being subjected to gotcha cliffhangers. 

I enjoyed Peace Talks despite the lack of ending, which says good things about Jim Butcher’s ability to sort out plot points in a satisfying way.

It’s been five years since the last book released, and at least two since I did a series re-read, but I was immersed from page one, like settling into my comfy chair after a long trip away from home.  Peace Talks has all the fun elements I’ve come to expect from a Dresden Files novel: Harry demonstrates the self-awareness of a kumquat but is shepherded to A Revelation by his friends;  scenes bounce from snarky dialogue to tender affection to outrageous hijinks and back; and conflicts of duty, honor and heart-ties abound.

A sense of Impending Events hangs over every small moment, and the plot was a typical Dresden Files rollercoaster, careening from one disaster and/or painful, no-win decision to the next.  By the end, when some elements were resolved, it felt like reaching the eye of a hurricane, a welcome breather for characters and readers alike.

I think that’s the main reason the cliffhanger didn’t bother me. I was ready to set down the book and take a break from the intensity.

I was honestly ready for a break from Harry, too. Peace Talks also has all the usual sketch-stereotype Dresden Files characters and the main characters make a lot of problematic value judgments about sexuality, race, gender, consent…yeah.

One of the things about the series that keeps me reading is that it doesn’t shy away from moral conflict, but that doesn’t make it comfortable, especially when the murkiness is presented in first person POV. Things are getting darker and darker, and Harry’s choices are getting…iffier and iffier. So. Break good.

And here’s a third reason the cliffhanger didn’t bother me: events in this series have been heading toward a cliff for several books now, so I’m more inclined to forgive it reaching one it had to jump off. Despite all the action, the plot of Peace Talks was mainly setup. All the various characters who’ve been introduced (over what, sixteen books?) are shifting into new ( and final?) configurations.  It isn’t a short book, but to break out yet another analogy, it only had enough pages to show the opening moves in a chess match that may take the rest of the series to resolve.

So brace yourself, because major shenanigans are about to ensue.

 

Writer Reading Report: Smoke Bitten

Thanks to NetGalley, I received two ARCs (advanced reader copies) of upcoming novels by two of my favorite authors. Here be my short but heartfelt reviews of the first one I finished. It’s out now, so you don’t even have to wait!

Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs.

I expect most people interested in Smoke Bitten have read some or all of the preceding books. Smoke Bitten is the twelfth in an urban fantasy series about Mercy Thompson,  part-time coyote, full-time auto mechanic, Volkswagon owner, seer of ghosts, and neighbor to a werewolf alpha.

So if you’re checking reviews because this book looks interesting, you’re right! It is!

I always recommend starting at the beginning of any series as well=established as this one–or at least with a book closer to the beginning.  That said, if this is the only Mercy Thompson book you can find, it’s a great chapter in the ongoing saga, and a decent introduction to the complex, entertaining dynamics between members of an ever-increasing cast.

Honestly, any plot summary without spoilers would be either redundant or too vague to be useful. The important points. First, as with most other books in the series, the events in Smoke Bitten take place over a very short time frame.  Second, the action is local, and the stakes more personal than world-changing.

The plot shines brightest when Mercy is dealing with her friends and family. Often she’s making hard choices between people and rules, between principle and practicality. In this book, a problem arises from the solutions to problems resolved in previous books.

It’s a tangle of big personalities, old grudges, and buried mysteries, with all the emotionally satisfying, complicated I’ve come to expect from this author.

 

Where do superpowers come from?

Power: personal, unique power. Power is the centerpiece of every Rough Passages Tale. Who has it, what happens when people gain it, how it can and can’t change their lives, how the uncertainties and adverse aspects of power rollovers  make that world different than ours…this can be deep story stuff.*

How do those powers work? The short answer is: no one knows. That’s one of many things that makes writing about it interesting.

Everyone with a rollover powers taps into some kind of energy, but that’s where certainty ends. Some poz can see this energy post-rollover, other feel it, all are affected by it and use it one way or another, but what that energy is, or how it works?

It’s still a mystery.

Why? For one thing, it’s impossible for nulls to detect, so disbelief hampers research funding. For another, the phenomenon is less than a hundred years old. The scientific community is still at the stage of documenting, describing, and postulating mechanisms based on existing established systems.  Think radiation in the early 1900’s, electricity in the 1800’s, or chemistry in the 1700’s.

All the uncertainty results in a constellation of valid ideas, wrongheaded hypotheses, and wild-ass speculation.  It also supplies thesis fodder for doctoral candidates and researchers in every field of study from physics to psychology. Ambitious scientists dream of being the next Curie, Faraday, or Mendeleev.  And lots of them already think they have uncovered Major Truths that are dead wrong but fit the facts.

Want an example? (You’re getting one.) Take an observable fact: T-series trolls can ramp up their own abilities and provoke each other into radical physical changes by tapping into their powers near each other. At its worst, the feedback loop will drive them into a collective, destructive frenzy. They train hard to control this effect, called rampage, because a mindless stampede of berserk armored giants is hard on real estate and anything else that can’t get out of their way.

Let’s look at the current scientific model. Explanations for T-series power use are based on studies of pheromone communication and hormone-driven metamorphosis in other species. The model fits the observed data and is an accurately predictive tool…in most cases. Most importantly it allows for engineering useful tools like rampage detectors and assorted training devices. So everyone accepts it as accurate.

But as the Watchmaker of the world, I’ll let you in on a secret. Rampage and powering up aren’t triggered physically.  The model has cause and effect flipped. It’s a pure energy phenomenon, a matter of resonance and exchange from more powerful individuals to less powerful ones, one that has the effect of triggering hormone releases.

Is any of that information useful to you, dear reader? Probably not. But speculation is fun, and so is trivia collection. So I thought I would share.

The takeaway for today? Power is tricky. People are fallible. And science is a process.


*Paranormal personal powers are not the only kind people deal with every day. Power can come from social status, political position, cultural acceptance, and economic prosperity too. Upending people’s lives after they’ve spent decades establishing their place in the socioeconomic power structure that is modern society? Well. That makes for super-duper drama. And drama makes good fiction.


Oh, and the BOOKS! Here are links to the buyable stories. Because they’re awesome.

https://books2read.com/ap/xqvlwR/K-M-Herkes