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!

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.

 

A post full of happy things

The world is a burning roller coaster from hell, but there are bitty bright spots, and today I’m choosing to share those bits instead of ranting about the deadly, ignorant, hateful bullshit splattered all over my social media walls.

Fair warning, full disclaimer and all, these are personal happies. If that makes me a self-absorbed, entitled, privileged, self-righteous asshole of a human being, welp, your exit is just a click away. Buh-BYE. Side note: one of my new Quarantine Social Media Self-Care routines is muting strangers & friends alike who post name-tagged complaint memes. And walking out of real-life conversations where such “jokes” are made. #FirstNameProblems

Okay, I accidentally digressed into a wee, prickly rant, but look. Those shit memes leave me wounded & defensive. Today I refuse to apologize for feeling joy. Wallowing in sadness, guilt, or anger won’t help anyone, and I will NOT post about what I do for others because it feels performative and uncomfortable. Just quietly doing kind or generous things is much easier.

ANYway. Here’s the joy part. AND PICTURES. If I did this right, the most current pic of an area will be on top, with a series of progress shots & then remarks below.

First, the first-impression zone. It is wholly transformed. I can’t wait to sit under those windows in sunshine, summer & winter.  Light. Air. Room to move. Level. Floor. There will be plants.

Next, the area we’re calling the Whatnot room. No for-sure plans for it yet. Might become a nook for Spouseman’s painting desk & minis, might be where the chest freezer goes, might be BOTH, because there’s room! Hiding in that back right corner will be a sweet little half-bath with its own window. Which will be privacy frosted, yes.  It isn’t there yet, but it will be soon. Happy, happy anticipation.

Lookit this gaming room. Is looking POSH, yes? Scroll down for the view from the other side. The TV stand is gonna look SWEET in that nook, and the built-ins have lights at the top.  

What’s gonna go on those shelves? Dunno. Booze, maybe?  Maybe Legos on the left side with the shallower shelves. No decision yet. Still in the pleasant pondering stages.

Lastly: I have a washing machine again!!! Words cannot express my relief at being able to do laundry without leaving the house again. Except those words did, I suppose.

Oh! wait. One more last pic. The first floor bathroom had to be ripped open to gut all the 88-year-old nasty, corroded iron drains & galvanized pipe. Which meant only one bathroom in the house, upstairs. And then Spouseman started working from home full time, too, and…yeah.

IMG_7413

But now it’s all back together & repainted. Good-bye, dirty-gold walls (technically olive bronze, but…uh…) hello, Antique Blush (aka a whiter shade of pale or whatever.)

Today, the last bit of cabinet & mirror go back up, or so I’m told. What I know for sure is the “Stay Home Stay Safe” life has been much easier since the sink and toilet went in. Big yay.

So. Um. That’s that!

It’s been a wacky couple of weeks. I’ve gotten plenty of Things done, but not posts or sharable fiction because, well it’s hard to concentrate on those when much of the worst-case research material I’ve collected for literally decades is coming true all around me in real time. But!  I’ve changed up my media blocking so I stop surfing from site to site for fresh statistics to fret over, and I hope to tackle Actual Writing again soon.

Until later, all!