Review of COLD DAYS by Jim Butcher

I love the Dresden Files. I love Harry Dresden’s first-person point of view,the cast of characters Jim Butcher has surrounded Dresden with, the corny, totally nerdy jokes,the breakneck noir plot lines and the fact that this is the 14th book in the series and it’s still the book I look forward to most every year.

GHOST STORY, the previous book, was good but not great. Dresden walking around as a ghost took away some of the series’ top strengths — his interplay with his friends — but COLD DAYS returned the series to its roots, with Dresden reconnecting with some of his friends and reacquainting us to the politics between Winter and Summer with a totally different kind of confrontation this time around.

In both of Jim Butcher’s series, this and CODEX ALERA, I’ve noticed that his writing and storytelling get stronger as the series progresses, as though he’s growing more comfortable with the characters and the story he wants to tell. With almost every book, he finds a way to change the game, to heighten the stakes while continuing to mix in enough humor to make the books light, quick reading. In GHOST STORY, Butcher upped the stakes by turning Dresden into the Winter Knight, and in this book he deals with the very first ramifications of that decision. COLD DAYS changes the game again in an intriguing way and includes an ending that makes me sad and yet still makes me look forward to the 16th book.

By now, the cast of characters has grown large, but I found in reading this book that I remember them all (which says something about Butcher’s ability to create interesting, memorable characters), and I was interested to see how Butcher reintroduced Dresden to his old friends and how quickly everyone responded to having him back in the world of the living.

I read this book in four days as a bit of a break from THE WHEEL OF TIME, and it was refreshing to read a book with a protagonist who told jokes, with a plot that moved forward with every page and a read that was just good old-fashioned fun. I’m enjoying THE WHEEL OF TIME, but COLD DAYS was a great change of pace that made me appreciate even more what Jim Butcher does so well — tell fast-paced stories with funny, interesting characters in a world that continues to grow more complex and interesting with each chapter. I know these books are best sellers, but I can’t help but feel as though the Dresden Files books are underrated — that people really don’t understand just how good these books truly are.

Review of THE PATH OF DAGGERS by Robert Jordan (re-read)

I’m starting to wonder if I’ve made a mistake in deciding that I wanted to complete THE WHEEL OF TIME by reading all the books in the series consecutively. With THE PATH OF DAGGERS now under my belt, I’m eight books into the 14-book saga, and I can’t honestly say that I feel any closer to the conclusion than I was three or four books ago.

When I began reading THE WHEEL OF TIME, I was a senior in high school, so I was able to read the first seven or eight books consecutively without having to wait for the next installment. But once I caught up to Jordan, I had to wait a couple years between books, and in that time other characters and other plots filled my mind, shoving Jordan’s characters into the background. By the time the next book had been published, I found it impossible to distinguish the lesser characters or keep the infinite subplots tidy in my mind.

After THE CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT, I decided that once the series ended – if it ended – I would go back and read the whole thing from start to finish. With A MEMORY OF LIGHT set for a January release, I started with EYE OF THE WORLD this fall and remembered why this series has established itself as one of the most famous and successful fantasy series in history. By this point – after reading nothing but WHEEL OF TIME for months – I also remember why I needed to put the series down and why Jordan’s detractors are just as vocal as his fans.

Jordan’s world building is strong and the narrative scope of the book is unparalleled by anyone but Tolkien and Steven Erikson, but he has two flaws that have really drawn the ire of Jordan’s critics. The first is his wordiness, the way he uses a full page to describe something when a sentence will do. Sometimes it makes for beautiful prose, but most of the time it just seems like verbal diarrhea. I work as a communications specialist at a college, a job that requires me to speak to college professors and administrators regularly, and while most everyone is quite pleasant, there are some people I dread speaking to, especially when I’m on a deadline, because they’ll speak with me for an hour while providing just a few minutes of real, useful information. Jordan reminds me of these people. He cranks out these 700-page paperbacks, but for the last few books it feels like I’ve only gotten 300 pages of the book I want to read and 400 pages of padding.

Jordan’s second flaw only compounds the first issue. Jordan has created a deep and detailed world and he literally provides us with dozens of POV characters. Early in the series, this was a strength, but as Jordan has added more characters, plots and subplots, it has become too much for him – and possibly any author – to manage. Characters take center stage in one book, then disappear for the next two. Once you decide you like a character’s plotline, they’re gone for the next 1,500 pages.

Or a character does nothing for a book or two, finally lulling you into complete and utter apathy, and then they take center stage. Early in the series I didn’t like Egwene, but her plotline with the Aiel and the Wise Ones made her one of the more likeable characters in the series to me. But once she became the Amyrlin Seat, she spent the next two books doing nothing. By the time THE PATH OF DAGGERS began, I no longer cared that much about Egwene. She’d been inactive for far too long. Then she began taking action in this book, moving the plot forward and changing the landscape of the story. She was one of the best parts of this book, but even as I think on how much better she was in this book, I can’t help but remember that she’s been a non-entity for the two books beforehand.

When A CROWN OF SWORDS ended, I was looking forward to A PATH OF DAGGERS in some part because of the way Mat Cauthon’s storyline ended, with him trapped in Ebou Dar as the Seanchan take over the city. We’d already been told that Mat was destined to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons, who is apparently Seanchan, so I was looking forward to getting more insight into Seanchan society and seeing how Mat would interact with the Seanchan’s warrior society. So, of course, I was disappointed when Mat made exactly zero appearances in this book.

There are plenty of instances of this – characters picked up and then dropped, plotlines seemingly forgotten – and it’s all a product of Jordan trying to tell too many stories. The sheer scope of the series is admirable, but at this point, I can’t help but think that I’d rather read a book with just a handful of plotlines that the author can really dig into.

Review of A CROWN OF SWORDS by Robert Jordan (re-read)

To this point in the Wheel of Time series, I’ve primarily been a fan of Perrin Aybarra, enjoying the books in which he has a larger role and generally finding the books that don’t feature him to be ultimately forgettable. A CROWN OF SWORDS doesn’t include much Perrin at all, as the two major plots focus on Elayne, Nynaeve and Mat searching for the Bowl of Winds and Rand preparing for and ultimately attacking Sammael. Somehow, even though I haven’t been a fan of the Bowl of Winds plotline and Rand’s plotting makes his storyline slow until the book’s final 75 pages or so, I enjoyed this chapter in the saga. I feel like I’ve analyzed the hell out of The Wheel of Time by this point, so here are just some random thoughts at this point in the series:

  • Of Rand’s three women, to this point I like Min the best. That relationship seems the least complicated, and Min seems the only one who actually likes Rand as he is.
  • I’ve complained at length previously about the way Nynaeve and Elayne treat Mat, and in this book Jordan appears to have taken some steps to try to correct it. Of course, he counters that progress by the inexplicable Tylin-Mat storyline, which is wildly uncomfortable because Mat was basically raped and most of the characters in the book think it’s funny. I can just imagine how well that one would go over if Mat was a girl.
  • Sometimes it seems like whenever Jordan gets bored, he decides to add another group of women who, unbeknownst to the Aes Sedai, can also channel. First it was the Wise Women, then the Sea Folk, now the Kin. It has become one of Jordan’s go-to moves, right up there with the Seanchan attacking to fill in slow parts of the story or, even more commonly, one of the Ta’veren wishing he knew as much about women as the other two.
  • Mat is growing on me once again. When I picked the series up again, I’d remembered liking Mat, so I was shocked to discover that I actively disliked him through the first handful of books. But since he’s taken a leadership role, I’ve found him a lot more humorous and his storyline far more interesting. His ascendance in this book helped to make up for how little we saw Perrin.
  • I think the search for the Bowl of Winds is where people really start turning on this series for stalling. They know the bowl is in the city, they know what part of the city and they know what the building looks like. Nonetheless, the search takes more than an 800-page book. It wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I can see why some people got frustrated. I’m at a point where I’ve only read two books past this, and I don’t remember much about them. Hopefully the story’s pace will pick up a bit.