It’s been like seven years since the last Dresden Files book was published. So as I started reading Jim Butcher’s Peace Talks and Battle Ground (they’re a single book published in two volumes), it was hard to escape how dated they felt. The once-fresh pop culture references were now from the ancient past (All your base? Alien Autopsy?), Harry’s twencen sexism is increasingly obnoxious, and in general, the book just felt like a once-popular band trying to put out a new album doing all the things they used to do.
And… that’s not wrong. That impression never really abated. In fact, it got worse as the book kept uncritically treating Chicago cops as good guys, and threw in more than one bit of offhand sexism or racism.
That’s not the only weakness of the books, either. Butcher falls back—a lot—on idiot plotting where a five minute conversation could shortcut whole entire dramatic subplots, but everyone’s too stupid to actually have that conversation. “Things had been moving so fast that there’d been no time to sit down and ask myself some pretty basic questions” is a direct quote from the book, and that works just as long as the reader never pauses to ask themselves those same basic questions, but in some of the cases here, it’d be pretty hard not to.
Oh, and Butcher doesn’t seem to know how to make a story feel significant without ramping up the scale. That power creep has been a pretty consistent throughline in this series, which starts with Harry as a private detective, then has him assuming more and more powerful roles as he goes against more and more powerful enemies. This book cranks it all up to eleven, in the biggest and loudest and most over-the-top conflict yet. It’s basically the Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame duo of the series.
Which is actually a great comparison, because for all that Butcher does badly, my goodness, he is great at writing action. He orchestrates giant battles with tons of characters involved satisfyingly; he shows individual characters’ powers and skill levels subtly but clearly. And he writes in such a way that I always wanted to find out what was going to happen next, even when the book was pissing me off.
This write-up comes off heavily negative, but for all that, I read the books quickly, and will be there to read the next one (even though I am already pre-annoyed at some of the stuff that’s being clearly set up for it). This series is unequivocally trash at this point, and I can’t honestly recommend it to most people, but it’s compelling trash.