Review: Cold Days

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Cold DaysCold Days by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Although I’ve said many times that the Dresden Files just keep getting better with each book, I do have to admit that there are some exceptions. Not every novel is literally better than the previous one and I think this is one of those occasions.

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that I disliked the book. Far from it. I don’t think it’s even possible for me to dislike a Dresden novel. I’ve been sucked in from day one and now I’m invested in the characters and story. Plus, Jim Butcher’s knack for writing breakneck action means that a Dresden novel will never be boring.

It’s pretty difficult to give an objective review of a novel in this series, especially now that there are 14. However, what I didn’t like, what kept it from receiving a five star review, was simply that Harry was an idiot.

Yes, I realize that Harry can be pretty thick at times, but he does usually learn from his mistakes. This time, he gets thrown into the ring with some epic magical forces and he tries to handle it all on his own. He’s made it through a lot of bad situations, but he’s needed a lot help along the way and it just took him too long to remember that this time.

That, and the scale is just getting so big now. In the beginning Harry faced some pretty mundane bad guys and barely made it through. Butcher did a pretty good job of keeping the stakes pretty low for awhile, but eventually the flood gates opened and now it seems like with each novel, the bad guy has to be even badder and the odds have to be even longer. I understand that’s probably how it has to be to keep things interesting, but it also makes it less believable.

Overall, I still really enjoyed the novel. There was still a lot of great action and the expected one-liners. A must read for any dedicated Dresden fan.

Review: Blood Rites

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Blood RitesBlood Rites by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be honest, Blood Rites is not my favorite of the Dresden Files, but, given that, it’s still very good and still worthy of 5 stars. I guess I just enjoy this series that much.

Considering the awesomeness of books 3-5, it was going to take a hell of a lot for Butcher to top himself again. Truthfully, Butcher gave it a good shot. As usual, there’s a twisty plot, well-written action scenes, and black humor. On top of that Blood Rites was chocked full of solid character development, and not just for Harry; there are a lot of really powerful scenes involving Thomas.

I really like that Butcher’s characters are not flawless and they are forced to live with the consequences of their decisions. They are also not invincible (although some are pretty close). Okay, Butcher isn’t going to kill off his protagonist, but Harry never gets through a novel unscathed.

My only real complaint about Blood Rites is that part of the central plot surrounds an adult film. It did lead to some humorous moments on occasion, but it just didn’t work that well for me. The characters were kind of dull and it just didn’t compare to some of the other parts of the plot.

Blood Rites is the second book in the series to be produced by Penguin Audio, which means that the narration and production quality are outstanding. James Marsters makes an excellent Harry Dresden and he has done a superb job since Penguin took over.

Without question, if you enjoyed the first five books, you’ll love Blood Rites as well.

Review: Death Masks

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Death MasksDeath Masks by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What really impresses me about this series is how it improves little by little with each book. Through five novels, that has held true, which is no small accomplishment considering how good Gravel Peril and Summer Knight were.

It also seems like the stakes get a little higher in each novel, and they are definitely pretty high in Death Masks as Harry finds himself smack in the middle of a sinister plot by some major demon-types to wreak havoc on the denizens of Chicago. Harry not only requires the help of resident Knight of the Cross, Michael Carpenter, but also two other Knights. Trust me, you’re talking about some big league baddies if you need three Knights of the Cross to deal with them.

There were a lot of things that I really liked about this novel in particular. It had a great plot, twisting and turning through mysteries and misdirection. It had a great cast: some characters that we know and love and some new characters on both sides of the coin. I was particularly amused by the character of The Archive. Beyond all that, like all Dresden novels, it had great pacing, action, and a little dark humor.

One of the biggest improvements, in my mind, that Butcher made came in Grave Peril when he took a deep breath and slowed things down a bit, gave Harry some breathing room, gave him some time to reflect rather than just react, and gave the reader a chance to keep up. Those reflective moments continue in Death Masks and tend to be some of the best passages in the novel.

Oh, and what an amazing ending. I won’t spoil anything, but it was delightful and definitely made me want to dig right into the next novel.

This review would not be complete if I didn’t mention the significantly improved narration by James Marsters. I really liked Marsters’ performance of Harry Dresden in the first four novels, but when Penguin Audio began producing the audio books (taking over from Buzzy Multimedia), they must have had a couple of suggestions. With Death Masks, Marsters now has a voice for each character, his speech is crisper, and the overall production quality is much improved. I’m definitely very happy with the change.

Overall, Death Masks was a great read. If you enjoyed the previous novels, don’t stop, you’ve got to read this one.

Review: Summer Knight

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Summer KnightSummer Knight by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying that Grave Peril, the third book in the series, was incredible. It added new depth to the story and characters, but also left Harry in a vulnerable and unenviable position.

As a result, Summer Knight starts well into a period of desperation and depression for Harry, but he soon finds that is the least of his concerns when he ends up thrown into a war between Summer and Winter, testing his ingenuity and his mettle.

Despite the fact that Grave Peril was amazing, Summer Knight was easily its equal. In this novel, we saw new dimension of Harry, one that was forced to deal with failure and it made him all the more human. We also saw Harry grow and learn to deal with new challenges, both magical and emotional.

And, as usual, the novel it littered interesting characters. I was particularly glad to see more of Billy (the werewolf), but I also enjoyed the reappearance of Toot-toot and his band of fairy warriors.

If nothing else, listening to these novels has made my commute to work far more enjoyable. But seriously, if you like Urban Fantasy at all, you need to check this series out. Well worth your time.

Review: Grave Peril

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Grave PerilGrave Peril by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Dresden Files is one of my favorite series. I’ve read them all (excluding Cold Days) once and now I’m listening to the audio versions. When I started listening to Storm Front, the first in the series, it reminded me why I love the series and the same was true for Fool Moon. But then I listened to Grave Peril and I realized that even though I loved the first two novels, the third was somehow even better.

Grave Peril is much like the first two novels in many ways, but it’s also better in a lot of little ways. The plot is delightfully twisty, new and interesting characters make their first appearances, and Harry is, to be frank, a total badass–all of which are standard fare.

But what makes it all the better is that the story actually slows down a bit. Instead of throwing Harry into one spot after another, Butcher devotes more time to developing the characters and their relationships, to building Harry into a realistic, if flawed, character. And it’s awesome.

Dresden has a nose for finding trouble and, in the first two novels, he makes his way out relatively unscathed, if more than a little battered. But Butcher makes it clear in Grave Peril that the stakes are getting higher and so are the consequences.

In addition, Butcher introduces two of the best supporting characters in the entire series in this novel: Michael and Thomas. Personally, I think Michael kicks ass. His quiet resolve lends very well to Harry’s brash tendencies. Plus, he’s a knight and that’s pretty hard to beat.

Overall, I thought Gravel Peril was a fantastically entertaining read, a ton of fun, but also a bit deeper than the first two. If you enjoyed those, keep reading, because it gets even better. Highly recommended!

Review: Fool Moon

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Fool MoonFool Moon by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although I read Fool Moon for the first time a few years ago, I recently listened to the audio version to gear up for Cold Days, the 14th installment in the ongoing Dresden saga. What I found was that Fool Moon was easily as good as I remembered.

In Storm Front, the first Dresden novel, Jim Butcher introduces us to Harry Dresden and a couple of secondary characters, but that novel is really Harry’s novel and he’s more or less on his own. Having read the first 13 novels in the series, I can vouch that the secondary characters are some of the best that I’ve encountered in any series. Thus, I was very glad that we got to see some more of Murphy and were introduced to the Alphas in Fool Moon.

It was also nice to see a more intricate plot, although I have to say that it’s possible that this one got a bit convoluted by the end. Let’s just say that there were a lot of werewolves (as you might expect by the title) and it got a little difficult to keep them all straight.

Regardless, Fool Moon was another step forward in a series that somehow seems to get better with each novel.

I should also acknowledge that James Marsters makes a great Harry Dresden. He has a great sense for the character and a flare for the dramatic. He isn’t a perfect narrator, but I can’t imagine a better Dresden.

Overall, I found Fool Moon to be very enjoyable the second time. I would honestly recommend this series to anyone, but especially those that favor urban fantasy or noir detective novels.

Book Review: Storm Front

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Storm FrontStorm Front by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently picked up the first 12 books in the Dresden Files series from Audible.com, because I’ve been hankering to re-read them and also because I was really interested to hear James Marsters (of Buffy fame) read them. It was an excellent decision.

The Dresden Files are some of my favorite books. The may not necessarily be the absolute finest works of literature, but they really speak to nonetheless. So going in, I expected to enjoy Stormfront because I can still remember reading it the first time and then going and reading the next seven books in the serious without pause.

What I didn’t expected was just how much I would enjoy a novel that I had already read. It was simply fantastic. Harry Dresden is one of my favorite characters (hands down) and I absolutely love the way the Jim Butcher writes this series.

Right from the beginning, the action kicks into high gear and, somehow, Butcher finds ways to continually raise the stakes throughout the novel. But one of the things that I love best is how, in the middle of the action, Butcher will pause to explain what Harry’s doing or give additional details about how magic works. You might think this would disrupt the pacing of the novel, but it actually works really well.

I’ve said many times in the past that one of Butcher’s real talents is writing characters. Harry is obviously a great character, but so are many of the secondary characters including Murphy, Bob, Susan, and Mac.

What’s really amazing is that, despite the fact that Stormfront is thoroughly enjoyable and good enough to earn a 5 star review, it’s just the beginning of the series and the books actually get better.

But I can’t conclude this review without giving some props to James Marsters as well. He did an excellent job. He really captured the tone of the novel and his voice is just perfect for Harry.

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Book Review: First Lord’s Fury

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First Lord's Fury First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a pretty solid conclusion to Butcher’s first foray into epic fantasy. Overall, it was consistent in quality with the other books in the series, which puts it at about 3 or 4 stars out of 5.

I read this series because I love the Dresden Files, Butcher’s ongoing urban fantasy series. Those are some amazing books. I really liked the first in this series as well, but, after that, I thought they lost something. Furies of Calderon was fun and suspenseful, with great characters–typical Butcher mastery. The second was pretty similar, but the rest just got a bit too down to earth.

I’ve always felt that Butcher’s greatest talent is his ability to write amazing characters–the Dresden Files is loaded with them–and a second, only slightly lesser talent, is his ability to write highly suspenseful action scenes. The Codex Alera series has both of those in droves, but perhaps not up to the same standards as the Dresden Files.

The main problem is Tavi, he’s just nowhere near as cool as Harry Dresden. Tavi is a character you can respect, but he’s a Luke Skywalker and Dresden is Han Solo. Tavi’s just so inherently good, there’s never any real surprises in his decision making. The only real surprises are in the plot (and there really are a good amount there).

But, if you ask me, there are two primary reasons why the series loses momentum:

  1. Starting with the third novel, there’s too much emphasis on war, first with the Canim and then with the Vord. Four books of nearly incessant battle is just too much. There’s not enough time for the human element.
  2. *Spoiler alert* Once Tavi started to get powers, he became a much less interesting character. I really enjoyed seeing how Tavi would overcome villains and other problems without the advantage of magic. Once he had magic, really, really powerful magic, that was gone.

Overall, First Lord’s Fury was pretty good. There a number of suspenseful battles, both small in scale and massive. In fact most of the novel was battle, which I suppose was fitting.

If you have made it through five novels, please do yourself a favor and finish the series. If you are partway through and you’re not sure if you should continue, I would say if you liked the third novel, then keep going, but if you didn’t, then you should probably quit, because all of the novels are really about the same quality from that point forward.

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Review: Welcome to the Jungle

/ Books, Graphic Novels /

Welcome to the Jungle Welcome to the Jungle by Jim Butcher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently decided to start reading through the “essential” graphic novels, mostly because I was getting a little bored with the novel I was reading and was looking for a break. While looking for a different title at the library, I came across Welcome to the Jungle. Being a big Dresden fan, I had heard of the novel before, but I had never read it. In fact, I think it’s the only published Dresden literature that I had not read…so I had to pick it up.

The bottom line, Welcome to the Jungle plays out very much like many of the Dresden short stories (see Side Jobs). It still has a lot of the Dresden charms like powerful magic and Harry’s wit, but what it lacks is the twisty plot that you get in the full-length novels. I liked it, but I didn’t think it was quite as good as a Dresden novel.

The artwork was pretty cool, very detailed. I thought the colors were particularly good. Harry was pretty close to my own visualization and I think that helped pull me in.

I gave this a 3, but I would probably say it’s more of a 3.5. It was a good, fun, quick read. I would recommend it to any Dresden fan.

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Review: Princeps’ Fury

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Princeps' Fury Princeps’ Fury by Jim Butcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to characterize how I feel about this book and really this series as a whole. I think it’s because I really want to love Codex Alera like I love The Dresden Files, but I just can’t. Butcher’s epic fantasy series just doesn’t match up to his urban fantasy series. I definitely feel that Jim Butcher is a very talented writer. Without question, he has a penchant for writing intense and exciting stories. However, there is something about this series that leaves me, frankly, a little underwhelmed.

I’ve been thinking about it for some time and I think I have finally figured out what it might be. One problem is that the characters are just too flat. They aren’t flat like Wheel of Time flat, but the good guys are really, really good and the bad guys are unquestionably bad. Butcher does work in some grey area characters for sure, but the main characters are really cut and dry.

I think that’s okay for the most part, but the main problem is that Tavi, the protagonist, suffers from this more than any else in the series. Tavi has grown up a lot as the series has gone on, but I think he has actually grown up too much. Early on, he was fun and unpredictable. He was the the only person in all of Alera without a fury and that made him the underdog all the time. He was always had to find creative ways to beat the odds and I thought it also gave him an interesting quality as an individual.

Unfortunately, Butcher eventually relented and gave him magic and now he is bland as can be. Now, he is powerful and predictable. He has grown up so much as a character, but not into an interesting one. Butch seems to rely on the supporting characters like Max and Kitai to bring some life to that portion of the story.

Another problem that I’m finding is that it feels like Butcher is compelled to one-up himself with each novel–the stakes are even higher, the enemy is even more dangerous, etc. By the time you get the fifth novel, it starts to feel a little tired, a little too cliche, and, somehow, a little too epic.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that this novel didn’t leave me dying to read the next book in the series and that, maybe more than anything I mentioned above, makes me realize that I’m just not that into this series.

Okay, now that I’ve got my complaints out of the way, I should mention that I still enjoyed this novel! It was grand in scale and intense and all those things that you should know to expect from Butcher by now. If you have read the first four, I would absolutely recommend that you read Princep’s Fury. You’ll enjoy it without question.

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