A Dresden book review and “M” stories voting reminder

A departure from the usual with just one photo for this The Alphabet Challenge M-Stories voting reminder.

If you’ve not already done so, you can read the stories and cast your vote for your favorite of the three. Links to the stories and the poll for voting for “Alphabet Challenge M-Stories” are HERE.<<<Link

Here is the photo . . .

Fallen sequoia’s roots next to an upright sequoia

That be from 2016, when we headed out to California to catch a plane for the Big Island.

Anyway . . . for them who don’t know it, I’m a fan of the Dresden Files<<link series of books by Jim Butcher. I was introduced to the character via the short-lived TV series (SciFi channel)<<link and was moved to reading the books when the show wasn’t renewed.

For them who don’t know, the TV show wasn’t like the books — no big surprise there — but the surprise was how much better, and different, the books were.

I suspect the series could not continue because, with each book, Butcher upped the ante; were the series to continue, the budget for the special effects would have been prohibitive.

With each book, Butcher did a great job of expanding the scope and stakes and developing rich characters of both heroes and villains, as well as expanding the powers of the hero — the wizard, Dresden — as he learned and gained experience while facing more daunting foes.

Also, Butcher did a great job of making each book pretty much self-contained. Yes, there is a continuing theme and the fabric of the world carries from one to the next, but each book is essentially episodic for the things we cared about in the present.

With this thin background which — unless you are a fan — bored everyone, let’s get to the latest book in the series, Peace Talks.

But, again, unless you are a fan or just like to read my writing, you can probably skip the analysis of what I just read.

Yes, I said one photo and, technically, it is since that’s the same photo.

Let’s get the rating out of the way . . . I give Peace Talks a solid 3.01 out of 5.00, and I’ll tell you why below. If you are not familiar with the series, I give the majority of the books a rating of 4.5-5.0, with the possible exception of the first one, before he got into the rhythm of the story and characters, and even that I’d rank a 4 out of 5.

First, lest fans might be dissuaded by the rating for Peace Talks, if you are a follower of the series, you’ll want to read it. That said, I found it less engaging and enjoyable than any of the previous books.

That is to be expected with a series that consists of this many books, and yet, not. Butcher has always managed to present what are essentially similar plots in new and interesting ways, mostly by engaging the reader with realistic (self-consistent) actions by the characters.

Here, I think he falls a bit short, although, as I said if you are invested in the series, it’s a must-read and sufficiently satisfactory. My rating means I generally liked it, but was mildly annoyed because . . .

There is a lot of padding in this book; lots of repeating the same thing multiple times and much of the repetition is unwarranted angst. As a long-term Dresden fan, I didn’t find the engagement with the situation and characters as deep as in previous books, and the relationship between reader/characters/writer was not as honest as I’ve been used to.

Curiously, I also found the description of the action lacking. I usually have no problem visualizing the action, but this time the fights and description of physical altercations, the progression of the plot, and the character’s voices and interaction seemed stilted and therefore failed to carry me through them, instead, finding myself reading them with detachment.

Frankly, this novel seems page-thick and plot-thin. This in addition to too much of the conflicts/conversations/confrontations appearing contrived and out of character. Yes, I know it’s fiction, and a suspension of disbelief is required, especially since this is urban fiction involving magic, supernatural beings, and concepts that I don’t accept as plausible in the context of real life.

What I’m saying is that whereas I normally abandon myself to the world he creates, as I read, I found myself stepping out of the role of reader and slipping into my role of critic.

One example that really annoyed me is the hesitation in telling his grandfather about the true nature of his relationship with Thomas, his half brother (the grandfather doesn’t know Thomas is also his grandson) . . . Dresden refrains from telling the grandfather because he’s concerned about how the grandfather would react.

Unbelievable because Dresden was ready to fight to the death with his grandfather over his desire to help save Thomas (who is a vampire), and because Dresden accuses the grandfather of causing problems by withholding information when Dresden was younger (kettle, pot).

It’s even more unbelievable because Dresden had no problem relating to the reader the (valid) reasons why he was honest with his daughter about explaining that — and why — he might die, correctly stating she had a right to know and deserved to know, and trust that she could handle the discussion and recognize the necessity of his actions as well as the importance of them . . . which she does.

Butcher/Dresden goes out of his way to stress about the need to be honest and trust the other person would understand, so the hesitation doing so with the grandfather seems doubly duplicitous.

She’s what, four? His grandfather is what, multiple hundreds of years old?

It’s a cheap plot device that is used to create unnecessary tension when we all know that at some point the big reveal will happen anyway, usually in an uncontrolled situation that could/would cause further and unnecessary harm.

Similarly, Molly not telling her parents about her new role, not trusting how they would react. Please! Michael stood by Dresden when he was possessed by a Denarian. He wouldn’t stand by his own daughter? And Dresden advice? . . . she should tell them and trust them to understand (again, kettle, pot).

(Note: I’m throwing out character names that, unless you are a fan, you don’t know. If curious, read the books. I hesitate to recommend stuff to people, but I think if you have any interest in decent plots, fast action, interesting characters, you owe yourself a peek even if urban fantasy is not your thing . . . as it’s also not mine, except for these books.)

Same for the interaction with a few other characters, where the conversations and actions didn’t make much sense given what we know about them and their past history.

Again, many pages filled with made-up angst that has no basis in the world he set up and the previous books and that adds nothing to the plot or events in this book.

There are other important plot points that annoyed, but it would be spoilers to mention them. Suffice it to say that in many points of the book, I was thrown out of being immersed in the narrative by something that jarred because it was out of place with the Dresden world that I knew.

Overall, I still recommend the book, but be aware of what I consider an even bigger problem/issue . . . it has a cliff-hanger ending, with nothing being resolved.

The next book is out in September and I’ve pre-ordered it, but I’m not pleased about it. Every previous book could be considered a stand-alone so this departure is annoying.

I suspect the reason there are two books is a combination of lazy writing and greed. It’s easy to write lots and lots of words when you repeat the same thing five different ways without moving the plot along . . . and it allows you to split the work into two books and make twice the money from the same story. I suspect a lot of padding in the next book, and here’s why . . .

The cliff-hanger is at a point of the story when one would normally expect a resolution to come fairly quickly. . . meaning, it’s at a point of the story that would typically be the climax of mounting action. Things are in motion, actions being taken, bad stuff is imminent, so we expect the final battle and a resolution of the tension that has been mounting . . . but the book ends and we have a whole other book coming a few months from now.

This points to one of two things, both bad:

1) a quick and non-sensical resolution of the current crisis and the setting up of an even bigger crisis — which would then (hopefully) be resolved by the end of that book. This would strain the whole suspension of disbelief because we already have the entire world threatened by literal ancient gods that shaped the universe. How much bigger a threat could there be?

2) a long, drawn-out, tedious, blow-by-blow, looked-at-from-every-angle final resolution that lasts for the entire book.

I don’t know what the plan is, but neither prospect is to my liking, although I imagine the first option is the more likely. Meaning, the current crisis will be averted or nullified in an unbelievably quick and easy way to pave the way for something bigger (it’s the formula for action books; conflicts and resolutions).

Of course, I’m only one fan, and I’m sure others will sing this book’s praises.

However, I own all the other books and have read them multiple times, so I feel I can at least express my disappointment in what appears to be a failure of the promise of the series to bring about a satisfactory ending to the saga.

Specifically, the threats have now become so large as to eclipse the power of even the most powerful of the characters currently populating the narrative. A threat with the power of creation; something that outmatches the combined power of both good and bad guys that we know so far in the story.

Because of it, there is no satisfactory “trick” Dresden could pull off without introducing a Deux Ex Bovem Stercore. I mean, it’s all bullshit, but this would be bullshit extraordinaire.

There is, of course, one actual other god (the Christian god) which has been a character in absentia throughout a number of books but that acts in limited ways through human agents. But the rules already say it can’t interfere directly (convenient, that). So, if that changes, again, I call bovem stercore.Also, it wowuld piss me off for it being completely dishonest to the work to date.

Overall, I feel this book sets us, the readers, up for a resolution that will not play well to our ears. It could be a grand and satisfying message of how human ingenuity and force of will overcomes even the very engines of creation, but that’s not the way these stories have been set up, and nothing in them to date indicate such a capability or intent. 

Overall, the book leaves me uneasy about the direction of the franchise. It’s like having watched The Matrix and then being told of the plans for the sequels. You kind of wish they’d take a different tack. Same with the Star Wars prequel and sequels. Really, we didn’t need them, but if we were to have them, couldn’t they have been better?

Think of it as a singer singing through the scale and, upon reaching near the end with perfect pitch, their voice crack. You would still enjoy the performance, but wish they could have carried it through to the end.

Note: I’m not a singer, so my analogy might not be correctly expressed. Go with the intent rather than the accuracy. It’s what I do when I read these stories . . . but couldn’t do it for this book.

Hey, look! It’s the same photo again.

You can see the full-size photos in the SmugMug Gallery HERE.<<<Link

By the way, the above is almost 2,000 words . . . words I could have arranged into a “N” Story . . . I guess it’s true what they say . . . those who can, do; those who can’t, talk about doing it.

I know some (mighty, mighty few) people miss my opinion posts . . . THIS POST<<link from 2017, a self-indulgent exercise in me being a wannabe philosopher as I explore my interests and opinions.

Or, you could read THIS POST<<link which has some introspection about writing (remember: I’m not complaining or asking/wanting encouragement, so don’t take it as such). Or not; I mean, it’s just more of my babbling. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.


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