Harry’s Back Like He Never Left: ‘Battle Grounds’ Review

(Sung in the key of Slim Shady) GUESS WHO’S BACK?? BACK AGAIN?!?!? DRESDENS BACK!! TELL A FRIEND!!! GUESS WHO’S BACK !?!?! GUESS WHO’S BACK?!?!?! GUESS WHO’S BACK?!?!?!? GUESS WHO’S BACK??!?!?!

THIS WAS THE BOOK I WAS WAITING FOR!!!

Listen, I’ve been reading the Dresden Files for 20+ years and this was the book I needed! Imagine your favorite athlete plays a horrible game. No! Imagine your favorite athlete plays horribly in a playoff game. I mean just doesn’t show up at all, 3 points, no rebounds, 2 interceptions, 12 turnovers, you get the idea. But here’s the thing, you know he’s got skills, but he’s not playing the way he normally does, and you’re actually wondering if the moment got him shook. But then next game, he explodes for a triple double! Explodes for 4 touchdowns and 300+ yards! Explodes for 3 homeruns and 4 RBIs. I mean just kills it the next game, Al Bundy Polk High Style, Marshawn Lynch Beast Quake Style, Chef Steph, stopping at midcourt to Shimmy/Shake & Walk Away Style. Staten Island Shaolin Style.

Next time I see Jim Butcher, he better brace himself, cause Imma hit him with a chest bump!

Butcher comes out lighting it on fire from the moment his feet touches the court/field/diamond/insert metaphor here. We’ve seen those games where a player’s teammates give him chest bump after chest bump and you as a fan breathe a sigh of relief because you now know that first game was an anomaly. You hoped it was, but you weren’t sure until you saw your favorite player wreck shop in this game the way he normally does. That’s how I felt about Peace Talks and Battle Ground. Next time I see Jim Butcher, he better brace himself, cause Imma hit him with a chest bump!

After the long Dresden drought (which we will not talk about), Peace Talks still left me thirsty, parched, wandering the desert, like I was running from Pharaoh. I was not a fan of Peace Talks for a variety of reasons, laid out here. I felt like Butcher had a lot of ring rust, I hated the conjuritis angle and was waiting on Battle Ground to see if Butcher still had the drive, still had the moves, the will to pull out a great performance. I knew he had the skill…but was the hunger still there?  

This was book #17, the last book was a solid “meh,” so I opened Battle Ground worried about the fate of the series. Honestly, I usually devour a Jim Butcher book the day after it hits these mean Urban Fantasy streets. But this time, I was snake bitten by Peace Talks, I was wary and worried, and took my time actually getting to the book. But let me repeat BUTCHER IS BACKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK!  Battle Ground has immediately moved into the #2 slot for most important Dresden File, right behind Changes. (YES! IT IS THAT GOOD!) My biggest gripe is that Peace Talks and Battle Ground should have been one book. I understand they didn’t want a 2000-page monster on their hands, but it would have made more sense.

Image via Jim-Butcher.com

Actions=Consequences and the fallout from Battle Ground is going to be biblical.

Everything that I needed Peace Talks to be, Battle Ground was. The pacing was better, the writing was better, the tension was more honest, there was 400% less conjuritis, 200% more Mab. The turns and twists started mid book and don’t let up until the last page and each of them feels earned. This was the Butcher I had grown to know and love, the ability to write fearless believable action into tight narrow spaces. The hinting at future actions, the twists and turns that don’t feel gimmicky, the brief respite into McAnally’s Pub to refresh and then ONCE MORE INTO THE BREACH DEAR FRIENDS! I loved how at the end of the book we know that nothing will be the same. Chicago, Harry, Gentleman Marcone, and The Fae Courts are going to have to be fundamentally different in the next book. I am excited to see how Butcher frames this. He is really good at making sure that Actions=Consequences and the fallout from Battle Ground is going to be biblical.

There were several moments where I yelled, growled, gasped, and honest to goodness shed one tear. That’s Butcher and Harry Dresden at their best, bobbing and weaving and landing blow after literary blow. Harry Dresden has evolved over the years, and that’s great. There are few things I hate more than a character that doesn’t grow and change, and after 20+ years the Harry Dresden of Storm Front looks nothing like the Harry Dresden of Battle Grounds and that’s how it supposed to be. I can look at a long list of protagonists in other books, and the ones that got boring were the ones that followed the same formula, afraid to stray off the beaten path.

And if you look closely you can see the moment Harry embraces the heel turn, and it is GLORIOUS.

Belgarion stayed the same regardless of whether he was in the Belgariad or the Mallorean. Richard Rahl never seemed to learn anything new, and Harry Potter never saw a stun spell he didn’t like. But Harry Dresden wrestles with the grey areas he’s been forced to traverse. He wants to walk in the light but knows why he’s been coerced to consort with monsters and he’s making his peace with it. Battle Ground really takes the time to explore that space, and we are rewarded with a different Dresden, understanding that while his heart and motives haven’t changed, the people around him have. And if you look closely you can see the moment Harry embraces the heel turn, and it is GLORIOUS.

“The Fall” is an important trope in art, but only because how much we as a society love “The Redemption Story” afterwards. This book made me happy, not only on its own, but how it recovered the series after Peace Talks. There were levels to this for me, the battle ground within the book and the battle ground without, and I’m glad Butcher showed he still has the stamina to go to war for a few more rounds. Honestly, there are 1000 more words I could write about this book. I mean, Johnny Marcone alone deserves his own review, but I’ll end it with this.

Hey Harry…it’s good to have you back, we missed you.

Rating: (I didn’t give one for Peace Talks because I said I wanted to rate them together) Peace Talks & Battle Ground: 4/5

Cover Image via Tor.com

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  • Joseph Harris is a writer, performance poet and fantasy bookwyrm. Ph.D student in Education at Michigan State University. Knows the difference between Wyverns and Dragons. My wheelhouse is urban & high fantasy, but I'm starting to be seduced by GrimDarks. You can find me online either at the Gram : https://www.instagram.com/the_scholarly_hooligan/ or arguing with people on facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/JosephTJHarris

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