First of all, let’s get this out of the way. I am a Jim Butcher fan. Point blank period. I love his writing, I love his characters, I think he is the reigning king of the urban fantasy genre. There are acres of pages out there dedicated to Dresden-lite characters. A bunch of copy-paste gumshoe wanna-be wizards out there that couldn’t hold a candle to the current Winter Knight. Jim Butcher has written us a wonderful world, with ninja goblins, murderous fairies, Biker Santa, the genocide of an entire race of vampires and places it all lovingly on top of the Windy City.
I mean, Butcher’s writing credentials are bona fide, he made me fall in love with steampunk via The Aeronaut’s Windlass (and I hate steampunk) and he wrote a best-selling series (The Codex Alera) on a double dare, based on two horrible writing clichés (Pokemon and a Lost Roman Legion). Peace Talks is book 16 in this series. Book 16! And up to this point I could only point to one book (*cough* Ghost Story) that I thought missed the high mark that Butcher has created. When Jim Butcher drops a release date, I generally clear my calendar and prepare to dive in.
I wanted this book to be great. I expected it to be good. It ended up being, ok.
Earlier this year I was overjoyed when I found out that after an almost 6-year layoff, Butcher was going to bring us back to the Second City with Peace Talks. As a fan I was ecstatic, I couldn’t wait to dive back into Harry’s life and see what was going on since Harry and the Gang robbed Hell in Skin Game. I wanted this book to be great. I expected it to be good. It ended up being, ok.
Now granted, 6 years is a long time, and I knew there would be some ring-rust. I read the first few chapters and I could see the stiffness in the syntax and sentences but as I wound my way into chapters 4 & 5 I saw Butcher seemingly shake of that ring rust and get back into form. But much like a UFC fighter who’s had a long layoff, Butcher’s cardio just wasn’t there. I wanted to like Peace Talks. No, I wanted to love it. But after reflecting, and a quick re-read, I’m not sure if I would rank this higher than Ghost Story…and I hated Ghost Story.
…all of the sudden you have to try and kill your grandfather because you’re afraid to tell him that your half-brother is a White Court Vampire. Is this Peace Talks or Maury Povitch?
A few points of contention I had with Peace Talks.
- It felt like a filler book. We know that Battle Ground is set to be published September 29, 2020 and I think Peace Talks should have been merged with Battle Ground. Have you ever watched a great HBO series, and around episode 5 or 6 it lags off a bit, not because the series is bad but because they are spending those middle episodes setting up the next 3. That’s what Peace Talks felt like. It felt like the precursor for Battle Ground. After a 6 year lay-off I expected/needed a bit more. I would of rathered Peace Talks and Battle Ground got merged into one huge book and dropped in November, because Peace Talks on its own, felt incomplete.
- I’m not going to spoil it, but the BIG BAD in this book comes out of nowhere. There’s no forewarning, no foreshadowing, there is no set up, just literally dumped into the middle of our laps out of nowhere. One of the things I like about Butcher’s writing is his set ups. Changes is a great example of this. The ending of Changes packs a punch and the twist seemingly comes out of left field, but after the carnage clears you can clearly see the path Butcher follows. Same thing with Molly becoming the Winter Lady or when Harry took on the mantle of the Winter Knight. When THINGS happen in the Dresdenverse, it may seemingly happen suddenly but you can backtrack and see the breadcrumbs Butcher lays down along the way. This new BIG BAD…just plops into our laps like a wet dog. It felt rushed and it felt like we got her without “earning” her, I couldn’t find the path the put her in the story.
- The beef between Harry and Blackstaff seemed forced. Like…I’m sitting here the whole time reading it, perplexed. Asking myself “Where did this energy come from?” It’s not believable, all of the sudden you have to try and kill your grandfather because you’re afraid to tell him that your half-brother is a White Court Vampire. Is this Peace Talks or Maury Povitch?
- The Conjuritis. The damn Conjuritis. A long time ago I used to read the Sword of Truth series. And in that series, there was, as a BIG BAD,an entity the fandom decided to mockingly call the Evil Chicken of Doom. And the Evil Chicken of Doom was so mocked because it had been, up to this point, the most horrible plot device ever foisted upon a fandom. Until…conjuritis. Which doesn’t sound like something from a Harry Dresden novel, it sounds like something from a brainstorming session of a Harry Potter novel. You telling me that Harry Copperfield Blackstone Dresden, first of his name, Winter Knight, favored vassal of Mab, destroyer of the Red Court, wrecker of outsiders and human of Mister…has come down with a mystical flu. Stop. Stop it right now, go home and think about what you just did. I mean, don’t we get acres after acres of pages telling us how the mantle of the Winter Knight makes Harry impervious to all sorts of aches and pains, but somehow magical sniffles sneaks through? And Harry Dresden, grown man, wizard detective has never, everrrrrrr heard of this before? IS THIS WHAT WE ARE WE DOING NOW?!?!?!
Listen, I get it, it’s been six years. It’s been awhile since we last saw Dresden, we’re in a pandemic and of course we got the 2020 curse to deal with, whereas everything that touches 2020 seems to be infected. But I expected more, maybe that’s my fault. Maybe I had hyped The Dresden Files up in my head as this unassailable fortress from which urban fantasy is launched. This is what happens when fandoms place series on pedestals: they are bound to fall eventually right?
I’m also willing to stipulate that I’ve been reading some grimdark epic fantasy and maybe I needed to merge my way back into Urban Fantasy. I’m knee deep in Malazan Empire right now, so it entirely possible that I hadn’t shifted that reading space in my head. Imagine, listening to playlist with nothing but A Tribe Called Quest but in the middle of that, someone snuck in a Metallica song. Doesn’t mean the song was horrible, could be that I just wasn’t ready for it at that time. I hope that’s it, I want that to be it and yes I know I’m making a few excuses here, but that’s because, I’m a fan of Butcher, and Harry Dresden, wise cracking wizard is one of my favorite characters of all time.
But here’s the saving grace, much like Harry Dresden, I’m not quite willing to count Jim Butcher out. Ring rust is real and I’m willing to let this one go, give it a mulligan, in the same way I’m willing to pretend that Ghost Story was just a really bad dream. We got Battle Grounds coming up in about 2 months. I am going to save full judgement until then. Because If I really had to rate Peace Talks on its own merits, I’d be forced to give it something like a 2 out of 5. And I don’t want to do that. You don’t want me to do that. Mouse would bark at me and Michael Carpenter would slowly shake his head in disappointment.
Luckily I still believe Jim Butcher has it in him, and much like Harry , he’s holding a hidden ace up his sleeve ready to even the odds
So I’m not going to do that. I’m going to siphon Peace Talks off in my brain and convince myself that I just read the first half of the book and I’ll read the second half in a few months. After Battle Ground drops in September, I think we’ll all have a better idea of where the series is going. I hope it doesn’t go the way of the Red Court, The Dredsen Files deserves a better send off than that. Luckily, I still believe Jim Butcher has it in him and much like Harry, he’s holding a hidden ace up his sleeve ready to even the odds and get everyone’s favorite parkouring wizard back on track.