Tag Archives: Jim Butcher

July 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffJuly2020Roundup

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Lockdown is slowly easing and right at the end of the month, we actually went to a café together and had a cup of tea and cake. It’s been lovely to meet up with my daughter and the grandchildren and have them over to stay, again. But most of the time, I’m still at home reading and writing, while Himself has continued to go out to work.

Reading
I read fifteen books in July, which used to be an outstanding number for me, but isn’t anymore. No DNF’s and once again, it’s been a great reading month – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Deep Roots – Book 2 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. My reads during June were:

Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell – Book 1 of the Embers of War series. Review to follow

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Review to follow

Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi. See my review

Skin Game – Book 15 of the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher – reread

AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Review to follow

Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review

End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker. Review to follow

Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. See my review

Chaos Vector – Book 2 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review

AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH

Seven Devils – Book 1 of the Seven Devils series by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. See my review

Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow

The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE MONTH

The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Mini-review to follow

AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Review to follow


Writing and Editing
I had intended for Picky Eaters 2 to be a novella, but though I’ve written a reasonably comprehensive outline, the writing has fallen into the rhythm and pacing of a longer piece of work. Oh well. So rather than polishing off the first draft during the first fortnight of July, I found it has been something I’ve been picking up and putting down between the final two editing passes of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now produced the cover, which I’m very happy with – and I’m on track to publish it at the end of August, as planned. Again, due to all the editing I’ve been doing, my writing wordcount is way down in comparison to the beginning of the year.

Overall, I wrote just over 35,500 words in July, with just over 20,500 on the blog, and just over 15,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just over 288,500 words – which completely justifies my decision to step away from my regular Creative Writing stints at Northbrook, because that is over 92,000 more words than this time last year.

Blogging
I am more or less back on track with commenting, though I still struggle to get around and visit as much as I’d like – sorry to those of you who I’ve neglected! But again, I’m finding it such a lifeline to be able to chat about books to other folks – it certainly cuts down the sense of isolation. Take care and stay safe.x






*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher #Brainfluffbookreview #PeaceTalksbookreview

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I was delighted to see that this longed-for addition to this entertaining series finally made it. And no – I’m not going to join in the foot-stamping, eye-rolling chorus of angry fans who have been waiting for it. No author ever sets out to short-change their readership by making them wait for the next book. I’m sure the delay has been eating at Butcher’s soul – but sometimes Life happens and when it does, the first thing that goes is your ability to write. And it’s often the last thing that returns once Life is back on track, too. The question is, has that intervening length of time compromised this book’s quality in any way?

BLURB: When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?

REVIEW: Kudos to Butcher – this book picks up more or less from where Skin Game left off – and seamlessly takes the story onward. Not by so much as a flicker would you know that this one has been a long time coming… I read Skin Game the week before tucking into this one up, so would have immediately spotted any false notes – and there isn’t a single one. Characterisation, pacing, worldbuilding and plotting is all spot on – and I found it a solid pleasure to be immersed once more into one of the urban fantasy series that helped define the genre for me, before it turned very, very grim. I’m glad to say the overall tone of this is also a whole lot lighter than in Ghost Story and Cold Days.

Obviously, so far into the series, there isn’t much I can say about the story or plot progression before I’m in Spoiler country, but I will say that one of the strengths of these books is not just what happens to Harry, but the way Butcher weaves such strong plot points for his supporting characters. Not only do I really care about Harry, but I am also rooting for Karin, Maggie, Michael, Molly and Butters. And I find it interesting that some of those characters are tested in different way. We also see progression in the antagonists, too. Queen Mab is someone I love to hate – so it was something of a shock when I witnessed an event in this book that had me actually feeling a bit sorry for her…

All in all, once I started this book, the old magic swept me into the story once more and I didn’t want to put it down again until I reached the end. Which – just so you know – ends on something of a cliffhanger. However, Battle Ground, the next book in the series is due out in October 2020 so there isn’t going to be the same wait for the next one. In the meantime, Peace Talks comes highly recommended for Dresden fans, or anyone else who wants to take a crack at this series, though whatever you do – please go back to the beginning and start with Storm Front.
9/10

Sunday Post – 19th July, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Most of the week slid by routinely – until Friday. I was due to meet up with my sister for the first time in a while. But while getting ready, I had news from my father that my mother had been taken to hospital after becoming ill early in the morning. After an anxious wait, it transpired that she has very high blood pressure. I spent part of that wait with my sister, who has been enjoying a week’s holiday, catching up over a sticky bun and cup of tea. And on returning home, my lovely daughter had just arrived with a bunch of roses for me, knowing that I’d be worried about Mum, after hearing the news that she’d been taken ill. We sat in the garden together for a while, enjoying the sunshine before she drove back to Brighton.

On the blogging front – I’m still stubbing my toes on block editor and its irritating limitations, which I’ve found time consuming and unsatisfactory. Writing-wise, I’ve been updating the front matter on my books, which has taken a surprising amount of time, as well as continuing the editing process of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now completed the cover design, needless to say I’m delighted with it. I’m aiming to have the book ready for publication by the end of August.

The pics this week are featuring the different types of foliage I have in the garden. While I’ve been snapping the flowers, I love plants with coloured leaves, ranging from my black-leaved elderflower, the red-leaved robinia, the little black-leaved grass and my lovely tradescantia.

Last week I read:

Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of the Protectorate series by Megan E O’Keefe

Sanda and Biran Greeve were siblings destined for greatness. A high-flying sergeant, Sanda has the skills to take down any enemy combatant. Biran is a savvy politician who aims to use his new political position to prevent conflict from escalating to total destruction. However, on a routine maneuver, Sanda loses consciousness when her gunship is blown out of the sky. She awakens later on a ship to find herself in an unimaginable situation…
Whatever you do, don’t read the blurb which ruins the amazing opening in this entertaining space opera. I’m currently reading the second book in this series.

End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

Alisa Marchenko has reunited with her daughter, and even though she hasn’t figured out how to get Jelena to accept Leonidas yet, she dreams of the three of them starting a new life together. They can return the Star Nomad to its original purpose of running freight and staying out of trouble (mostly). Before that can happen, Alisa must fulfill the promise she made to Jelena: that she and her crew will retrieve young Prince Thorian, the boy who has become Jelena’s best friend. But Thorian was kidnapped by the rogue Starseer Tymoteusz, the man who wants to use the Staff of Lore to take over the entire system—and the man who may have the power to do it. Alisa doesn’t know why he kidnapped Thorian, but Tymoteusz once promised to kill the prince, so she fears they don’t have much time.
It was with some sadness that I picked this one up – my ongoing adventure with Alisa and her eccentric crew was coming to an end. And I was also a bit worried in case the ending was a letdown – but Buroker nailed it. I’ll definitely be reading more of her books. Review to follow.


Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?
I was very glad that I’d read Skin Game last week, as this one hits the ground running. My firm advice is that if you haven’t read Skin Game recently, then refamiliarize yourself with it before you pick this one up. Review to follow.


My posts last week:

Series I’ve Completed So Far in 2020

Friday Face-off featuring The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Three SPACE OPERA mini-reviews: Record of a Spaceborn Few; Arkadian Skies and Record of a Spaceborn Few

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Ink and Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink and Sigil series by Kevin Hearne

Tuesday Treasures – 4

Review of AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear

Sunday Post – 12th July 2020


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

A Short Analysis of Robert Frost’s ‘Birches’ https://interestingliterature.com/2020/07/robert-frost-birches-analysis/ Yet another interesting article from this informative site…

Where I Ought to Be: A Writer’s Sense of Place https://writerunboxed.com/2020/07/13/sense-of-place/ I found this a fascinating article – and realised that place is also important to me, both as a reader and writer…

Kindergarten Means ‘Garden of Children’ https://jenniefitzkee.com/2020/07/11/kindergarten-means-garden-of-children/ Another uplifting and profound post by wonder-teacher Jennie…

#lessonslearnedfrom #AgathaChristie: one #narrative #pov does not fit all #stories https://jeanleesworld.com/2020/07/15/lessonslearned-from-agathachristie-one-narrative-pov-does-not-fit-all-stories/ I love it when Jean shares her thoughts about writing…

Fang Cap Mask https://africanhomage.com/fang-cap-mask/ This is a lovely site with some amazing art inspired by African influences and is worth a visit…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Sunday Post – 12th July, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

And here we are in high summer – when did that happen? On Monday we travelled to Ringwood to visit Himself’s parents, catching up with them both. By the afternoon, the weather had brightened up sufficiently that we were able to pop in to see my mother and father and sit in their garden for a chat before coming home, again. It was lovely to see both sets of parents – and hear the news that my stepfather has decided to fully retire after 59 years working. Himself returned to work on Wednesday, after our very quiet, uneventful staycation, which was just what he needed after working throughout the craziness of the full lockdown.

On Friday, I drove to Brighton to have lunch with my daughter and the family. We took the children to the swing park and I was amazed at how adventurous Eliza is at two – and was reminded all over again at Frankie’s tendency to climb, as he disappeared up an oak tree… I brought Oscar back with me and we’re having a lovely time with him. I’ve discovered he is amazingly helpful when shopping, as he has nailed the process of disinfecting of the trolleys.

The pics this week are from the garden. By now most of the native plants have flowered, although my little patio rose is still delivering the goods. The echiums are over their best, but I do love the fluffy look they get after most of the flowers have gone. The oregano shouldn’t really be in flower, but it’s so very pretty and as you can see, the bees love it. My bronze fennel is just coming into bloom, too. And those fuchsias will go on producing flowers until the first frosts – I love them!

Last week I read:

Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi

Magic is women’s work; war is men’s. But in the coming battle, none of that will matter.
Men do not become mystics. They become warriors. But eighteen-year-old Salo has never been good at conforming to his tribe’s expectations. For as long as he can remember, he has loved books and magic in a culture where such things are considered unmanly. Despite it being sacrilege, Salo has worked on a magical device in secret that will awaken his latent magical powers. And when his village is attacked by a cruel enchantress, Salo knows that it is time to take action.
This African-based epic fantasy drew me in and held me. I loved Salo and how his story steadily unspools throughout the book, while the richness of the worldbuilding and interesting, savage magic system worked really well. I am definitely going to want to read the second book in this accomplished series.


Skin Game – Book 15 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever…
As the first half of the rather chatty blurb makes clear, this book is all about a heist poor old Harry is forced to take part in. It was a reread for me, as with Peace Talks coming out next week, I wanted to ensure I got the best out of the book before tucking into it. So glad I took the time to reacquaint myself with Harry Dresden’s doings – it reminded me all over again why we still love this series.


AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.
The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.
This has taken me quite a while to get through, given that it is 800+ pages and I set my audiobooks on 1.5x slower. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it. A pity that the narrator – who handled the range of characters extremely well with a pleasing variety of voices – then mispronounced bow throughout, along with a sprinkling of other odd words. Mini-review to follow…

My posts last week:

The Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag

Castellan the Black and his Wise Draconic Musings

Friday Face-off featuring Tunnel in the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi

Can’t-Wait-Wednesday featuring Chaos Vector – Book 2 of Th Protectorate series by Megan E. O’Keefe

Tuesday Treasures – 3

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden

Sunday Post – 5th July 2020


Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Author Spotlight: S.J. Higbee https://thisismytruthnow.com/2020/07/11/author-spotlight-s-j-higbee-w-excerpt/ Jay, whose cosy crime series is a delight, has posted a review of Mantivore Dreams, an excerpt of the book and an interview with me…

The Cabinet of Calm: Words for Worrying Times https://interestingliterature.com/2020/07/paul-anthony-jones-cabinet-of-calm-review/ I really love the sound of this one – so I’ll probably get a copy

Goodbye to an Old Friend https://powerfulwomenreaders.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/goodbye-to-an-old-friend/ There always comes a time, doesn’t there? Unless, like me – you’re a coward who cannot face such partings…

Small Restbites of Relief – or thank god, I don’t have to think for a minute https://weewritinglassie.home.blog/2020/07/08/small-restbites-of-relief-or-thank-god-i-dont-have-to-think-for-a-minute/ I love her view of the world – and if you get a chance to see Six at any stage, I second her recommendation…

The Libraries Re-Opened! https://comfortreadsbookblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/08/the-libraries-re-opened/ Another step towards civilisation – which personally matters more to me than the pubs opening up again…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you and yours have a peaceful, healthy week. Take care.

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 1st July, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #CWC #WOW

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher – release date, 14th July, 2020

#urban fantasy series #troubled hero #wizard investigator

BLURB: Harry Dresden is back and ready for action, in the new entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling Dresden Files series. When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?



By contrast to many of my recent Can’t-Wait-Wednesday offerings, this is revisiting an author whose work I fell in love with some 20 years ago – see my reviews of Turn Coat, Ghost Story, and Skin Game.

And nope. I’m NOT going to join in the chorus of readers stamping their feet and yelling at the Moon because Jim Butcher didn’t deliver this one when expected. I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it, either. But Life happened in a major way to him and one of the first things that happens to writers when things like divorce, losing a much-loved pet and moving happens – they lose the ability to write. There is only so much headspace available for processing stories and when you are stressed and overwhelmed, your writing mojo is one of the first things to disappear – and the last to resurface, again. Which has always seemed the height of unfairness to me, but there it is…

So I’m just celebrating that he has now got things under sufficient control that he is once more able to write. And I’m looking forward to diving back into this world that defines a part of my life I look back on with great affection. I nearly didn’t get this one for that very reason, but that’s cowardly even for me. So looking forward to this one with some trepidation… Anyone else waiting for Peace Talks?

Five 5-Star Books in Five Words – Twice Over #five5-starbooksin5wordsx2 #BrainfluffWyrdandWonderChallenge2020

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The aim of this one is to select five of your all-time favourite books and sum each one up in five words as part of this year’s Wyrd and Wonder challenges. I read this fun challenge on one of my fellow blogger’s site (sorry – I made a note of who it was, then lost it…) and decided that I really, really wanted to have a bash at it. Then Himself also wanted a go and so I’ve added his choices, too.

My Selection

 

Among Others by Jo Walton
Battle-scarred schoolgirl seeking solace.
See review…

 

How to Train Your Dragon – Book 1 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
Naughty dragon trains small Viking.
See review…

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Heroic quest – or is it?
See review…

 

Small Gods – Book 13 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett does religion. Profound silliness.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
Mother’s mission – rescue her daughter.
See review…



Himself’s Selection

 

Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkein
The first, greatest epic fantasy

 

The Curse of Chalion – Book 1 of the World of the Five Gods series by Lois McMaster Bujold
Tattered hero dies three times.

 

Night Watch – Book 29 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
Vimes’ timeloop saves his family.

 

Furies of Calderon – Book 1 of the Codex Alera by Jim Butcher
Powerless hero surviving powerful world.

 

Dead Heat – Book 4 of the Alpha and Omega series by Patricia Briggs
Ancient werewolf visits old friend.

Friday Faceoff – The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week’s theme is storms, so I have selected Storm Front – Book 1 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

 

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This is the cover produced by Penguin Roc in April 2000. It is certainly dramatic, with lightning splintering across the sky, featuring the Chicago skyline and Harry’s little house right in the foreground. I really like this effort.

 

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This version was published by Roc Fantasy in April 2000 and is the one I tend to associate with the book. In this version we get to see Harry – and this is definitely how I imagine him, with the Chicago streetscape in the background with the inevitable downpour lashing down…

 

stormfront2

This offering, published by Orbit in May 2011, uses the classic cover changing the font and focusing on the figure of Harry, while losing the black bar across the top. I think it is an improvement, giving a cleaner, sharper look to the cover. I also prefer the font – this is my favourite.

 

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This is the cover for the audio book, published in February 2009 by Buzzy Multimedia. Again, it has gone back to one of the original covers, producing a cleaner version. Another strong addition.

 

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I’m a tad torn over this one. It is by far the most boring cover and it is significant that while it was produced by Orbit in September 2005, they went on to use one of the earlier covers in their 2011 edition as you can see above. However, this is the cover of the book I read and subsequently bought and so I have very happy memories of getting lost with delight in this amazing urban fantasy.

Review of The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Book 1 of The Cinder series by Jim Butcher

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For fans of the Harry Dresden Files comes another treat, this time in the shape of far-future steampunk. As Butcher embarks on a completely different project, has he successfully mastered this sub-genre, too?

theaeronautswindlassSince time immemorial, humanity has lived inside the Spires, habitats towering for miles over the dangerous, monster-infested surface of the world. Captain Grimm of the merchant airship Predator was dismissed from Spire Albion’s military in disgrace – now his ship and crew are all he has, and he’s fiercely loyal to both. When the Predator is severely damaged in combat, Grimm is offered a choice – take on a clandestine mission for Albion’s leaders, or stay grounded for good.

That’s as much of the rather chatty blurb I am prepared to reveal, but I can say that this opening conflict is merely a preliminary salvo to the full-tilt action that fizzes through this book from the start. While the world, particularly their weapons and airships, are powered by crystals rather than coal, this book recognisably falls into the steampunk genre. Steampunk is generally characterised by a chippy, derring-do tone and Butcher has kept to this convention. Captain Grimm is implacably proper at all times, leading his crew by his dauntless heroism. And while there is a certain tongue-in-cheek flavour, Butcher manages to keep this from being too knowing.

Grimm is accompanied on this multiple third person pov adventure by an enjoyable cast of characters, including a ferociously skilful aristocrat and his ferociously confident cousin, a plucky young woman and her talking cat, a mad etherealist and his fey apprentice and a satisfyingly nasty antagonist. The overall feel and tone of this book is far closer to Butcher’s Codex Alera series than the better known Harry Dresden Files. As you might expect with an author of Butcher’s calibre, the action kicks off immediately and doesn’t let up until the last page, making this a book that I stayed up reading waaay into the early hours.

In amongst all the mayhem, a lot of world-building needed to be slipped in to give the reader sufficient context to really care about the stakes, which Butcher manages without holding up the pace. He also changes viewpoints smoothly enough that I didn’t find myself skimming any of the various plotlines to get back to my favourite.

But what boosts this book to one of my memorably favourite reads so far this year, is the gripping nature of climactic battle scenes, which worked brilliantly for me. This first book in a major new series has left me keenly anticipating the sequel to discover what happens next – I am especially keen to meet up again with Rowl the talking cat.
10/10

Review of Skin Game – Book 15 of the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this long-running series – read my review of Turn Coat here and my review of Ghost Story here. So with the fifteenth book in the series, can Jim Butcher continue to sustain the freshness and vitality that is a hallmark of Harry Dresden and his adventures?

skin gameHarry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. As Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful. This time, it’s worse than that. Mab’s involved Harry in a smash-and-grab heist run by one of his most despised enemies, to recover a special object from the vaults of the greatest treasure horde in the world – which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess – assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance . . .

So that’s the blurb. The whole book revolves around this particular job that Queen Mab has hauled him into. Harry is only too well aware of just how much he is hated by the person organising this job – but he doesn’t have a choice. As Queen Mab’s Winter Knight, he is forced to represent her.

In order for this book to work, we have to really care about Harry’s plight and get completely caught up in every plot progression. And I did. Absolutely. As far as I’m concerned, this slice of Harry Dresden’s adventures is one of the best in a while. The storyline drew me in from the beginning so that I didn’t want to put it down until the last page – and when I finished, I was sad that a really enjoyable, engrossing time had come to an end. Having said that – I’ve recently been ploughing through a couple of books that were as much fun as jabbing myself in the eye with a sharp pencil, so it was a joy to return to a well-crafted, tale full of unpredictable twists all happening to a character I really cared about.

If you haven’t read any of this long, eventful series, then you could do a lot better than jumping into the middle of Harry’s world by starting off with this book. Which isn’t advice I generally hand out to someone coming across a mid-series book, but in this case I really think it works. Yes – there is a great deal of backstory, but because of the particular structure of Skin Game which is centred around the task Harry has been set, the lack of familiarity with the rest of the canon isn’t much of a disadvantage. What it does, is give you a fantastic introduction to Harry and many of his closest friends and enemies. And once you’ve got to the end of the book, I’ll be very surprised if you don’t rush to grab hold of Storm Front, the first book in this great series.
9/10

Review of Ghost Story – Book 13 of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

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So… you’re Jim Butcher with a best-selling series on your hands in the shape of tough-yet-vulnerable PI wizard Harry Dresden, whose adventures just get more and more apocalyptic. Come the thirteenth instalment, what do you do to up the action? Well… continue the jaw-dropper that confronted all Harry Dresden fans in Changes would be a good idea.

Firstly, though – if you’re just dipping your big toe into the genre of Urban Fantasy and haven’t yet come across this series, then please stop reading. Now. And rush off to the library to pick up the first book in the series, Storm Front, put up your feet and start reading. It’s an excellent series and I envy your pleasure as you gradually get to know Harry and the characters that accompany him on his adventures. If you ignore my advice and continue reading this review, you’ll be very, very sorry – because even the blurb contains major SPOILERS which I’m normally quite nifty at avoiding. However this time around, I cannot sensibly discuss this book without revealing a couple of doozies…

Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.

Harry Dresden forgot his own golden rule: magic – it can get a guy killed. Which didn’t help when he clashed with unknown assailants intent on his murder. And though Harry’s continued existence is now some doubt, this doesn’t mean Chicago’s resident professional wizard can rest in peace. Trapped in a realm that is now quite here, yet not quite anywhere else, Harry learns that three of his loved ones are in mortal danger. Only by discovering his assailant’s identity can he save his friends, bring criminal elements to justice, and move on before he becomes trapped in his own unending nightmare.

It would just be easier if he knew which three friends were at risk. And had a (working) crystal ball. And had access to his magic. Instead, he must accomplish his mission unable to interact with the physical world – invisible and inaudible to all but the most specialised of magical talents. He’s also far from the only silent presence roaming Chicago’s alleys. Hell, he put some of them there himself. And now, they’re looking for payback.

ghostsotryI have to say I started this book with a fairly major grizzle. My fan-struck husband rushed out and bought the anthology of Harry Dresden short stories, Side Jobs. With a constant mountain of books piled up at my bedside, I hadn’t gotten around to reading it – until he plonked the final novella-length story in front of me, Aftermath, with strict instructions to read it before starting Ghost Story.

‘You really, really need to read this first,’ he said. He was right. And for my money, Butcher has significantly short-changed his large fan base by not inserting Aftermath either at the end of Changes, or the beginning of Ghost Story. The story gives a very useful update on what has happened to Chicago during Harry’s inevitable absence, and explores the full emotional impact of his death on those closest to him – something that cannot be adequately done from Harry’s viewpoint. Aftermath also establishes the grimmer, more muted tone that pervades Ghost Story. As it stands, Butcher needs to take a significant amount of time at the start of Ghost Story to set the altered mood and setting of Chicago in Harry’s inevitably confused and fragmented viewpoint. To the extent, that I was beginning to wonder whether Butcher’s huge risk in killing off his protagonist had paid off.

However by a third of the way in, the pace picked up and Butcher’s deft storytelling skills fully kicked in. One of the outstanding aspects of this particular series, is that it isn’t only the protagonist who is on a major journey. His companions and friends suffer and grow alongside him. So, we see how Harry’s death has affected Molly, his apprentice and Karin Murphy, his accomplice and would-be lover. The large supporting cast are not merely paraded in front of us in a never-ending procession of paper-thin constructs designed to fit the current plotline – the author gives them weight and thought and provides them with sufficient complexity that they provide page-turner appeal of their own over a number of the books. After all – Harry’s tale is told in first person point of view, and if we don’t fully engage with the characters that he’s willing to risk all for, then the point of the story would fall flat. And it doesn’t.

Once Ghost Story gained momentum, the story rocked along with all the verve and excitement Dresden fans have come to love and expect and the ending was suitably climactic – with a twist that I didn’t see coming. On balance, I think Butcher’s big risk in killing his protagonist worked… but I do think he unnecessarily jeopardised the whole venture by not including Aftermath in either Changes or Ghost Story.

8/10