Audiobook Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

27 11 2012

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Bk. 14)

Read by James Marsters

Penguin Audio

Length: 18 Hrs 50 Min

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Cold Days reinvigorated my love for this series. Butcher takes everything you think you know about The Dresden Files and smashes it, twisting and pulling it like taffy. He expands his world in amazing new directions, answering questions you never knew you where asking, while creating whole new realties to deal with.

Grade: A

The Dresden Files series will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s really was the gateway series that got me interested in, not just Urban Fantasy, but Urban Fantasy audiobooks. Before the Dresden Files, I can’t remember very many ventures into Urban Fantasy, and the ones I did attempt didn’t go over very well. I have taken a very weird road into Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom, nowhere near the traditional geek cultural road taken by many fans of speculative fiction. I was never into comic books as a kid, and enjoyed Stark Trek and Star Wars as isolated bits of fun, but in no way was an obsessive SF geek. When Scifi writers make clever Dungeons and Dragons references on Twitter I am basically lost. I read the staples, Narnia and The Hobbit as a kid, a few Star Wars books as a teenager but mostly I stuck to Legal Thrillers, Detective stories and other ,mysteries. My first dedicated sojourn into speculative fiction was through horror, where I found my first real literary obsession, Post Apocalyptic fiction. Through Post Apocalyptic fiction, I began moving into Science Fiction and Fantasy, expanding being apocalyptic novels to Space Operas and Portal Fantasies. I knew nothing of fairies or ghouls, and most of my vampires where of the Stephen King Variety, and pretty bare fanged basic. To this day, I don’t know what inspired me to pick up the first Dresden Files audiobook, but it opened a new window. Slowly, Butcher lured me in with wizards, and werewolves, things I have had literary experiences with before, but then slowly began to introduce me to new aspects of fantasy, for me at least. Now, while I’m still playing on the edges of the urban fantasy world, now, Harry Dresden convinced me to at least put my toe in the water.

Cold Days is the 14th novel in the Dresden Files, and more importantly, the start of a new story arch in the course of the series. If The Dresden Files was a TV show (I know, I know) Changes would have been a Season Finale, and Cold Days the premiere of the next season, with Ghost Story serving as a fun little Teaser special branching the two main arches. Harry Dresden is now, for better or worse, The Winter’s Knight, and must do the bidding of the Winter Queen Mab. Yet, when Mab gives him an assignment that is seemingly impossible, the assassination of an immortal, Harry gets drawn into a complicated chess match between an unseen new enemy and the allies of reality itself. To make matters worst, Harry must battle the mantel of the Winter’s Knight’s attempts to change him, while his friends and allies are not sure they can really trust him. In Cold Days, Butcher takes everything you think you know about Harry and the world of the Dresden Files, and smashes it, twisting and pulling it like taffy. He expands his world in amazing new directions, answering questions you never knew you where asking, while creating whole new realties to deal with. It amazes me how far we have come from the world we first met in Storm Front. Nothing is the same, yet Butcher stays true to the essence of the characters, despite outside forces trying to change them. I was so enthralled by this story, going through a plethora of emotions, from pure exhilaration to heartbreak. While I loved Changes as a novel, I was scared about the direction it would force the series into. Butcher convinced me, that despite my doubts, he has a plan and its one well worth following. Cold Days simply reinvigorated my love of this series, making me excited for what is yet to come for Harry and his cohorts. Even knowing that what is coming is probably going to break my heart as much as entertain me doesn’t diminish my desire to take the journey.

So, Ghost Story happened. I think I was one of the very few that didn’t insta-hate John Glover’s performance. I sort of liked it in fact, and gave a pretty positive review garnishing some negative responses. That being said, John Glover isn’t Harry Dresden. Perhaps he could be ghost Harry Dresden with the sniffles, but he is not Harry Dresden. James Marsters is Harry Dresden, and proves it once again in his reading of Cold Days. Marsters is one of the few narrators who I think I enjoy more every time I listen to him. There were moments in this novel, when Harry would be shouting his spells, calling down Fire, Force or Ice that I got the chills. Marsters narrates this like Harry himself, through the full brute strength of his will. It is straightforward and powerful, maybe not as nuances as some narrators, but perfect for the world that he is bringing to life. Marsters proves that he knows these characters, that he has grown with them, and he is their voice. He has easily captured the rhythms of Butcher’s writing delivering them with an almost cinematic quality. If you are a fan of The Dresden Files audiobooks, you too will feel the chills to have Harry back as we have grown to know him.

Note: Special Thanks to Penguin Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

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Audiobook Review: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

1 08 2011

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files, Book 13)

By Jim Butcher

Read by John Glover

Penguin Audiobooks

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: While not the best Dresden File novel, Ghost Story is a novel full of heart and packed with so many of great moments, some funny, some surprising and many utterly heart breaking.

Grade: A-

Special Note: While I strive to write reviews that are free of spoilers for both the book, and previous editions of the series, I find that it is impossible to write a good review of Ghost Story without revealing major plot elements of the previous Dresden Files novel Changes. If you have not read Changes, or any of the previous editions of the Dresden Files, I would avoid reading the first two paragraphs of this review. If you are here simply to find out my take on John Glover’s narration, feel free to read the final paragraph without fear of spoilers.  Also, do not worry, I will not be spoiling any parts of Ghost Story, just previous novels.

Have you ever watched a TV show, where there is a big jump in time from one season to the next, and while all the characters are there, and still are familiar at their core level, but something about them seems just a bit off, as if we missed something big in their lives. That is the feeling I had while reading Ghost Story, the 13th Book in the Dresden Files series. The previous title in the series Changes, was easily my favorite in the series, but beyond personal taste it was also the most shattering world changing book in a series I have read. Changes was such an apt title, because the decisions and actions that take place during that book will drastically affect the rest of the series. Not only has Harry discovered that he has a daughter, and that she was being held hostage, but each step he takes in her rescue pulls him further down a path he never wanted. Each decision was more terrible than the next, from agreeing to become Mab’s Winter’s Knight, to his murder of his daughters mother Susan Rodriguez and utterly annihilating the Red Court Vampires. These decisions will forever alter the world of Butcher’s making. Even small decisions like involving his sensitive apprentice Molly is an all out battle against evil has created major ripples in Harry’s world. Yet, the most devastating moment, the crack of a rifle, Harry’s body falling into the cold depths of Lake Michigan, has put us readers down a path that we never expected.

Harry Dresden may possibly be my favorite literary character. Now, I am not saying The Dresden Files books are my all time favorite, each has its own highs and lows, but as a character, Harry is the epitome of what I like in a first person narrator. So, I went into Ghost Story a bit hesitant. How will non-breathing Harry stand up to the Harry many of us have come to love? So, within the first few minute when Harry throws out a Barry Manillo/hell joke, and shows off his usual smartass comments and self deprecating humor, I began to feel more comfortable. Yet that comfort began to wane as Harry begins to see the world he left, and the way the people close to him have changed since his death, and his inability to do anything about it. This is the true reality he must face, that the people he left behind are changed, some for the good and some for the heartbreakingly bad. Ghost Story is a story of unintended consequences. Sure, like many other Dresden tales it is full of action, and mystery, and is a morality tale of how good men and women often blur the line between good and evil to achieve their goals.  Yet what truly sets it apart from other additions in the series is how decisions, no matter how well intended, can set off a unforeseen chain of events. There are some great moments in this novel, characters who we would never expect becoming heroes, while others who seem so strong pulled down by paranoia, grief and the necessities of the changed world. Ghost Story is not my favorite of The Dresden Files, I felt certain parts of the plot were muddled, and often unsatisfactorily explored, yet, any flaws in the plotting are made up for by the heart of the novel. If you are a Dresden fan, you cannot help to be moved by this novel and Harry’s journey from his death to his fate.

Now, onto the controversial element of this audiobook. If you haven’t heard, longtime Dresden narrator and fan favorite James Marsters was unavailable to read Ghost Story. Instead of further delaying the release date, actor John Glover was brought in to narrate the audiobook instead. . The change of narrator is often controversial, but it is especially tough for first person tales. The narrator must be the voice of the character, encompassing his inner and external dialogue. Glover had big shoes to fill. Marsters brought certain affectations to the voice of Dresden, his sighs and pacing when delivering one of Dresden’s patented smart ass remarks that would be near impossible to emulate. I think Glover did a decent job capturing Dresden’s voice. After getting use to his voice, I was rarely pulled out of the story because of his narration. There were some moments, especially when Glover would change from inner to external dialogue, where his higher tones in his voice would momentarily remind me of the new narrator, but as the book progressed these moments came less and less. Where I thought Glover did an amazing job was the voicing of the peripheral characters. His vocalizations of characters like Bob and Butters seemed so in line with what Marsters did, I can’t help but think Glover spent some time listening to Marster’s interpretation. My suggestion to fans of The Dresden Files audiobooks, go into Glover’s reading with an open mind and a willingness to give it some time, and I think you will, at the very least be able to tolerate his reading, or perhaps, like me, enjoy it. Remember, liking Glover’s reading does not mean you are being disloyal to James Marsters. I think he would want you to like it.