After being murdered and resurrected, Harry Dresden must now take up the mantle of the Winter Knight, servant to Mab, the Queen of Winter, with whom he made a devil's bargain to save his daughter's life. Mab's first order to him is to kill her own daughter, Maeve, who has allegedly been taken over by forces even darker than herself, threatening both the balance of power in the fairy lands and the unfathomable source of magic that is the island of Demonreach, with which Harry has a deep connection. However, Harry's mission is complicated by the fact that Maeve is immortal and then he's led to believe that it's Mab who is the real threat. At first, Harry thinks to go it alone, but it soon becomes apparent that this is too big of a job for just one person. One by one, his friends and allies come to his aid and together they have less than two days to prevent an apocalypse that could level all of Chicago, and possibly the entire country, and stop a supernatural prison that holds the most dangerous creatures imaginable from being infiltrated. To succeed all they have to do is figure out who's telling the truth and defeat the strongest foe they've ever faced, which is not of this world. It's all in a day's work for Harry and company.
Cold Days is the fourteenth full-length novel in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. In this one, Harry is newly returned from the dead, so to speak, and must finally take up the mantle of the Winter Knight as he agreed to in exchange for Mab's help saving his daughter in Changes. However, Mab's first order for Harry is to kill the Winter Lady, her own daughter, Maeve, a seemingly impossible task since Maeve is immortal. The order becomes further complicated, when he's led to believe that Mab is the one who poses the real threat. Not quite knowing how to announce to his friends and family that he's back from the great beyond and fearing that the power of Winter within him may pose a danger to them, Harry decides to go it alone. But that doesn't last long when they gradually start to find him. He also quickly realizes that the task is too large for just one person, when he's made aware of an unfathomable source of magic that is about to be unleashed, which will cause an event of apocalyptic proportions, destroying all of Chicago and possibly a large part of the country as well. Harry and his allies have less than two days to figure out who's telling the truth and prevent this catastrophe, which will also free some extremely dangerous inmates from a supernatural prison that Harry never knew existed, and to do so, they'll also have to defeat some really "big bads" who aren't of this world.
After seemingly being murdered at the end of Changes, Harry spent the entirety of the last book, Ghost Story, basically as a ghost. But as it turn out, he was only mostly dead, his spirit roaming while his body was on supernatural life support. He was brought back from the brink, partly by Mab who wasn't about to lose her new Winter Knight, and partly by the power of Demonreach, the hidden island with which Harry has a special connection. He spends the first chapter of Cold Days in Arctis Tor being rehabbed by a young human woman named Sarissa, and then by Mab herself who tests him every day by repeatedly trying to kill him, after which he's finally deemed fit to return the mortal world. Of course, he does so with Mab's orders, but he isn't sure yet if he's going to comply. At first, because of the dangers his new powers might pose, he goes with the lone wolf routine, but one by one his friends and family begin to find him, all of them proving that they're quite forgiving and happy to see him alive and well. When his task is complicated by new revelations regarding supernatural enemies Harry hadn't known about before, it also quickly becomes apparent that it will be impossible to accomplish on his own in such a short time. Fairies can't lie when asked a direct question, yet it appears that someone isn't being entirely truthful, so he must figure out what's actually going on and try to save the day before really bad things start to happen that will put the lives of everyone in Chicago and beyond in jeopardy.
Harry is changed by Winter in this book and even more powerful than he was before, but all that power comes with a price. Winter thoroughly corrupted the last knight, something Harry is keenly aware of, and he fears that it could do the same to him. He's always more or less been the Boy Scout, trying to do the right thing. That being the case, I have to admit that a few of the things Winter's power makes him consider doing made me squirm a little, but I was happy that he was able to beat it back and remain true to himself, at least so far. My hope is that, moving forward, he'll either find a way to continue to do so, or that he'll find a way to get rid of Winter before it takes over.
As always, Harry shares his adventures with his Scooby Gang. His apprentice, Molly, has continued her training in his absence, and has become a pretty powerful wizard in her own right. I love her new digs that she earned from her endeavors in the previous novella, "Bombshells," and some significant changes are afoot for her in this book. Harry's brother, Thomas, is still one of his most trusted allies, and I enjoyed the goofy, brotherly affection they share in this story. Thomas's beloved, Justine, gets herself kidnapped, along with a few others, and ends up along for the ride in the finale. Butters and Andi are among that group as well. Butters continues to reluctantly patch up supernatural wounds, while also being the new keeper of Bob, who helps Harry figure out some things in the beginning. Mac, owner of the pub that's neutral ground for supernaturals, is also a kidnap victim and a participant in the final battle. We learn that he's not all he seems, but what exactly he is, he's being very tight-lipped about. Of course, Karrin is there by Harry's side as well, bravely battling as always. However, I have to say that I'm getting a little frustrated by the author continuing to tease a possible relationship between these two. They take a tiny step in the right direction, but while they aren't completely ruling it out, neither are they embracing it either. Little Toot-Toot and his Za Lord's army are pretty important players, too, and they get to do battle against some evil little folk, which also leads to the introduction of a new pixie who could be interesting. Harry's loyal dog, Mouse, goes into battle with him again. Demonreach has become a character unto itself, and the island's connection to Harry is deepened in this book. We're introduced to Sarissa who aids in Harry's recovery and who isn't all that she seems. There are also potential antagonists aplenty as Harry must figure out who amongst the queens and ladies of Fairy can be trusted and finds a frenemy in Fix, the Summer Knight. I was a little disappointed by the death of one supporting character who I'd always kind of liked and who seemed to have been led astray. But otherwise, it was a great lineup of characters and I look forward to seeing all of them in future books.
Overall, Cold Days was a fantastic story that I thoroughly enjoyed, definitely one of the best in the series. After him playing a ghost in the last book, it was great having Harry back in the land of the living, doing what he does best. It was interesting seeing all the new powers that the mantle of Winter has given him even though he's using them sparingly in an effort to keep from turning evil. I'm very intrigued to find out where things go for him in that respect. The narrative of this book is built beautifully with Harry no sooner recovering than he's thrust into a major problem. As he investigates, things start going downhill for him as he learns more and more about why Mab has made her request of him. Then of course, he must figure out how to defeat all the evil forces that have aligned against him in order to save not only himself and his friends, but all of Chicago and beyond. The Outsiders were an interesting addition to the series. They've apparently been there in some capacity from early on, but we actually get to see just how powerful they are and what things are like behind the scenes in the Nevernever. There are many plot points from past books that come into play in this one that impressed me with how seamlessly they're woven together. Many exciting things happen in this book that propel the series story arc forward, but there's at least one thing that's left hanging for Harry to overcome in a future book. All this makes me eagerly look forward to seeing what's next for our intrepid wizard.
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