My ban on spoilers for Peace Talks is now lifted.
If you haven’t read that book yet and intend to, stop reading now.
There will also be one major spoiler for Battleground.
Battleground is a drastically stronger work than Peace Talks. The best Jim Butcher has written in years.
And the reason is fairly obvious. Peace Talks and Battleground were clearly one book that Butcher’s publisher decided was too big, given what his audience has come to expect from a Dresden Files book in terms of length.
So he was ordered to shave off the first act and pad the hell of it. Which he did.
Personally, I think that, that was a dangerous plan on the part of his publisher. There was already such a long wait between Skin Game and Peace Talks that reader disengagement had set in. Having your first book in six years, be a weak story that was all build up and no payoff was a fairly questionable strategy.
Regardless, the payoff does arrive with Battleground. This is a big, gut wrenching roller coaster of a tale. Early on it becomes clear that some long standing characters are not getting out of this book alive.
There are some very major changes to the Dresdenverse in this book.
I was shocked by Karen Murphy’s death. She had been around for twenty years, starting with the first book in the series, Stormfront.
Although, I can’t say Butcher didn’t warn us. In Peace Talks Murphy and Dresden finally crossed over from Will They or Won’t They into, They Did. Given Dresden’s luck with women, this was tantamount to one of the Cartwright brothers in Bonanza getting engaged to a girl. You knew she was doomed from the start.
I strongly suspect that the “New Murphy” was a failed experiment for Butcher. Her original purpose was to be Dresden’s connection with law enforcement. Her loyalty to Dresden cost her rank and finally her job. She then became the head of the Brighter Future Society in Ghost Story. The problem is that she didn’t really work out in this role.
Nor was the Brighter Future Society bringing anything to the narative. I suspect the BFS was a potential spin-off series that Butcher chose not to pursue because it wasn’t really developing properly. That changed Karen Murphy into a character who was “being given things to do,” which meant she had, “no reason to be there.”
And finally, Dresden’s enemies are getting more and more powerful, yet Karen remained a vanilla mortal, without powers. It was becoming less and less believable that she would continue to triumph over the forces of darknesses she was fighting.
And so her story reached its end.
This also explained Dresden’s suddenly, warmer relationship with Lara Raith. I can’t be the only one to feel that the way they were getting along in Peace Talks was drastically inconsistent with past encounters with her.
The series seems to be back on stronger ground at the end of this book. In Changes Dresden was stripped of most of the things that gave him is identity. His Lab, his private investigator’s office, his apprentice and finally his life. A trip to the underworld is standard fair for the Hero’s Journey but you are also supposed to bring back gifts for all Mankind, so he had to go back and get them.
Now he has a new home, a daughter and a new job. In summary, he has the things that gives a man his identity again.
While I miss the old days of Dresden, Molly and Mouse in his basement apartment, Harry Dresden was never meant to be a static character. From the start Butcher had intended for him to grow and change as the series progressed.
Writers refer to the middle of the story as the Muddle of the Story for a reason. But the Dresden Files is now past the middle and beginning the acceleration to the climax. I knew from the Christmas Story that there was going to be no “undoing the snap.” Tens of thousands were dead at the end of this book and the citizens of Chicago now know that the Supernatural is real. This is a daring and fundamental change.
And it’s not being changed back.
Okay, I’m done here.