"Next" and a review of "Cold Days" by Jim Butcher / by Josh Guess

My initial plan was to begin work on Saint for NaNoWriMo this month, but a few false starts later and an obsessive infatuation with another planned book, Next, pushed me in a different direction. Next is sitting at almost eight thousand words as of this moment, and I'm planning to put it over the 10k mark tonight.

As for Monster, well, the raw first draft is sitting on my hard drive. I'll be honest: I wrote the book during more than a year of depression, personal turmoil, and continuing physical and mental stress. I want to get the book done and published, but every time I sit to edit and revise I start to remember every bad moment and I just can't do it. I may need to let Monster sit for a while as I work on other things and revisit it later. I want it to be a good book. Right now it isn't what I'd like it to be.

And now, a review of Cold Days by Jim Butcher, which I just finished reading a few hours ago.

A warning: SPOILERS. OMG SO MANY SPOILERS. Don't read past here if you haven't read the book or care at all about knowing major plot elements ahead of time. Seriously.

In fact, let me just add a jump right here.

So. Cold Days came out this morning. I read the whole book in about seven and a half hours. I read it straight through, including taking my dogs out and cooking two meals.

The fourteenth book of The Dresden Files easily stands up to the expectations I had for it. While Butcher sticks to his formula as far as plot goes--which is kind of the point of the series, really--this volume comes with a lot of excellent moments and furthers the larger, over-arcing plot of the series very nicely.

There are several long-running questions that get answers, such as what the island Demonreach and its genius loci really are and what purpose they serve. Butcher includes several elements that are actually facets of the same thing that manage to neatly pull together events going all the way back to Harry Dresden's first adventure in Storm Front. We get a larger understanding of the Faerie courts, the role of several characters, and--probably most important in the long run--some solid information regarding Rashid the Gatekeeper and what the future may hold for Harry and his being 'starborn'--which you may remember has something to do with him and Outsiders. Rashid, in his role as Gatekeeper, "guards the outer gates".

That's important, and Butcher throws it in with the same ease with which he manages so many other aspects of the series.

As a reader, I'm more than satisfied with this book. The characters get a lot of development time (well, most of them. I'm a bit iffy on Murphy during the last tenth of the book, to be frank) and if anything, Mr. Butcher has smoothed out his voice even more with this book. His ability to change up the way he writes to better fit his own innate style is truly mind-blowing. As an author myself, I can't help but goggle at the thousand small details. He manages to integrate pop-culture references much more seamlessly than ever before, include humor that is both more subtle and more powerful considering the circumstances it appears in, and generally refine his storytelling even more.

Which is saying a hell of a lot, from my point of view. Butcher has grown as a writer with every novel in this series. That's an amazing feat. Refining your art every time you publish something is a sign of real dedication and talent, and many writers (myself included) would kill to have that level of ability. If the very first book in the series is rough (or maybe only seems that way when reading it over again, compared to the later books) then Cold Days represents an astounding accomplishment: a series that has only improved with each book. That's unheard of. And it's not as though Butcher has reached an even level with his skills and decided to relax and coast. He's still on the upward slope, growing his writing skills by working at it every day. That much is obvious.

And the guy is only forty-one right now. For authors, that's a baby. I can only imagine how good he'll be in ten years, which is probably about the time this series will come to an end. If Cold Days is any indication, the rest of the series is going to keep trending better and better.