Battle Ground by Jim Butcher
WARNING: There be Spoilers here!
Well, three months after it comes out, here I am, reviewing the latest Dresden book. I am all caught up. It was good, for what it was.
What is was, of course, was the second half of Peace Talks. And just like something suffers from splitting a perfectly good book into two mediocre movies, there is something lacking in a book that is a 400 page climax to a mediocre 300 introduction.
And that really frustrates me. Because he had two really good books here. He could have done a wonderful heist novel with the first book, with Dresden trying desperately to save his brother while failing to navigate the political drama. (Because we all know that Dresden would fail to navigate the political drama.) It would have been nail biting and exciting, with twists and turns and mystery and possible betrayal. Except, of course, that he already did that, with much less important stakes, in Skin Game. But that’s the heist novel I wanted.
Instead, the beginning of Battleground is stuck at the end of Peace Talks, and the tiniest little tidbit of Peace Talks is stuck at the end of Battleground. And I am all disappointed.
There Be Spoilers Here!
Because of this structure, there is nothing in this book but battle scene after battle scene. By the time deaths are happening and the stakes are real, I don’t care any more because I am completely numb. Except for Murphy. I am still having a debate on whether or not her arc was done with, or she got fridged to further Dresden’s arc. Though it was a wonderful example of promise, remind, payoff. The first talk of tiger discipline was a warning, by the second I knew what would happen, and by the third I knew who would die. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it. I was all prepared to have a wonderful character arc where we find out what a post-warrior Murphy would be like. There would be drama in Dresden wanting to protect her and her wanting to contribute something, evening it’s not physical. But, no. Instead Mab fixes her up for one battle and she’s killed off. Well done, Butcher.
End of Specific Spoilers.
So, while there are probably great bits of information in this book, and great setup for the next books, I’m afraid I missed it all in the relentless action. And not in the, “eagerly go back and read it again to find what you missed” way, but in the “look it up on the wiki when it’s referenced later” way.
And all of this does not even get into the characters. As in, way too many of them. You’d better remember every single character of the series, because they are all going to appear here. Possibly just to say hi and then disappear into the night, like the Black Court. Possibly to be utterly character assassinated, like Marcone. Meanwhile, Harry gets a mysterious power boost that means he comes through without a scratch. Minor characters introduced in the novel are given enough backstory to make you care about them, then we don’t know if they made it through or not.
Not my favorite. At this point, I will probably read the rest, just to see how the story ends, but I will probably never read them again.
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I love reading books, especially fantasy books, with culture and histories that are while unfamiliar to me. This one is a perfect example. It gripped me from page one. Amani was instantly sympathetic without being hopeless. She was a girl trapped in a system much more powerful than herself, that tripped right over all the worst stereotypes of that genre, and still managed to remain endearing and wonderful.
It’s a book about colonialism that leaves some sympathy, not for the colonizers, but for the second generation, the people who have to grow up after the conquest is a given thing. Amani feels sympathy for Miram because she figures out that Miram is just as trapped as she is. And the betrayal-that-mightn’t-have-been-a-betrayal at the end is all the more heartbreaking for it.
The sequel is the next book on my queue, and I dearly hope it is as good as this one.
Shadowshaper By Daniel José Older
Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I loved this book. I loved the twists and turns, the culture, the magic, the characters.
There are a wide variety of characters from all different backgrounds, that celebrate the diversity that exists within representational literature. Minor characters with differing opinions are treated with love and respect, even as the main character doesn’t agree with them.
The subtlety of the magic first appearing, the explanations without info dumping, and the sheer newness of the magic itself is absolutely gorgeous. It is somehow wholly fantastical and utterly mundane. Of course the street murals actually come alive. And holy shit, the street murals come alive! I loved the juxtaposition.
This is a Hispanic novel, both in simply having characters the are Hispanic, and in the way it tells the story itself. The solution, and how the characters fight it out at the end, and how the bad guy gets punished, are so perfectly within the culture and it made me want to cheer. (note Reviewer is a White Girl (TM), so any statements about Hispanic culture are based solely on her observations, not lived experience.)
While I was able to guess some of the twists and turns of the novel before Sierra herself did, there were a lot that I didn’t guess, or thought I had guessed, and turned out to be wrong. Any time a book can do that is absolutely golden to me. There was only one point, when Sierra was coming back from the ocean, that I knew what was going to happen, and got a little impatient for it to occur. But that was more a dread of the other shoe dropping than any impatience with the author.
This is an excellent read, and I will eagerly devour the sequels.
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