Fourteen books in - and with the slight nostalgic sigh I realize how much the stakes have been raised as this series flew ahead, never losing its way. We are playing with the big kids now, aren't we? And things get real.
"Power corrupts - and the people being corrupted never seem to be aware that it's happening."
And things stopped being simple somewhere along the way, and have begun to weave themselves into a complex tapestry, tucking in the loose ends throughout the series, and the storyline has really shifted from the adventures of a smartass wisecracking Chicago PI who also happens to be a wizard, a small fish in a big pond, a guy who, often on pure nerve and defiance and a fair share of dumb luck, and not to forget a little help from his friends, managed to take on things and powers that were lightyears out of his league, while emerging seemingly unscathed. Remember those times?
No, now that is in the past. Harry, no longer just a wiseass small fish in a big pond, has become a power to be truly reckoned with, playing on almost equal footing with the biggest supernatural powers of Butcher's world (but still, true to his nature, remains a wiseass).
"I was Harry Dresden, Wizard of the White Council, Knight of Winter. I had faced demons and monsters, fought off fallen angels and werewolves, slugged it out with sorcerers and cults and freakish things that had no names. I had fought upon land and sea, in the skies above my city, in ancient ruins and in realms of the spirit most of humanity did not know existed. I bore scars that I'd earned in dozens of battles, made enemies out of nightmares, and laid low a dark empire for the sake of one little girl."
Fourteen books into this series - and I love Harry Dresden more than ever. Why? Because he, regardless of his ever-growing power and status, regardless of more than difficult and questionable choices that he has been making - the choices that have led to some unforeseen and often tragic consequences - firmly refuses to succumb to the temptations of power, firmly refuses to lose himself to it.
And that is what this book, quite unsubtly but very satisfyingly, hammers into place.
"But you can't go around changing your definition of right and wrong (or smart and stupid) just because doing the wrong thing happens to be really convenient. Sometimes it isn't easy to be sane, smart, and responsible. Sometimes it sucks[...] But that doesn't turn wrong into right or stupid into smart."
Harry has always been a romantic, believing in justice and honor and free will. And, hells bells, he is not just going to give up his beliefs now, even though he has roped himself into the role of a hired gun to Queen Mab, the enigmatic Baddie force of nature we have met before, in the quite chilly and scary circumstances. He made a deal, and he needs to live with the consequences of it. The Mantle of Winter Knight, while giving more power than one'd think possible, comes with repercussions - it seems to draw out the worst in Harry, that has always been there but until now remained mostly under control. And Harry deals with it - at the same time as he's trying to save his hide and save the world, while he's at it. Also - Mr. Kringle a.k.a. Santa is not necessarily what you think he is. Sorry, couldn't resist.
"See, that’s the tragedy of the human condition. No one wants to be corrupted by power when they set out to get it. They have good, even noble reasons for doing whatever it is they do. They don’t want to misuse it, they don’t want to abuse it, and they don’t want to become vicious monsters. Good people, decent people, set out to take the high road, to pick up power without letting it change them or push them away from their ideals.
But it keeps happening anyway.
History is full of it. As a rule, people aren’t good at handling power. And the second you start to think you’re better at controlling your power than anyone else, you’ve already taken the first step."
Power and desire to use it is what tries to take over Harry now - in a manner of true White Knight, I guess. I expected that to happen given the ending of the previous book - but I also expected this book to be about Harry figuring out a way to get out of his debt and obligation to the forces of questionable morality and principles. Well, that did not quite go just as I thought it would. Harry may wear the Mantle for a bit longer - but now I wonder if that is such a bad thing after all.
"I fell back on what I'd learned then. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths, reminding myself that the anger was just anger, that it was a sensation, like feeling hot or cold. It didn't mean anything by itself. It wasn't a reason to act. That's what thinking was for."
Yes, there is price that comes with power - but more than ever I trust Harry's ability to retain just enough of his old self to be, well, himself. And he will need it, given how the unexpected ending (well, I expected some of it - but the implications of it were as unexpected as they could be! Molly!!!!) sets things up to continue on a much grander scale than we have been accustomed to so far. Butcher once again shuffles the chess pieces on the chess board of his Dresden universe, and few pawns are left standing - it's the game for the big players now, as he shuffles the main conflicts into the realm of the Faerie, or so it seems.
"Bad things kept happening to me. It was high fucking time *I* started happening to *them*."
And yet despite the elevation in ranks, Harry remains the same annoyingly but endearingly wisecracking guy, thriving on the nerdy references ("I sagged in sudden, exhausted relief. The bad guys hardly ever quote 'Star Wars.'") and mouthing off to everyone, no matter how much ancient power they may possess, no matter how much they outclass him. And I love it, okay? Especially when Butcher goes ahead and references Terry Pratchett, thus making my happiness truly complete:
"Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day, I say. But set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it."
All in all, an excellent entry into the Dresden books series, living up to all the expectations the previous books have set - and yet remembering the roots of this series, and throwing its fans a bone here and there. It finally makes the mostly stand-alone books feel a part of an overarching story - the one about power and love and choices and consequences (and, of course, the Fae and the monsters and magic and crazy amounts of lovely dorkiness!) I love it, and I'm holding my breath for the next installment in the series. 5 ice-cold Winter stars.
"It's better to know than not know," I said quietly.
"Why?" Mother Summer challenged."
Because you can't truly make a choice without knowledge, ma'am."
"Even if it may haunt you? Harm you? Isolate you?"
I thought about it some more and then said, "Especially then. Show me."