Review: “Cold Days”

Cold Days (The Dresden Files, #14)Cold Days by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While the writing of this most recent Dresden novel was outstanding, the story was weaker than some of the prior books in the series. Butcher has undoubtedly become an expert verbal craftsman, but–perhaps because this story was supposed to be so epic?–the plot was all over the place. As a reader, it was hard to keep track of every which direction. At one point, I counted at least 5 major crises happening simultaneously, and several of them seemed just thrown in “because,” without an obvious purpose or direction. All of this meant the story overall became muddled; characters were introduced, given importance, then dropped so Butcher could go and touch base with all the prior characters, in a way that made the whole thing feel rushed and disjointed.

The story did come to a sufficiently awesome-wizard conclusion, which was satisfying, but it felt more like an obligation than the natural direction of the story. I would have much preferred this book, I think, had there been a lot fewer Epic Problems for Dresden to deal with. I mean, the main problem–he is told to kill the Winter Lady, under command of the Winter Queen–is pretty humongous on its own. And the problem with Demonreach made sense, as a baseline. Okay. If we could have flushed away all the extra parts, the story would have made more sense. I don’t need extra things to worry about, and neither does Dresden. Though our hapless wizard hero has a penchant for surviving when things are impossible, facing the towering stack of issues in this novel really made it seem unlikely he’d have made it out, even considering all the “superpowers” he’s been adding on lately. I mean, come on, he’s pretty much dead in the end of the epic fight, but a short nap and a bowl of crappy soup and he’s up and on his feet again? Sorry, I just don’t buy it.

That’s the book overall. But I have a bone to pick about a particular subplot: Dresden’s angst about his daughter, Maggie.

Maggie is the young daughter (I believe she’s between 6 and 9 years old) that Dresden didn’t even know he had. He got the partial-vampire mom knocked up, then she vanished and didn’t tell him they had a child. She hid the child in the protection of some surrogate parents, and things were more or less fine. Then a Big Bad hunted out the kid and was going to use her in a horrible ritual to get back at Dresden. Ok. So that’s when Dresden found out he had a six-year-old daughter, who probably spoke only Spanish, by the way.

He goes, does awesome wizard stuff, and saves her. He decides (probably correctly) that life with him is just too dangerous, so he gives the kid to the secret society of priests in the Catholic church to find a safe place for her. Pretty good decisions, all the way around, good deal. But then he finds out that the super-secret safe place is, in fact, with his BFF Michael, who has legitimate angels watching over the family. Michael may be the best adopted-dad of all time, too.

That seems like a pretty good arrangement for this kid, whom, by the way, he has spoken to for *maybe* two hours, tops, and part of that time he was murdering her mother (in a complicated attempt to save everyone else).

And yet! And yet all the secondary characters in Cold Days take time out of their overburdened crises to lecture–lecture!!–Dresden about him needing to go see Maggie, because he’ll “always be her only, her real, dad.”

What the what?! Seriously?

I’ll leave room for Dresden’s head to still be spinning because he just discovered, saved, and traumatized his child. Okay, that’s reasonable.

But when all of his friends know the kid is in an absolutely perfect, loving, safe home, and that adding Dresden to her life will make her a big fat target for danger of many kinds, and by the way that he has been nothing but a genetic contributor to this kid before, WHAT IS WRONG WITH THEM that they would bitch at him about not being some kind of absentee father?

I just don’t understand why it can’t be accepted that Dresden is making the best choice for Maggie by staying away from her. And even if they can’t accept that, for some stupid reason, can they at least accept that it’s a sore spot for Mr. Wizard, and they shouldn’t be lecturing him? Particularly taking time out of a chaos-filled schedule to lecture him?!

This trope that “adopted parents aren’t REAL parents” is very frustrating. There are times when it completely works–like Cinderella, for example–but when we know that the adopted parent is the closest thing to Christ-like on earth, it just doesn’t hold up. It’s unrealistic. And it shows just a bit too much of the author manipulating characters–I truly can’t imagine Murphy ever having that conversation with Dresden, and yet she does…twice. Good lord.

Further, I think it’s a really detrimental message for adopted readers/readers who have adopted children–literally no matter how awesome the parents are, and no matter how bad the situation with the ‘real’ parent would be, the story is not “right” until the child is with the biological parent. Really? Is that the message we want to send?

This was a relatively minor subplot, but it was so jarring and wrong that it took me out of the book several times. If there was a reason–something beyond “But it’s your kid!”–for this behavior, I could accept it, but this forced affection for a kid Dresden has never even know (and certainly wouldn’t know how to handle; can you imagine Dresden dealing with diaper changes?!) is just overdone.

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