Ever since the Red Court had taken my daughter, I'd been reeling from one disaster to the next, surviving. This entire situation was just one more entropy barrage hitting my life, forcing me to scramble once again, maybe getting me killed. (Again. Technically.)
Things were different now. I was a part of Maggie's life. And she might need me to walk her down an aisle one day.
Maybe it was time I started getting ahead of this stuff.
Maybe it was time to get serious.
What's Peace Talks About?
So, as per usual, there are a lot of balls in the air here—Harry has to juggle getting used to being an active and involved father, there's a budding romance, there are his duties as a Warden, his duties as Winter's Knight, his duties as Warden of Demonreach, and then...Thomas is in all sorts of trouble, there's a threat to remove Harry from the White Council of Wizards, there's something brewing with Chicago P.D., and then Baron Marcone is hosting a convocation of the Unseelie Accord signatories—requested by the Fomor—to hash out differences.
And that's what I can say without spoiling anything.
Now, since their appearance, the Fomor have been a fantastic antagonist for everyone—really. I think even the Denarians pale in comparison to the threat they pose to humanity. So this meeting is a major happening—and promises to go very, very ugly. Which is why Carlos shows up to enlist Harry to help provide security and be an emissary to Winter. Mab wants Harry there as her Knight and—here's the kicker—to help fulfill a debt by granting two favors (no questions asked) to Laura Wraith during the summit.
There's just so, so much that can go wrong. And much of it does. And then other, worse, things happen. At one point*, I thought about closing the book and walking away—probably following Mr. Tribbiani's example and putting it in the freezer. Skin Game would make a good, albeit inadvertent, series finale.
* If you're curious, it's around the time that Murphy starts to do something brave, foolish, short-sighted, and entirely in-character with a saw.
In the midst of all this—Harry does what he normally does. He tries to save the day, and along the way take care of those most important to him. Maybe the order there should be reversed, for accuracy's sake.
Underneath a lot of the issues he's facing are family issues, and they all complicate every other bit of what Harry's up to in this book. Harry's never really had much of a family, and while he's pretty used to dealing with a brother now. His relationship with his grandfather, Ebenezer McCoy, could use some work (we get an idea how much work is needed in this book), and it's clear that he's new to the fatherhood thing. But when you combine the three? Harry's just not ready for that. Particularly when you throw in some conflict between members of his family. This alone may be Harry's greatest challenge. These things distract him, they sap his emotional and mental energy, they stop him from thinking clearly—and they give him a reason to keep going and to make sure that no one can hurt those he loves.
There's one major clue to the myriad problems that he's facing, one big question that he's not asking...and if I'm right about this, Battle Ground is going to be worse than expected.
Two characters noted for their wisdom and approach to life even more than they are for their power and abilities to fight (which are significant enough to take note of), give Harry some advice partway through the book. I hope, hope that Battle Ground ends with him taking that advice. I fear he won't, and that his choice will make his life a lot harder.
What about the Characters?
There are just so, so many here. Almost every regular is at least name-dropped, if they don't actually put in an appearance (although I can come up with a list that of those that aren't mentioned without much effort). And I don't want to ruin anything for any reader that hasn't had the chance yet. I enjoyed seeing unexpected faces—even when their presence boded ill—and the expected faces were good to see, too. (Although, I really could've lived without seeing Red Cap again)
The effects from a lot of what happened in the short stories from Brief Cases show up in these pages—to an extent that I don't remember from Side Jobs. I hope everyone's had the time to read Brief Cases, because he doesn't explain a lot of those things. I loved that.
I miss Bob.
And then there's stuff like this:
Home, like love, hate, war, and peace, is one of those words that is so important that it doesn’t need more than one syllable. Home is part of the fabric of who humans are. Doesn’t matter if you’re a vampire or a wizard or a secretary or a schoolteacher; you have to have a home, even if only in principle—there has to be a zero point from which you can make comparisons to everything else. Home tends to be it.
That can be a good thing, to help you stay oriented in a very confusing world. If you don’t know where your feet are planted, you’ve got no way to know where you’re heading when you start taking steps. It can be a bad thing, when you run into something so different from home that it scares you and makes you angry. That's also part of being human.
But there’s a deeper meaning to home. Something simpler, more primal.
It’s where you eat the best food because other predators can’t take it from you very easily there.
It’s where you and your mate are the most intimate.
It’s where you raise your children, safe against a world that can do horrible things to them.
It’s where you sleep, safe.
It’s where you relax.
It’s where you dream.
Home is where you embrace the present and plan the future.
It’s where the books are.
And more than anything else, it’s where you build that world that you want.
When Butcher, via Dresden, says this kind of thing—where he taps into something universal (or close enough) about humanity. Something that will resonate with every reader. Butcher's ability to capture these thoughts and feelings, to put the ineffable into concrete terms like that is ultimately what draws readers to him more than his flawed heroes, snappy dialogue, and action does.
(and then three pages later, he has someone utter some pablum about the nature and power of faith that reminds me that as much as I love this guy, he's not perfect)
There are a couple of other things I wanted to talk about, but I can't figure out how to work them in, so I'll pass on them for the moment—this is getting too long. It's time to wrap up.
So what did I think about Peace Talks?
While reading this, I had to keep stopping to remind myself to treat this as just another book. To try to think of this as merely the next book in a beloved series (just a little delayed). I wanted to treat this as An Event. We've waited so long for this*, you've got the whole 20th Anniversary of The Dresden Files thing, the fact that this novel was originally so big they had to split it into two, and everything we know/anticipate/fear about what's about to happen thanks to the story, "Christmas Eve"—it's really hard to keep it all in perspective. There's a real sense in which it's difficult, if not impossible, to live up to the hype—and that's not really fair. As An Event, I think it falls a little short (but maybe if we think of Peace Talks/Battle Ground as the Event, maybe it won't). But as the sixteenth novel is this beloved series? It delivers. It made me happy.
* And I get Butcher's explanation for that, but it does tend to raise expectations.
Peace Talks is everything the Dresden fan wants—it's packed with action, the cracks are wise, the choices are hard, the victories are Pyrrhic (and small), the (many) enemies are daunting, and the stakes really don't get higher. While it clearly started life as the beginning of a longer book, Peace Talks is a complete novel, it doesn't end on a cliffhanger—but, I tell you what, if we didn't have a hard release date on Battle Ground I don't imagine the fan-base would be quiet. In the meantime, I'm spending the next 71 days with bated breath.