Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files has always been a complicated subject for me. On one hand, Butcher has a special knack for melding lore that is modern, ancient, well-known, and obscure into a giant melting pot of exciting action that gets the blood pumping. On the other hand, the series has a number of issues including the consistently poor treatment of female characters, the inconsistent quality of the books, and the fact that although Butcher does a great job combining all of the lore of the world, there often doesn’t feel like there is a lot of substance that he is adding. However, despite the flaws, I would have still considered myself a fan of The Dresden Files… until I read Battle Ground.
For those who aren’t followers of the series, Dresden is a huge ongoing urban fantasy with seventeen core novels under its belt, seven more planned, and a ton of spinoff content. We used to get a steady stream of content from Butcher, and books would come out almost once a year – until recently. The last Dresden novel I enjoyed, Skin Games, came out in 2014. Afterward, Butcher announced that he needed to take some time to transition the series into its next iteration, and he was going to take some time to create the biggest and best Dresden story yet. A book so awesome, that a single volume couldn’t contain it. So we waited six years, 2020 rolled around, and I read both of Butcher’s masterpieces. If you skim my review of Peace Talks from last year, you will find I was wholly unimpressed with the novel. But, when I finished Battle Ground I turned to my co-reviewers and said, “this is the worst book of the year.”
You might be asking yourself why I am spending so much time explaining the goings-on around this book without actually explaining what is wrong with it. That is because I needed you to have context so I could talk about all the ways this book is bad. It is bad mechanically, thematically, conceptually, logistically, subjectively, objectively, and contextually. The series has always walked a fine line on a cliff face of being too problematic, and this book yeeted itself along with the whole series into the sea.
So let’s stop beating around the bush and actually talk about what’s wrong with Battle Ground. First off, this isn’t actually a book. It is one long drawn-out action scene where all of the action is happening off-screen. I have absolutely no idea why, but Butcher decided the best way to convey a sense of awe and grandeur was to have most major events happen off-page and have Dresden turn to the reader and say, “wow there are some truly indescribable things happening outside right now, I can’t even talk about them, I bet you wish you could hear what is happening, instead I am going to talk to an irrelevant person at this bar.” This is just a terrible narrative choice, and Butcher used “indescribable” so many times in lieu of description that I almost had a stroke. The prose, in general, is terrible. Butcher is not a good action writer, a fact he has managed to hide for a very long time by making this series primarily a mystery with a few action set pieces. The prose feels like watching a trainwreck on repeat until it melts your brain.
The entirety of the book is predicated on the idea of solving questions that were left unanswered in the previous novel, Peace Talks. The singular job that Battle Ground had to accomplish in its 400 pages of ‘content’ is to explain one or two problematically unanswered questions about what motivated a character from Peace Talks. This character made a few seemingly irrational choices and we never found out why. It doesn’t even come close to doing this job, making Peace Talks an even worse book retroactively, which is impressive given my already low score. This book reads like an appendix in both of its connotations, and it should have been ripped out of the body of works like the bloated, poisonous, vestigial list of useless information that it is.
Up next, we have the fact that Butcher completely shatters his magic system and worldbuilding for no clear reason. Dresden’s power level in this story is exactly whatever Butcher needs it to be for the situation he is in, which means it varies wildly to the point of completely obliterating immersion. Sometimes he is strong enough that Odin himself bows to his greatness. Other times Dresden is so weak, because Butcher wants you to always feel like every second of this book is a life or death exchange, that he struggles to fight a metaphorical stray dog. I rapidly gave up trying to understand how strong Dresden was or what his powers were because it is a losing battle from the outset. Part of this issue is the fact that Butcher is trying to transition Dresden into a ‘higher weight class’ of power with these books. Ostensibly, the series is moving from Dresden solving small crimes in Chicago to battling interdimensional horrors that threaten reality. The problem is that Butcher really likes writing about how Dresden is an underdog and is as stubborn metaphorical dog with a bone who can’t drop it. So the fun scrappy underdog premise that sold the previous iteration of the protagonist is getting in the way of him stepping up to the big boy table.
In addition, the very little bit of actual story we get in this book is there to paint Dresden as the ultimate Gary Sue of all time. Not only does the reader have to suffer Dresden whine about how unfair his life is, and how unimportant he is to the cosmos for seven hundred pages, they are subjected to the knowledge that this whole interdimensional war, which involves the deaths of DEITIES, was carried out to make Dresden look bad. It reads like someone was trying extremely hard to empower incels and tell them that “don’t worry, the world really does revolve around you no matter what other people say.” I want to claw the flesh off my face.
But, we still haven’t gotten to the crowning achievement of Battle Ground, and the reason that I absolutely will not be continuing on with the series. Unfortunately, this is a spoiler and you should walk away if you are somehow still interested in this novel. This book takes a female love interest that has been built up for 16 novels and has finally started to move away from “Dresden’s sex hole with feelings” to “likable complicated character,” and kills her for nothing other than shock value and to make Dresden feel bad. Her death is so meaningless, cliche, and unimportant that I honestly refused to believe it happened. I thought it was a “Rey killing Chewy” situation. It is not. It’s done so that Dresden can have some sort of motivation to keep the world from dying, which apparently wasn’t enough for him, and so he can reach inside his own ass and find some deus ex machina power to be even cooler and more self-centered. And to just absolutely salt the wounds, the book ends with Dresden finding out that he is being “forced into marriage with a harem of sex demigods” in the next book, and is really sad about it so the reader should feel okay that Dresden is still a good person. I am still livid thinking about it as I write this review.
This is the worst book I have actively reviewed in the entirety of the time I have been running The Quill to Live – though there have been worse ones I haven’t reviewed. The only reason the score of this book isn’t lower is because it didn’t incite violence against minorities, so it isn’t the literally worst book of all time, though it throws its hat in the ring. There are actually a number of additional sins I haven’t even covered, but I have spent enough time being angry for a single review. Extremely do not recommend.
Rating: Battle Ground – 2.0/10