Battle Ground – A Literary Crime

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

Peace Talks – Excited To Be Back, Yet Disappointed To Be Here

51mbjzgnffl._sx329_bo1204203200_I am a fan of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series. I could sit here all day and nitpick the problems I have with Butcher’s prose and characters, but at the end of the day I still really like this 16-book urban fantasy. There are few series that have this much content to sink your teeth into, and while there are a few duds in the series, the average quality of the books is pretty great. There is something about Butcher’s world and its mash-up of lores that is just delightfully fun to step into. Yet, it has been over six years since readers got their last fix. The previous book, Skin Game, came out in May of 2014 and was one of the strongest books in the series. Skin Game was about a crack team trying to rob the god of the underworld, Hades, of the holy grail. What an exciting and thrilling book it was. Now we have Peace Talks, which is about Dresden… talking… a lot?

I am going to get this out right up front: Peace Talks was a simultaneously nostalgic and disappointing experience. There is very little going on in this book – there aren’t many new plot elements, there is very little character growth, and it kinda felt like reading an anime filler arc. The majority of the story focuses on Dresden’s relationships with his half-brother and grandfather, but even in that dimension, there is very little growth and progress. The first 80% of the book focuses on Dresden’s brother committing a crime for which his motivations are never explained, and we follow Dresden trying to keep him out of a metaphorical noose. It’s a whole lot of Dresden saying “we shouldn’t murder my brother” and a whole lot of everyone else saying “please stop inexplicably defending a war criminal that committed a lot of war crimes on video.” The back 20% of the book has some climactic and exciting developments, but they are just set up for the next book with no exploration in Peace Talks itself. Given the fact that the sequel, Battle Ground, comes out in a few months – I think it is safe to say that Butcher wrote one long book that he decided to split in half and Peace Talks got all the setup. This isn’t a good book.

Despite being fairly empty of substance, it’s still fun to be back in the world of Harry Dresden. I was actually curious as a lot has changed in the fantasy landscape since these books were still regularly coming out. Butcher’s treatment of female characters has always been a little problematic, and I was excited to see that he seems to have fixed some of these issues. Female characters have more agency and depth, and while they do still talk about sex A LOT it isn’t the only thing they talk about anymore. At the same time, Dresden’s stance on the opposite gender has not aged well, and I do not think the earlier books in this series would survive a time capsule unscathed. Also, I never really noticed this before but every description that Butcher makes of character seems to comprise two features from a pool of four options. People are either over 6’5” or under 5’, and they are either jacked as a brick wall or so lean you could cut yourself on their bones.

I had fun reading Peace Talks, I enjoy being in this world. However, this was not Butcher’s best work and I enjoyed it in the way one enjoys a trashy romance novel. I am glad Dresden is back, but this belongs at the bottom of the series’ rankings. Hopefully, the follow-up novel in a few months will deliver where Peace Talks fumbled, otherwise I might need to reassess my love for Chicago’s only openly-practicing wizard.

Rating: Peace Talks – 4.0/10

All You Need Is Love – 25 Perfect Love Quotes In Fantasy


Fantasy art by Sergey Lesiuk, Ukraine.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Fantasy books are not usually considered the best places to look for love. With the constant sword fights, dragons, and grim dark plot lines there is often not a lot of room for love. However, there are still tons of instances of beautiful affection to be found if you know where to look. To celebrate the holiday of love I have compiled a list of 25 of my favorite quotes from fantasy that express love to use on your significant other (or to acquire one). All of them are guaranteed to cause hearts to explode with affection and increase the happiness of all involved. I hope it brings a little bit of love to each and everyone of you, and have a wonderful day.

  • “Love is not about conquest. The truth is a man can only find true love when he surrenders to it. When he opens his heart to the partner of his soul and says: “Here it is! The very essence of me! It is yours to nurture or destroy.” -David Gemmell, Lord of the Silver Bow
  • “You are the harbor of my soul’s journeying.” -Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
  • “Quit being so hard on yourself. We are what we are; we love what we love. We don’t need to justify it to anyone… not even to ourselves.” -Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
  • “At first glance, the key and the lock it fits may seem very different. Different in shape, different in function, different in design. The man who looks at them without knowledge of their true nature might think them opposites, for one is meant to open, and the other to keep closed. Yet, upon closer examination he might see that without one, the other becomes useless. The wise man then sees that both lock and key were created for the same purpose.” -Brandon Sanderson, The Well of Ascension
  • “In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” -Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear
  • “I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” –J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
  • “And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.” ―J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
  • “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” -Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land
  • “You have made a place in my heart where I thought there was no room for anything else. You have made flowers grow where I cultivated dust and stones.” -Robert Jordan, Shadow Rising
  • “Love doesn’t sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all of the time, made new.” -Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven
  • “There is a primal reassurance in being touched, in knowing that someone else, someone close to you, wants to be touching you. There is a bone-deep security that goes with the brush of a human hand, a silent, reflex-level affirmation that someone is near, that someone cares.” -Jim Butcher, White Night
  • “It was well for him, with his chivalry and mysticism, to make the grand renunciation. But it takes two to make love, or to make a quarrel. She was not an insensate piece of property to be taken up or laid down at his convenience. You could not give up a human heart as you could give up drinking. The drink was yours, and you could give it up: but your lover’s soul was not you own: it was not at your disposal; you had a duty towards it.” – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
  • “She did not think it was love. She did not think it was love when she felt a curious ache and anxiety when he was not there; she did not think it was love as she felt relief wash over her when she received a note from him; she did not think it was love when she sometimes wondered what their lives would be like after five, ten, fifteen years together. The idea of love never crossed her mind.”  -Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs
  • “Love is not a whim. Love is not a flower that fades with a few fleeting years. Love is a choice wedded to action, my husband, and I choose you, and I will choose you every day for the rest of my life.” -Brent Weeks, The Blinding Knife
  • “A marriage is always made up of two people who are prepared to swear that only the other one snores.” -Terry Pratchett, The Fifth Elephant
  • “I guess each of us, at some time, finds one person with whom we are compelled towards absolute honesty, one person whose good opinion of us becomes a substitute for the broader opinion of the world. And that opinion becomes more important than all our sneaky, sleazy schemes of greed, lust, self-aggrandizement, whatever we are up to while lying the world into believing we are just plain nice folks.” -Glen Cook, Shadow Games
  • “Love is like recognition. It’s the moment when you catch sight of someone and you think There is someone I have business with in this life. There is someone I was born to know.” Daniel Abraham, Rogues
  • “All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.” -Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni
  • “I have known you since the world was born. Everything you are is what you should be. Everything you should be is what you are. I know all of you, and there is nothing in you I do not love.” -Matthew Woodring Stover, Caine’s Law
  • “He’d told me the world could be the most lovely place you could imagine, so long as your imagination was fueled by love.” -Sebastien de Castell, Knight’s Shadow
  • “The heart is neither given nor stolen. The heart surrenders.” -Steven Erikson, House of Chains
  • “How can you regret never having found true love? That’s like saying you regret not being born a genius. People don’t have control over such things. It either happens or it doesn’t. It’s a gift – a present that most never get. It’s more like a miracle, really, when you think of it. I mean, first you have to find that person, and then you have to get to know them to realize just what they mean to you – that right there is ridiculously difficult. Then… then that person has to feel the same way about you. It’s like searching for a specific snowflake, and even if you manage to find it, that’s not good enough. You still have to find its matching pair. What are the odds?” -Michael J. Sullivan, Heir of Novron
  • “He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called.” -Neil Gaiman, Stardust
  • “Well,” she said, “I should think it would do every man good to have a wife who isn’t as in awe of him as everyone else is. Somebody has to keep you humble.” – Brandon Sanderson, Warbreaker

The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Cautiously Optimistic

io9coverI am a Butcher fan. However, even though I am a fan, I am often terrified of how huge his following is and how rabid some of his readers are when it comes to defending him. I know multiple people who basically exclusively read Dresden and pretty much nothing else. So I tend to take all Butcher reviews with a massive grain of salt as Butcher could print a blank book and some people would claim it to be a writing innovation. That said, I like to think of myself as an impartial judge of his work. I really like some of The Dresden Files, but also think some of its entries are fairly weak. In addition, while I thought Butcher’s Furies series started out well, I feel that it spiraled downward in quality as it progressed. As such I approached Butcher’s new book/series, The Aeronaut’s Windlass, expecting it to be alright as I thought Butcher didn’t know how to write anything other than Dresden. I am happy to say, while the book was not perfect, I was wrong and The Aeronaut’s Windlass definitely exceeded expectations.

Windlass tells the story of Spire Albion, a giant stone tower rising out of the ground in a steampunk world. The surface of the earth seems to have been taken over by bloodthirsty creatures that want to murder all humans, so humanity has relocated to a number of these giant stone towers in the sky to survive. The spires have limited resources in the sky so they often end up going to war with one another. The spires go to war in what are essentially flying pirate ships made of wood with tons of cannons. It’s a really fun concept that Butcher builds out really well. He breathes tons of details into his world that makes it feel vivid, complex, and well thought out. Our protagonists are two young recruits in the Albion guard, one a noble and one a commoner, a lovable airship captain with a sordid past and a grizzled jaw, and a cat (I will come back to this). The cast gives a nice diverse set of perspectives that serve to flesh out the world and add layers of context to events as they happen. The plot of the book follows these characters as a war breaks out between Spire Albion and a neighboring Spire.

The strengths of the book come from three key pillars: world building, mystery, and swashbuckling action. As I mentioned before, the world building is excellent. Butcher spent a lot of time thinking about how his spires work, and small details such as how the ships dock, how the economy works, what foods are available, and what various interesting jobs exist on giant stone towers are nice touches. All these pieces lend the book the feeling that you are reading something original and different. Butcher also manages to create a strong air of mystery throughout the narrative. You will constantly be curious as to what is going on, and almost every character has a mysterious past for you to ferret out. The book is overstuffed with secrets and big reveals, which help to make the book exciting. Speaking of excitement, the book’s final strength, and maybe its largest, is the fact that it is packed full of fun, awesome action. There are several thrilling airship battles that kept me on the edge of my seat, tons of witty dialogue, and kick-ass combat that just make the book fun.

On the other hand, while the book is a lot of fun, the characters are not particularly deep. The protagonists are fairly one dimensional, and while I loved many of the side characters, I only felt tepid affection for the protagonists. In addition, one of the concerns I had for the book is that Butcher specializes in writing shorter episodic books and might stretch a concept too thin in this longer epic. This rears its ugly head for me with Butcher’s decision to make cats talk and include them as major characters. In The Aeronaut’s Windlass, house cats are “people” and can talk. While I initially loved the idea, I found that over the course of the 700 page book it started to wear on me noticeably until I got pretty tired of it. In addition, while I was ok with the amount of mystery in the story, I wish we learned a little more about the secret pasts of our protagonists in the first novel (it is intimated that it will be revealed in the sequels).

The Aeronaut’s Windlass is fast paced, has some climactic scenes, has excellent world building, and is an overall fun time. It is not the best book I have ever read, but it is certainly good enough to get me excited for the sequel and feel cautiously optimistic that this series will be better than Butcher’s Furies. I have a strong suspicion that the sequel, The Olympian Affair, will either elevate the series or tank it and I am excited to find out which it will be. The Quill to Live recommends The Aeronaut’s Windlass to anyone looking for a fun sky pirate adventure.

Rating: The Aeronaut’s Windlass 8.5/10