In the first two parts of our recap of Cold Days, the fourteenth book in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Harry Dresden is in a tight spot. He has twenty-four hours to figure out if he should follow his boss’s orders and must also prevent a huge disaster in the same time frame. And when we left it last time, his friends were in trouble....
In our last post, Molly, Mouse and Harry were on their way to save Mac, Justine, Butters and Andi from the Redcap. They go knowing that it’s a trap. The spell takes them to a warehouse that Harry recognizes. It seems to be the same place from “Backup” (Side Jobs) where Thomas pretended to be the cheesy villain. Harry muses on why bad guys seem to reuse buildings and guesses that maybe predators like certain types of places.
Harry walks up to the front loudly, slinging force at the door and trying to draw the Sidhe out. A shapeshifting falcon-Sidhe attacks Harry, distracting him long enough for the Redcap to tag Harry with a poisoned dart. Harry busts into the warehouse where Molly is freeing their friends who all seem intact. Of all of them, though, Mac hadn’t been tied up. Harry points out his steadily bleeding wound just as charges go off and tip them and most of the warehouse into Lake Michigan.
Harry takes a moment to focus so he doesn’t panic and then uses Winter’s power to freeze the water, creating a mini-iceberg that allows them to float. They get to shore and return to Molly’s apartment where Lacuna has collected the information from the Za Guard. There are two sites marked as ritual sites. Harry has Thomas send Lara’s team to one and has Murphy send Vikings to the other. But Harry expects that they’re distractions. There’s one more site the faeries couldn’t get to and Butters has word from a Paranet source that people are hiring up all the boats around. Demonreach.
Thomas says he’s not letting Justine out of his sight. He also asks if Harry has seen Maggie, or talked to Murphy. He tells Harry that life’s too short. Harry addresses both Sarissa and Mac and tells them that he doesn’t trust them, so he’s going to take them with him. Mouse doesn’t sense anything weird from them. Harry has Molly take everyone else out and then talks to Murphy.
Murphy presses him on Maggie and Harry admits that he’s worried that she remembers. And he can’t bear to face that. And he can’t bear to see his daughter in pain. Which clicks with what the Mothers were trying to tell him—Mab can’t bear to see her daughter in pain. So it’s not about what Harry thought it was about.
Molly rides with Harry with Murphy on her Harley. Molly gives Harry a gift, a new leather coat, an Inverness coat, different from his old duster, but still stylish. Before they get on the Water Beetle, everyone gets their gear on. Harry asks Murphy about the Swords, but she says that this isn’t their fight. Before they can leave, though, Harry hears the approach of the Wild Hunt. He knows the Erlking will be after him and he won’t be able to escape it. He tells Thomas and the others to get to the island and take care of it for him. Thomas agrees. But Harry’s locks are all gummed up, literally. So Murphy pulls up her bike and tells Harry to get on.
They run for Chicago’s old steel mills, away from people. A hound attacks them and Harry takes it out and it turns back into a man. Then two riders attack them, hurling spears at Harry. Magic doesn’t work on them, but Harry puts a bullet from his Winchester into the Erlking himself. Then he unhorses Kringle and collapses a wall on him. As the rest of the Hunt approaches him, Harry urges them to join him. And with that, Harry takes control of the Wild Hunt. Shadows climb up the Harley and Harry and Murphy. Masks like the Hunt wears. Harry tells them that tonight they hunt Outsiders.
Murphy takes the bike out over the lake and the moon goes blue. Kringle explains that someone’s bending time against them, pushing them forward in time so that they’ll arrive too late. Kringle offers to deal with it but sacrifices his presence to knock them back into normal time. Then they reach Demonreach and it’s under attack.
There are normal boats and barges, things bubbling up from the lake. Oh, and Sharkface. Harry guesses that the rituals must be setup on the barges. He decides to take the Hunt for one barge, then they’ll split up and take out the other two. Murphy gives Harry a kiss, for luck, Star Wars style, then they attack.
They take down one barge and then Sharkface puts the psychic whammy on Harry, making him believe that Mab is torturing him. Until Harry catches on and fights back. He demands the Outsider’s name and it reveals itself as a Walker, He-Who-Walks-Before, akin to He-Who-Walks-Behind. Harry bursts out of the mental landscape and Murphy does the same.
They decide to take out the tug pulling the next barge rather than the barge itself. Harry takes the bike as Murphy shoots the Winchester and then she uses a grenade to take out the tug. At the last barge the Outsiders are holding off the Hunt. Harry heads for the tug where, as he’s facing away, Cat Sith takes him down.
Only Harry twigs to the fact that it isn’t really Sith. Or rather Sith isn’t in control anymore. The adversary, Nemesis, has got to it. Cat Sith leaps at Harry and he uses magic to send it hurling out into the lake. Then he clears the tug and sends it spinning about long enough for the Erlking to sink the barge.
The Erlking asks Harry if he can take back the Hunt, and Harry agrees once sure it won’t come after him. Then they change into aquatic creatures—killer whales and sharks and the like, and head into the lake. Harry and Murphy head for the island. Once they stop they almost kiss, but then Harry sees one of the barges, the second one, moving again. The Outsiders push it to the shore. Harry needs to move, but first he kisses Murphy telling her he isn’t going anywhere.
Harry uses his cold magic in a King of the World spell, creating an iceberg and sheets of ice to slow the barge. Then Sharkface appears and splits himself into plenty of copies and starts breaking up the ice. The barge starts moving again. Sharkface appears at the edge of the island and makes Harry an offer to join them. Harry refuses. Then it tells Harry to leave, that they won’t pursue him, and together with the assault of despair, Harry almost does something stupid. But then he hears Queen’s “We Will Rock You” and the Water Beetle appears from behind a veil and slams into the nose of the barge, spinning it and preventing it from reaching the shore. Mac and Molly are onboard and Thomas and Mouse leap onto the barge, dealing with the servants on it. Harry slams the Winchester through the mouth of Sharkface and pulls the trigger, sending his will and magic along it and blasts the Outsider’s head. Then he has Molly get everyone to shore. Harry realizes there’s light on the top of the island and this was all a distractions.
Harry has Mouse bring up the rear, still not trusting Mac and Sarissa, and he tells Murphy he thinks there are Faerie Queens at the top of the island. They brought along servants, Black Dogs, but Harry takes them out. At the top of the island they find a circle of starlight. Harry guesses it’s Merlin’s work, part of the island. It’s a barrier that only lets in things of the island. Harry guesses it will let him in (but not his friends) so he passes through.
Harry ends up naked, but he remarks on how Mab had trained him to fight naked. Harry realizes that he’s in an active ritual circle. And that the hill is covered with twenty faeries, one other mortal, and Demonreach. The spirit is standing at the entrance to the Well, holding back a flow of energy, but slowly losing substance. At the other points of an equilateral triangle are Lily, the Summer Lady with a pyramid of Sidhe supporters and Maeve, with supporters of her own. Two of Maeve’s supporters are the Redcap and the rawhead. The mortal is Fix, the Summer Knight. Fix warns Harry not to mess with Lily.
But neither of them will back down, so they fight. Fix throws fire at Harry. The Summer Knight is mailed and armed and has ten years of experience training with Summer’s mantle. But Harry has his intellect. He disregards the urges of the Winter mantle, which just seems to want blood, and goads Fix into attacking. Then he uses his knowledge of the island to his advantage, picking up an old nail and hammering it into Fix’s shoulder. Then he takes him down.
This disrupts Lily’s concentration and she turns away from Demonreach. Harry tries to talk her down, but it only seems to enrage her all the more. He realizes that Maeve is using a glamour, changing his words. Lily throws fire at him and it’s all he can do to keep a shield up around him and Fix. He removes the nail and shows her that Fix is alive and tries to tell her that Maeve is infected by the adversary. That it has let her lie. Lily doesn’t believe him, though. She believes the Well is a source of dark energy and that Harry has summoned Outsiders to protect it.
Harry tries to tell her she has a choice, but she sees Harry as the person who took away her choice, who condemned her to be the Summer Lady by killing Aurora. Lily attacks Harry with that anger, but Fix deflects the strike. Fix talks Lily down, shows her that Harry was protecting him. She decides to leave Harry and turn back to taking down Demonreach. Meanwhile, Harry convinces Fix that Maeve is the enemy. That all of Lily’s actions have been orchestrated by her, that she was the one who said Mab was crazy, all of it. Harry asks Fix to help take down the circle, but then realizes it won’t come down until sunrise. They’re on their own.
Harry surmises that one of the Ladies needs to keep the pressure on Demonreach to keep him occupied. So they decide to take on Maeve and her supporters. Harry will take on Maeve and Fix will take the others. Only Harry isn’t in great condition. So he lets in the full mantle of the Winter Knight, fully becomes a predator.
Harry forms ice claws and though he misses Maeve, he tears into her coterie, felling a few in minutes. Fix helps out, too. But Maeve appeals to the Winter in Harry, the predator, shifting his bloodlust into just plain lust, distracting him, tempting him. Harry manages to push it away, but then loses his power. Maeve sends the rawhead at him, but then mud-covered figures appear in the circle and attack. Harry recognizes Thomas and Murphy. Covered with mud from the island to make them seem “of the island.”
They carry Harry into the cottage with Sarissa, Justine, and Mac. Molly stays outside “playing Invisible Girl.” But then the rawhead pulls Murphy out and Harry leaves the cottage with Mac and Sarissa in town. Thomas, Mouse, and Murphy are restrained along with Fix. Maeve shoots Mac in the stomach. Then Maeve taunts Sarissa and Harry realizes they’re not just sisters, they’re identical twins, changelings. Maeve chose to be Sidhe and Sarissa never chose. Maeve claims that Sarissa is to be her replacement, a vessel for the Winter Lady mantle.
Sarissa and Maeve argue, Sarissa claiming that Mab wants to help Maeve, only Maeve needs to want it first. But Maeve claims that Mab doesn’t care. Where is she, after all? Maeve revels in her new power, the power to unmake everything that Mab made. All this talk of Mab makes Harry realize that the circle can be used to summon, so he summons his boss.
Mab faces off against her daughter and Maeve sneers her defiance. Then Maeve shoots Lily in the head. As Lily dies, the mantle of the Summer Lady goes into the nearest vessel, Sarissa. So Mab is deprived of a new Winter Lady. Or so Maeve thinks. Harry realizes too late that there’s another vessel, another someone with a strong relationship to someone from Faerie, who had been trained and shaped in the last few years. As Maeve prepares to shoot Harry, Mab frees Murphy and Murphy shoots Maeve just as Maeve pulls her trigger. Maeve’s shot misses. Murphy’s doesn’t. And Maeve dies from a shot to the head.
And when she does, the mantle of the Winter Lady passes into Molly.
Harry orders the rest of the Faeries off of the island and has Molly and Sarissa taken to the cottage. Then he takes Murphy’s gun and has a private chat with Mab. At gunpoint, asking her to explain. She says that she had intended Sarissa to be the Winter Lady and Molly was being groomed for another purpose, but she made a good contingency. She also says that she gave Molly power, much in the same way that Harry had. She also removed Molly from the reach of the White Council. But Harry knows she’s also been taken away from her life, much in the way that Lily was.
Mab takes the gun away from Harry and puts it to his head. Harry tells Demonreach to imprison her if she pulls the trigger. He tells Mab he isn’t her servant. Mab seems to respect that. Mab also explains that she called Thomas to tell him to expect Harry and Molly on the boat. Harry asks if it was hard for Mab. The events of the night. Mab doesn’t answer. Harry realizes that the time when Mab couldn’t talk because it would hurt people, when she talked through Grimalkin, that it was because she found out that Maeve had been tainted by the adversary. Mab explains that it was the athame that had been given to Lea at Bianca’s masquerade party. Lea was tainted and spread it to Maeve. Then, as Mab walks away, she answers, saying she was mortal once.
Harry passes out for a while until he is awoken by Kringle who warns Harry to be careful around Mab since she’s so full of pride. He guesses that had anyone seen what they talked about, that Harry would be dead. He also passes on a message that Mab returned to Faerie with both Ladies but that Molly would be returned to her apartment in a few days. Harry guesses that Kringle and the Erlking let Harry have The Hunt but Kringle insists that one must take the hunt, not be given it. But still, they didn’t fight very hard. Then, before he leaves, Kringle says something I suspect is very important: “Many, many mantles are worn—or discarded—on Halloween, wizard.” Harry asks if he means masks, and he says they’re mostly the same (more on this below).
Harry returns to the cottage for some food and finds everyone recuperating and resting. Mac seems okay. Mab removed the bullet and his wound regenerated. Murphy asked what he was but he only said, “I’m out.” Murphy helps clean up Harry and feed him. Then they talk about them and how Murphy isn’t sure about Harry. He’s different. He seems to enjoy the danger and mayhem a little. And it might be bad or it might not. But Murphy says that she’s with him until the end, romance or not. Harry understands but says if and when it happens, that she goes with it, no backing out.
In the end, Harry decides to stay on Demonreach, learn more about the island, more about being the Warden. Also he has that parasite and needs to wait for Molly to deal with it. In the meantime, Demonreach should be able to hold it off. Thomas promises to return with supplies. He also bugs Harry more about seeing Maggie, but Harry doesn’t think he can do it. Thomas, Mouse, Murphy and the rest leave on the Water Beetle, with Harry waiting for the storm to roll in.
Winter Knight: This novel continues to support the idea that Harry can tread the line between right and wrong as Winter Knight. But we’ve seen the urges that bubble up in him. And in the final battle Harry does give in, pulling back only at the last moment. It’s obvious that this will continue to be a problem. But how will Harry survive? Can he find that balance? Which brings us to....
Mantles: Big changes here. Sarissa, introduced here, becomes the new Summer Lady, but even bigger, Molly is now the Winter Lady. Whoa. What does this mean for her? How will the Carpenters react? Will this lead to more temptation between Harry and Molly? I bet it will. But also, Kringle’s comment seems to indicate that mantles can be discarded. I suspect this may come into play at some point in the future, for both Molly AND Harry. Also, being the Summer Lady seems to have a very short life expectancy. We’re on the third in about ten years.
Faeries: This novel brought up an interesting question for me—can Sidhe have natural children? Or must they mate with mortals, producing changelings who will choose one side or another? We see Sarissa is a changeling, and that Maeve was one, too. Mab says she was mortal once? Are humans necessary for faerie offspring?
We also see that the Winter Court isn’t all about violence and cruelty. Their existence seems to be to defend reality against the Outsiders, to defend the Outer Gates. That makes Harry’s role more important than we thought. He does Mab’s bidding, but Mab’s role is important in maintaining the universe as we know it.
Outsiders: We’ve had hints of them, we’ve even seen one here and there, but this is the first time the Outsiders have shown up in force. But are they the Big Bad of the series? Or simply in league with another force? They seem to be Lovecraftian monstrosities from outside the universe, but so far we’ve seen the most of two Walkers. He-Who-Walks-Behind has been threatening Harry for years, and we saw his first appearance in the flashback in Ghost Story. He-Who-Walks-Before sounds like a herald. A harbinger. And what is set to follow sounds pretty bad.
Nemesis: Despite the bland name, it seems that this is potentially the Big Bad the series has been building toward. Harry even conjectures that the Black Council is just another offshoot of this. He lays his first four cases (the first four books) at its feet. And it’s possible that this mind infection could be controlling the members of the Black Council. Could it have been affecting the Red Court, too? Is anyone else we know infected with it? I suppose that remains to be seen.
The Parasite: What the hell is it? I wondered at first if it was connected to the Nemesis, but apparently not or else it would have been remarked upon. Butcher has been buillding up the headache thing with Harry for books now. Butters even refers to it once. It seems like it’s this parasite behind it. And that it’s keeping him alive. Until it busts out of his head. Harry has to put off dealing with it until after the events of this book. But I expect it will take more of a front seat in the next one. I have to say I can’t stop thinking of the myth of Athena, and how Zeus had a splitting headache that resulted in her literally bursting out of his skull. Harry’s no god, though.
Warden of the Well: Harry is now in charge of a super maximum security prison for super-powerful entities of which the naagloshii are the least. One created by Merlin. And people seem to know about it. It’s likely that there will be further attempts to spring the inhabitants. Basically Harry is in charge of a nuclear bomb. And what happens when the White Council finds out.
Merlin: I found myself thinking a lot about Merlin when he came up in this book. He’s been mentioned before. Ebenezar has his diaries. And he is the one who originally was the caretaker of Amoracchius/Excalibur. Is he just a background figure, part of the world’s history? Or is there something more significant there? If he can work temporal magic, then couldn’t he appear in the future?
Maggie: Harry still hasn’t seen his daughter. He’s talked about the fear in seeing her, but Thomas seems to have a point—he’s missing out on his daughter’s life. I think there has to be shame there about being the Winter Knight, too. I want to see him meet her for the first time, for real. She seems protected, but I fear her being used against Harry in the future.
Unresolved: In addition to the parasite thing mentioned above, Bob also petitions Harry to build him a backup vessel. The Swords are now in Murphy’s hands yet they were entrusted to Harry. Is this a problem? Or is Harry’s judgment to let Murphy keep them part of that? Lara seems to have big plans. I’m sure we’ll see more of these in books to come.
Symmetry: Butcher has talked about how he’s planned the series to be twenty novels plus a trilogy to cover the big apocalypse. And we’ve covered in this series how it’s the third book where the overall series arc seems to begin. Bianca’s party is a big part of that, beginning threads that continue to reverberate into this one.
So from Book Three to Book Twelve, we have ten novels. Harry learning how to be a wizard PI, starting and ending the war with the Red Court, transitioning from lone wizard to the leader of a band of allies, gathering strength. Then he “dies.” Ghost Story is a transitional novel, Harry as a spirit, largely powerless, cut off from a lot of his strength. And learning new tricks and not just ghosty ones—patience, thoughtfulness, subtlety. That leaves ten books left in the series, beginning with this one. It has a nice symmetry.
Speaking of symmetry, this one, the fourteenth, has a lot of symmetry with Summer Knight, the fourth. We have a culmination of those actions, many of the same characters, a new Summer Lady and so on.
So that’s Cold Days. I enjoyed it just as much the second time through, and still think it’s one of the best. What did you think? Any comments on the threads above? Any thoughts on what’s to come? Let me know in the comments.
Rajan Khanna is a writer, blogger, and narrator who is bound to find the wait for the next Dresden book to be agonizing. In the meantime, he will likely concoct grand scenarios to explain some of the ongoing plot threads. His website is www.rajankhanna.com and he tweets @rajanyk.