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Peter Higgins, author of Wolfhound Century

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Alexia and Lord Maccon from Gail Carriger's Soulless

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The Dresden Files Has Jumped the Shark

Beware I will be talking about Ghost Story pretty in-depth so spoilers are bound to appear unless you've read it and the previous volumes in the series.

The Dresden Files has been one of my favorite long running series ever. I'd even consider myself a proselytizer of the books. I've blogged lots of Butcher news since I started here. Turn Coat was my first review ever posted on Mad Hatter's, but not the first written. I've turned many friends on to the series, probably buying the first volume Storm Front at least 5 times and lending my copy out at least as much. Heck, I even own the RPG, which is gorgeous by the way, along with most of the anthologies that have had Dresden shorts. Suffice to say I've bought and sold quite a few Jim Butcher books. I even enjoyed the TV show for what it was.

Changes was the culmination of a lot of story-lines over the course of the series (12 books long) so far and remains one of the most satisfying high points. Perhaps THE high point. Butcher risked a lot with Changes and I and most fans are happy with where he had brought us so far. Yet 13 is a very cursed number for the Dresden Files. With Ghost Story nearly all the good-will that had been developed over the series has been washed away. And no it isn't because Butcher killed his main character, which was a very brave stroke. Not many authors are willing to sacrifice to such a degree forcing themselves to rebuild and Butcher should be lauded for that alone. Yet it still comes down to what you do from there. Ghost Story fails for a lot of reasons. The biggest being Ghost Story amounts to what is a pointless time waste that will have nearly no bearing on the series.

Ghost Story returns to the detective style format we've known for most of the books. Harry is trying to solve his own murder yet spends less than two dozen pages actually doing so. Dresden, or the Ghost of Christmas Past as I think of him in this volume, saunters around peeking in at all of his friends most of whom have no idea he is there. And the ones that can communicate somehow don't seem very interested in hearing from him. So much has changed in the world yet post Changes events are mostly glossed over and amounts to: "The world has gone to hell since you killed the Red Court with all powers are trying to grab territory. You left the world in a shit storm, Harry." "Oh, my bad."

Ghost Story is essential a recapping of past events and does nothing more than reintroduce major and minor characters. Some that have even been dead for more than half a dozen books. If you cut out all the recapping the book would most likely be half of the size, possibly even smaller. Sure there are some decent reveals with Harry's early time with Justin Dumorne, but it is just one episode that could have been an earlier short story and doesn't seem to warrant a novel length work. The whole point of the Ghost Story could have been summed up and executed as a few chapters to a much larger story that actually moved things along.

With some long-running series authors try to include recapping to some extent for new readers that pick up later books as a starting point, but Ghost Story is about as far from a starting point as you can get, so much of the recapping is not only unneeded, but insulting to long-time readers. This also caused a very stop, go, stutter, and go feeling throughout as once things get moving some sort of flashback or remembrance is brought up, which kills momentum.

Ghost Story is about the consequences the world must now face because of Harry's actions in Changes. This is an introspective Harry, which was probably necessary for him to develop further as a character if he's to go on, but it goes on ad nauseum about how he made tough choices and he couldn't see beyond that day. All of which leads to a very self-centered Dresden. But, hey he is dead so we should just accept that...

There are some more specific problems as well having to do with continuity. One section in particular that made no sense addresses Thomas and Justine's relationship problems, which amounts to her being poison to him since they love one another. The "cure" ends up not making sense given what we've learned about how the White Court acts and if this was a solution why wasn't it brought up many books ago? "Oh, if I just have sex with someone else the stink of love will be washed away and than you can have me." Really? In the long life spans of these vampires no one has ever figured that out? Won't the same thing happen again once you make love again? And don't get me started on the Bob subplot, which was needlessly complicated.

Not enough time was spent with any of the characters we've come to know except for Molly and a little Butters action. I did however like Mort's development and can see him becoming more of a player and greatly enjoy the big Molly scene at the end. That was just plain cool. Given Murphy's importance during the course of the series and especially the last book she gets severely cut short and turned into a caricature of "a tough lady who has been through hell." But most of all the Winter angle was very predictable as was the very end, which I saw coming within pages of starting.

All may not be completely lost. There is potential for an author saving throw.  Butcher might even have earned an automatic +2 for past success. Given the state of Harry in Ghost Story, Butcher could certainly turn things around and even act like this episode didn't happen. This will be a dividing book for many fans of the series. Some are still bound to love it just because Harry is in it and also lovers of clip shows. Others will be totally turned off the series.

I guess the big question is will I still read the next Dresden Files Cold Days next year? Well, yes. But it certainly won't be a "must-buy the day of release" or even something I feel the need to read as soon as a buy it, which has been the case for at least the last 5 or 6 books in the series. For me, at least, the spell of the Dresden Files is broken. My days of being addicted to the Dresden Files like pancakes on a Sunday morning are done...for now...

You Might Also Like:
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REVIEW | Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
REVIEW | Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
REVIEW | Retribution Falls by Christopher Wooding
REVIEW | Lightbreaker by Mark Teppo
VIDEO | Dresden Files Storm Front Animation


Anonymous said...

It's a very different book and in some ways repetitive, but I think it's sort of clearing the decks for the new Harry Dresden, who in some ways had outgrown the basement dwelling wizard pariah. He'll be moving in bigger circles, trying to get behind the reality of the black council.
Don't give us hope!

The Reader said...

I think I know exactly what you mean with this book MH, I had similar problems with this one (my review will be going later in the next couple of weeks on FBC).

This book is a great divider, especially after CHANGES. Another point which I felt was weird was the Mea Culpa thoughts which Harry kept on having through out the entire plot.

Butter's evolution was pretty cool to read about though. I liked the Lea & Molly partnership as well. Btw would have never figured out that you were talking about "this" series on your twitter feed.


xaraan said...

You had some of the same thoughts about picking up the next book as some of my readers did. For me, I'm still with the series on day one even if I didn't love this book. Heck Martin has kept me after two disappointing (and long) books. I think Butcher didn't do that bad on this.

It definitely wasn't my favorite Dresden book and did seem like a little side deal with all the main plot that has been built in the series being set aside mostly for this adventure. In a way I think it was good because it spent time showing consequences of his actions instead of just plowing on into the next story. But I do think it could have been handled in a better way and still accomplished that. You might be right about this being better as a short story in 'Side Jobs' or something similar.

(Note about the Thomas thing... I didn't get that the way I read it. I read it as she was going to be with the girl, then he would be with the girl and have her 'through' her. Not directly. But maybe I assumed that because it made the most sense.)

Dresden did kind of annoy me here and also the world that he has spent over a dozen books building was all changed up so I am hoping that all these characters I love are still the same people (somewhat). I did like Morty and I've never been a big Molly fan, but liked her in this book.

Some of the posters at my site are wondering if perhaps this was Butcher setting up some closure for all those main characters for a book or two while Dresden goes off and does stuff in the faerie world. I guess I can see that, don't know if I love that idea; but who knows.

I didn't mind the thing with Bob too much, other than it not really being resolved (yet). Though it did come off like something pretty stupid for Bob to do... he should be a little smarter than that IMO. And it didn't quite fit into the story as neatly as it could have.

I hardly think though the series is lost. I'm sure it will get back on track now that the 'ghost' portion is behind him. Hopefully whatever he does as the winter knight won't be too far removed from the Dresden we all know and love though.

Mad Hatter Review said...

@Anon, I get that. I guess it just comes down to the fact I think it could have been better handled.

Mad Hatter Review said...


Yeah, that was me being mysterious on twitter mostly because I wasn't sure if I wanted to get into it.

But what happens to Butters now because of Bob's events? That is left open pretty wide.


I'm not out of the series. I'll stick with it for the next volume, but I can't hide how disappointed I am.

I saw the Thomas/Justine more as she has sex with the girl and than feed Thomas and have sex with him giving her immunity against other White Courters and than her having sex with the girl again. Rinse, Wash, repeat...

xaraan said...

hmm, yea I went back and read that Thomas part. I liked it better the way I assumed it. Damn you for correcting me! It doesn't make much sense the way it's written out.

Mad Hatter Review said...

What if we had a book concurrent with Ghost Story that told you what was going on in the world at the time? Say from Murph? Heck even Butters might be cool. More of novella probably.

Stephen Aryan said...

I really enjoyed this book and thought it was great. Following on your comments on Twitter, I'd love to see a novella, or short story (as a novel doesn't seem likely) from Elaine's POV, for the simple reason that it would be about her being a wizard, and she just happens to be a woman. I've yet to read a good urban fantasy novel with a decent female character, because no matter how much they might protest about them not being paranormal romance, they've all turned out to be just that. A book with Elaine as the main protagonist would be about a wizard doing stuff, and it wouldn't be focused on her romance with someone she hates and yet somehow loves, with a bit of magic thrown in.

Bastard said...

Ok, now I'm done with Ghost Story, like all Dresden books really enjoyed it. Still, it was among the weakest of the bunch. But overall, even the weakest Dresden I still find it leagues better than the great majority of UF that I read, so can't be too hard on it.

With that said, I think the claim of jumping the shark is a bit of an overreaction in my opinion. And I've always kinda hated when people throw that phrase around. Needless to say, that one book will not make or break this series, and a dud here and there in this long series overall should be acceptable, and maybe even anticipated.

Complains I agree on: The recapping was indeed at an all-time high. The pace of the book was quite out of whack.

You make mention of the whole "cure" Justine brings forward, but at the moment that's all talk. We don't know how that will actually work out, I don't think it'll be as simple as what that passage leads us to believe. It has never been. That aside, what we know of the White Court vampires, how many vampires do you think would be in Thomas position? Not only fighting against the hunger, which in part was with the help of Dresden, but having someone to actually love? Yeah, I really don't see it. Plus, if in earlier times, someone had figured out how the "cure", there would have been a huge incentive to keep quiet. And for those Vampires that have loved someone, what are the chances of the loved ones having survived... I mean, Justine is very lucky to be alive, lucky to be conscious.

I do agree with you that there's something odd going on here, but I'm on a wait and see mode.

As for Murphy, huge fan of hers, but you got to understand what is going on and why she got so little screen time, that's because that will be a big plot point going forward. Dresden going through the process of discovering what Murphy went through, the Marcone angle, etc. Murphy will be a stranger to Dresden, and we'll have a similar dynamic to what went on between them in the earlier books, and battle between trust and distrust. And ultimately this is a story of Dresden, not all characters will be featured in all the books, they never have. Even Murphy has been absent in some books for quite a chunk of time before, so nothing new here. And then we'll see the battle of the allies of those that want to trust Dresden and are loyal to him, and obviously those that will end up with Murphy and Marcone by extension. There's obviously some sort of pact there that Murphy will find hard to get out of.

But as mention, Ghost Story was more than anything an introspective piece, for better or worse, that's what it was.

The rest well, that's a matter of opinion/taste, etc. so not worth arguing about. I did think that the plot of the Corpstaker was a bit overlong and not that enticing. And had to suspend my disbelief to the extreme at some of the things that went on, but whatever.

But in all, The Dresden Files has always been about Dresden as a narrator for me, and in that regard he delivered, though a bit subpar. And I just can't accept it being called "jumping the shark" because it hasn't, the groundwork is there. Will it be a dividing book? I can agree to that and I also agree that it'll turn off some from the series. The rest, I think it's a bit of overreaction of a disappointment mainly due to having very high expectations; a double edged sword.

At the moment I'm regarding this a bridge novel, a stage setter of sorts, and those seems like they always face a lot of problems. It was quite evident that Butcher had a bit of trouble writing this one. And if you look back at your complains, overall when you think about it they're very minor details in the scheme of things. But that's just it, a hiccup. We'll see where the rest of the series goes, but not going to bunch up my panties over one book myself.

Anonymous said...

So one of the things Butcher has said about Changes, Ghost Story, and Cold Days is that they're a three part midpoint to the series.

It's a long series and a lot has happened, especially since he took on Molly as an apprentice. Everyone needs to take time to consider their actions and there is a lot of things that Harry has done that he needs to be concerned about. Does it make for the best story? Depends on what you feels is more important, action or character development.

I would be on board with you about jumping the shark if Harry had wiped out the red court then went on like nothing had happened, but he, nor the world, does act like nothing major happened it was a world changing event and Harry needs to figure out what that means. How it affects him, his allies, the world, and most importnatly his enemies and the bad guys.

If you read the short story after changes you get a Murphy story about her dealing with and stepping up to Harry's absence from Chicago, along with other characters that helped Harry out.

I would suggest rereading Changes and Ghost Story when Cold Days comes out and see how it feels then.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the post. Have really enjoyed the series, but not this book. I have a problem with the monster with a little girl in a duffle bag and her fate. The disturbing imagery of that, at least for me, overwhelmed the entire story. I hate it when things happen to kids in the real world, and I really don't want that be a part of my entertainment. Any number of other examples could have been used. Almost wrote off the series. Will probably give it another shot, but any more like that and I won't read another story.

Anonymous said...

I think it sets the ground for a new Harry. Being in a state forced Harry to finally realize for good that he needed to stop blindly charging in (he's gotten it somewhat but here it sinks in.) Also, I liked that his actions were shown to have consequences on Molly. It is a journey of self discovery, and i think it did a good job showing the aftershocks. Changes was the big action packed series finale, so they needed a breather to let the reader relax before they went back into the big leagues

the scene with maggie at the carpenter's house was extremely sweet.

Alex said...

As far as the Thomas and Justine thing goes, it was totally consistent with the mechanics of how White Court Vampires work. In the Dresden Universe, sex (M/F or same sex sex) has the side effect of mixing your life energy. White Court vampires mix life energy with their prey and then take some of it with them (think how you'd remove a cork with a cork screw). If the victim has had sex with someone that they truly love, they are "protected". Harry had that protection from Susan for a *very* long time, but it went away when he had sex with Luccio, who didn't love him. When Justine had sex with the random girl, her protection went away.

When you're dealing with a race of sexual predators, it is consistent that it isn't a problem that they commonly create themselves.

It's possible Justine kept the protection because it kept her safe from the other vampires while Thomas was in exile. However, now Thomas is playing for the home team again. Whatever the reasons why are, the mechanics of how it happened are totally consistent.

Thermos192 said...

Just finished it last night. My first impressions are that this type of story didn't fit with Butcher's typical story telling style. The normal arc of the story building to a small peak, then on to a larger climax was there but the continuity wasn't. Harry finds that litterally and figuratively he has killed himself and has to work through how that affects those around him. Not much room for a strong plot line around defeating a villain bent on world domination. As Harry's ghost was detatched from the world, so was the reader's knowledge of the Corpsetaker's schemes and motivations. This is the second half of what was started in Changes. Harry pulls out all the stops to stop the Red Court and in the process his worldly possessions are destroyed. Now his emotional relationships are similarly severed by his death. Everyone is ok and will hold up without him (check out the short story that takes place between Changes and Ghost Story)and his character now has a lot of options while still retaining a now richer set of supporting characters. Plenty of loose ends to explore down the road like "what the heck happened to Bob?" and "How powerful has Molly become, what will the council do to control her?" or "the Swords are still hangning around out there..." Nice setup considering the entire arc of the series.

PMMP said...

I read this article before reading "Ghost Story" and so was a bit leery of what I would find. Ironically, I think this one of the best books in the series. No, it's not loaded with action the way many of the previous books were, but I enjoyed the change of pace. It was very much about character development and reflection, and less about beating a bad guy, though that was there too. I disagree with you that there was very little development of the other characters. I felt this book focused on the other players in Harry's world as much as any other book in the series did, and I did not feel at all deprived. As another person said, I feel this was a 'clearing the decks' sort of book, a bridge between a first series and a second. And now I'm very excited to see what the new "Dresden Files" is going to look like.

The only times I sighed at the book were when Mr. Butcher once again showed his ignorance of Chicago. As a Chicago resident, I'm alternately amused and annoyed by his lack of research. I'm glad he had a chance to visit the city--I can tell when he's describing parts of the city he actually experienced because the detail is so much more rich at those points. However, Mr. Butcher again failed to bother checking details he has not experienced, and it's obvious to anyone who lives here. That fact not withstanding, I love this series, and am avidly awaiting the publication of "Cold Days."

Anonymous said...

As you say, it is an introspective novel - but I liked it, and not just because Harry was in it.

It felt like a rest to me. Yes, we get some action scenes, but the pace is slower, giving Harry time to think about his actions, past and present. For him to be unable to rush in, guns blazing, is something new that forces him to use his brain instead of his usual explosive techniques.

Beyond that, I liked Molly's part in it all (the Star Trek scene was a little over the top, but it made me laugh) and I quite enjoyed Butters' and Morty's growth.

And, I agree with one of the other commenters that this book paves the way for Harry to move on to bigger things. As much as I've loved the Monster-of-the-Week type story formats, I don't think Butcher could have continued on like that for much longer without it getting really old.

Anyways, not as exciting as "Changes", perhaps, or as enthralling as "Turn Coat", but I think it's a solid addition to the series, and I look forward to "Cold Days" as much as I looked forward to this one.

Anonymous said...

I've devoured every Dresden book until Changes, where I found Harry's constant out of character behavior, and a real drag on the book. I barely finished it.

Ghost Story is just garbage. Let's get back to Story Writing 101 here: We are supposed to feel empathy for the protagonist, right? How exactly am I supposed to feel empathy for a disembodied mass of memories? "Oh no, his ectoplasm is leaking!" Puh-lease.

It is not 'daring' of the author to sabotage the connection between reader and protagonist, anymore than it is daring to use bad grammar. It's simply poor story telling.

I'm horribly dissappointed. Honestly, I wish I had a pill that made me forget Ghost Story AND Changes.

Ghost Story is tensionless, tired and barely deserves to be on the same shelf with the rest of the series. Jumped the Shark indeed.

John Hallow said...

I'm going to have to disagree with a lot of people and say that I absolutely loved the book. I like the series as a whole, and you can't expect every book in a series to be an 11/10. The only thing I didn't like about this book was the pop culture references and the fact that Harry couldn't act directly, but I don't mind because it's not like it's permanent. And who cares if the whole Winter Knight thing was predictable? We've known that was coming for a while, and I'm actually looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

The Dresden Files really has NOT jumped the shark. I think I'm going stop reading reviews like this, since they just make me want to argue. Though I respect your opinion, so I won't do that. It would be a boring and predictable world if everyone agreed about everything.

...or would it?

Anonymous said...

There have been references to the white court cure before, where Madeline made comments to Justine in front of Thomas about having a young buck come to her in the middle of the night and take her, and after that Madeline would be able to take her. So this isn't weird or even out of character, the vamps are aware of how this work, the protection came not only from Thomas' and hers love, but also from Lara.

Anonymous said...

I think you may have missed the point. This book serves one vastly important function.

It forces Harry to basically sleep for six months while Chicago goes to crap.

Harry had things pretty well in hand in Chicago - and the US in general - but we knew that couldn't last. However, so long as Harry was standing vigil, the plot couldn't progress. Thus - Harry needed to spend half a year dead.

The novel does something else as well (although a novel wasn't required to do this) - it gives Harry the smack in the gob he needs to face Mab and tell her how things are going to be. In Changes, Harry was like "oh, she's too powerful" - but she isn't. He needed to know that.

Thirdly, as noted, it is an excuse to dive into explanatory flashbacks of Harry's youth that previous novels and short stories haven't been able to dive in to.

This novel is a literary tool. Is it a good book? Eh - it's okay. Butcher has done better. However, it is in no way a BAD book. It does it's job and transitions us from Harry the Warden to Harry the Winter Knight. It also gives us a taste of how dark this world is going to get.

Have you read the Princep's Fury? Butcher can get REALLY dark. What we're seeing here is a taste of things to come.

I mean - his planned Dresden Files books 21-23 are an "Apocalypse Trilogy" - this series is getting darker. A lot darker.

tehgreyghost said...

Remember there will be 23 books in the series. The first 12 then 13 - 15 is a mid point then 16 - 20 is the next half all culminating with 21 - 23 being the apocalypse. So yes if he had continued writing the way he did with the earlier novels the series would have fizzled. I think you just had too high of expectations after Changes which was a bulldozer of a change-up. I mean I seriously doubt this will create a divide honestly.

Harry in the earlier novels is a kid using an uzi and now finally he is realizing his mistakes and what he needs to do. He was always three sheets to the wind about the repercussions and now finally he was slapped in the face with a realization about how his actions affects others.

I think this was one of the best books in the series. Butcher took characters we knew and loved and gave them so much more depth than they ever really had.

I think that yes after Cold Days comes out, go and read Ghost Story again and say if you have the same opinion.

April said...

I know a couple people have already left comments about Thomas and Justine but I didn't see anyone point out that the "cure" has been talked about several times in other books. It was actually explained pretty good in one book when Tomas and his sister were in a bar and Justine came in and his sister kissed her. I would need to go back and try to figure out what book it is in. I listen to them in audio book format (nothing like listening to Spike from "Buffy the vampire slayer" as Harry :P) But shortly after she talks about hooking her up with someone and how he needs to find a new pet or something they get in an argument about it and it explained it. I could be wrong but I atleast am pretty sure about it. I also thought this book did a pretty good job of taking Harry out of the rush in blasting things situation and making him slow down and try to come up with other ways to deal with things. This book might not have been as good as his others so far but depending on how he goes with the seres it might have been needed as a segway to introduce the new Dresden as well as the others. I do wish they had more of Murphy though.

April said...

I apologize apparently my computer did not load the last few comments for some reason till after I posted and I ended up just repeating what they said. Sorry

Anonymous said...

Hi, just stumbled on your blog and wanted to share my take on the Thomas- Justine situation. In White Night, Lara kisses Harry to fuel the shielding sphere as they explode from the cave. Afterwards, she says she cannt believe he is still protected after four years. She says her surprise is based on her assumption that he and Murphy were together.

My understanding of the protection of true love is this: if you are truly in love, you only have sex with that person. If a white court vamp tried to touch you, they would get hurt. If you become unfaithful, the protection of true love weakens, because it no longer is true love if you allow your energies to mix with someone who is Not your true love. Justine's infidelity is therefore a way of breaking down the protection. A white court vamp could hit you with seduction mind games all they want, but they physically cannot touch you. If you yourself break the physical barrier with someone else, you are fair game. Every encounter with anyone besides your true love, especially if it has nothing to do with love, weakens the protection. The stronger the love, the more encounters needed to break it. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And I'm sure everyone knows this, but I was referring to Dresden's protection from Susan.

Thanks for letting me share!

Anonymous said...

Whoops, my device didn't show all the comments before but now I see other people have addressed it already. I apologize for my redundant comment.

Anonymous said...

I just read the entire series over the course of a few weeks and I enjoyed this book as much or more than I did some of the earlier books in the series. I can understand how you might feel differently if you spaced your reading out over years, but after 12 novels with similar story arcs, characters, and reactions to stress from Harry it was time for him to start growing up a little. His hatred of the Council and Wardens, his instant "let's fight" attitude, as well as his failure to see the interaction of higher authorities throughout the world seem a little small-minded and childish for a man who is going to live centuries as a major power. It was great at first, but when the Red Court war started and global politics became a factor in the series he began to seem a little out of touch with his own impact on the world. I thought it was great that Butcher had him step back and finally see some of the second and third order effects of his actions and I can see it (hopefully) creating a deeper character with larger spanning story arcs in the future. I also thought the growth of Molly into someone who could be on the White Council was great, but like a lot of people I'm nervous about where he's going to take Murphy. I'm looking forward to books in the future and seeing what new fights Harry takes on and how he changes the world.

Nathan said...

I actually loved Ghost Story. It was a more personal story and sets us up for the road to the Big Apocalypse Trilogy Butcher has hinted about. You have decently thought out problems with it, but I ultimately disagree with you. Interesting review otherwise!

John said...

Picked up the first book in the series last fall and have read all of them now. I jumped in with Codex Alera, which I really enjoyed, so picked this series up from the first book. After being completely bull sh*t that he killed Dresden at the end of changes I thought I was going to hate Ghost Story, and it started out that way, but once I got where the book was going I enjoyed the back story, and eagerly look forward to the next installment. With 13 books and counting there are some I liked better than other, this one was in the middle. I look forward to the rest of them.

Eric said...

OK so I think this book was a building block for his future books. Was it his most entertaining book? No it was not. But it was very well done and is going to allow Dresden to leave his past life behind.

It did, in a very "ghost of christmas past" help him to move on.

So what do we now have? We have a blank slate. A Dresden, who willingly accepts the winter knight mantel and is going to do battle with forces unseen.

Let the major Ass kicking begin. Just trust Jim, he knows what he's doing. After all he is a wiza... writer.

Anonymous said...
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