I've wanted to get my hands on the various Dresden short stories for some time but was stopped by two things: 1) I'm not a huge fan of anthologies, where most of the shorts appeared, and 2) the audio format versions were not read by James Marsters.
Jim Butcher did make some bits available on his website for reading, but the remainder appeared in Mean Streets, My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding and My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon, among others. All the stories are placed in the context of the Dresden-verse timeline. The last, which takes place immediately after Changes, appears nowhere else. Some of these are, as the author admits, not the best effort, while some are not to be missed, particularly Thomas' grimly determined everyday battles with the monsters he is related to as well as the one within him.
James Marsters is less a narrator, and more a one man show. I've probably noted it in another review, but it really can't be said enough the difference between someone who is merely reading, and someone who evokes the scenes, emotions, characters and interactions and portrays them well. I've been disappointed by books by best selling authors that were narrated in the barest sense of the word, and have followed other authors around in part because of the narrators chosen to read their works. Mr. Marsters is definitely in the latter category.
If you are a fan of the series, you probably know all these things, and just want the punchline: Yes - if you have been following the adventures of Dresden and company, do get this book. If you have never heard a Dresden novel, these stories are still good, but will have more meaning when you have read some of the other novels.
Cold Days marks the beginning of the second half of Dresden's saga. If you are new to the series, stop here, go back to Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1), and read your way through the first thirteen books, then Side Jobs, and then come back. I'll wait here. Now you're up to date, let's go -
Preflight checklist: Jim Butcher, one of the best storytellers in modern fantasy, back in the saddle? Check. James Marsters is back as the Audible/audio incarnation of our favorite irreverent, overwhelmed, put upon, wise cracking wizard? Check. Geek/pop culture humor? Check. A crap-ton of magic gets thrown around? Check. The old crew is back in the fight? Check. Harry's up against something far out of his weight class? Check.
Harry was only "mostly dead" and returns to the realization that he failed to avoid the consequences of the bargain he made with the Queen of Air and Darkness. He is now the Winter Knight, a role that Harry has dreaded for most of the series, and now has to live with. The fae have tortured Harry with their deadly games off and on for 13 books, but it all gets turned up to 11 once he is the Winter Queen's knight.
If that's not bad enough, he will have to explain his 'death' and current role to the White Council - and to be clear, that and several related explanations do get sidestepped in Cold Days - There's too many people Harry needs to catch up with to cram it all into one book. Especially since he's got so much on his hands.
Demonreach, the island he has attuned himself to, sitting on top of a network of magical ley lines, is about to explode, with enough force to cause Google to update it's satellite photos for the entire western hemisphere. Oh, and Mab's first task for Harry? No less than the assassination of the Winter Queen That Will Be - her own heir and daughter, Maeve.
Everything's on the line again, and the only help Harry will find is in the form of his core posse - Thomas, the New and Improved apprentice Molly (now, with less crazy!), Karin, Toot Toot (and the Za Lord's army) and his dog Mouse all sign up for the fight. But the fight is never what Harry thinks it is.
A lot of reveal in Cold Days about the neverending battle in the Fae lands, and the relationship between the Winter and Summer courts, and the Council Gatekeeper. The big picture starts to come into focus, and you, along with Harry, begin to realize the very, very deep waters the series is about to sail into. The stakes have gotten much higher. But with that comes the possibility that Butcher may wind up staging a world-as-we-know-it-ends-here apocalypse with every future installment, and that can wear out the novelty and interest of huge battles that threaten to turn into repeats.
Which brings up what I didn't like about Cold Days. For the first time, Butcher disappoints by retracing territory he's covered before, and fairly thoroughly. Power not wholly Harry's own is used out of necessity, and with it comes the corruption of thoughts also not wholly his own. Dresden spent a number of books with a fallen angel infesting his every thought, giving him power beyond his own (hellfire), only now Lashiel has been replaced by the mantle of the Winter Knight and powers of winter cold and ice. He is tempted with power yet again - not power that he craves for himself, but power he needs to protect the people he loves, and the millions of innocent bystanders who will die if he doesn't. If you remember the Blackened Denarians story arc, this is playing out in very similar fashion so far. Temptation, power, corrupted thoughts, isolation, and distrust all come back in play in Harry's interpersonal relationships. I can't help but feel disappointed at this development. Why revisit this theme and angst again?
Next theme is that Harry, out of fear for his friends, will try to buffer them from a lot of uncomfortable truths. In their emotional reunion, Thomas lampshades this, and seems to accept it as part of his brother's personality, though he works on trying to convince him to open his heart to the people dearest to him (Karin and Maggie).
Finally, the Karin/Harry issue gets sent back through the wash cycle for another spin. With a dash of Molly thrown in to complicate matters. I would be very disappointed if Harry went down the Molly path romantically, for the very reasons that Harry himself has given in several books. However, the spectre of this possibility becomes far more possible in future installments after the dramatic conclusion of the events in Cold Days.
James Marsters, much missed in the previous installment, is indeed back. He does the most marvelous voices for the multitude of beings in the Dresden-verse. I have 'read' all but one of the Dresden books in audio only, and he was a superb choice for a narrator, that only gets better and better. But among my favorite are his voices for Toot Toot and Captain Hook. I can listen to these books over and over, and still be entertained.
Ghost Story was the middle of the Dresden series, so I anticipate that Cold Days should set the stage for the plot lines that follow.
Buckle up. Or, as Murphy says "Get on the back, *itch!"
It's going to be a helluva ride.
In this short story Lord John Grey, finds himself stunned near to death at an eel party, in a fist fight, then virtually sleepwalking through a duel defending the honor of a lady. By the next morning, the Duke is at his doorstep with mail from outraged nobles, and everything comes into horrifyingly humorous focus.
His brother, Harold, Duke of Pardloe, offers him an alternative to marrying Caroline and having to explain about the demise of an annoyingly rude poet: Go to Canada.
He's come to defend an old friend Caruthers who is about to be court martialed, but an ailing Caruthers means to use the trial expose corruption and brutality by his superiors that echoes the shades of the aftermath of the Rising in Scotland. John also means to locate his cousin's husband to deliver a portrait of their newborn son, but what he finds is not what he expects.
If that weren't enough John is just in time to join the British forces on the outskirts of Quebec, and shortly finds himself joining Wolfe's army, meeting yet another Fraser, climbing the cliffs and taking part in the historic battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Set in the midst of the Seven Years War, The Custom of the Army is a tale that falls between the novella 'The Haunted Soldier' (from Lord John and the Hand of Devils) and the Outlander series crossover novel, The Scottish Prisoner. In fact, I'd say that you really cannot fully appreciate Custom of the Army without reading at least The Scottish Prisoner, and you cannot really appreciate The Scottish Prisoner without reading at least The Brotherhood of the Blade.
Gabaldon's books are like that, unfolding and intertwining the Lord John and Outlander series into a common tale. But in this case, there are events in Custom of the Army that are left unresolved until Scottish Prisoner. I actually got to the end of the story and was left wondering, since Lord John had committed to seeing his friend's quixotic task through until justice was done.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice," Caruthers tells John, but we will have to go hungry until The Scottish Prisoner because you don't get to see that justice move forward in Custom.
Still I cannot fault the story much, and Jeff Woodman again provides the wonderful voices of John Grey as well as all the other characters in his excellent narration.
There are a couple of loose ends addressed, like what happened to his cousin's husband, and what became of the Jacobite conspirator responsible for murdering his father Gerard Grey, 1st Duke of Pardloe (from Lord John and the Private Matter and The Brotherhood of the Blade, respectively).
So in short, if you can't wait for this novella to come out on audio with a few more Lord John short stories (like Plague of Zombies which as of this writing is the latest), get this as a companion piece to The Scottish Prisoner. But if you read it without reading The Scottish Prisoner afterward, Custom of the Army feels unfinished, and you are left doubting Lord John's resolve to see his promise to Caruthers through to the end.
Together, however, they are one of my favorite Gabaldon stories.
I hope you read my review title before buying this, the first of Gabaldon's Lord John tales. It's not that the story is bad (it isn't) but it is the beginnings of fleshing out the characters of a post-Dragonfly in Amber/Voyager (from the Outlander series) John Grey and Harry Quarry. And the stories only get better from here.
The problem is that "Lord John and the Hellfire Club" appears in the short story trilogy "Lord John and The Hand of Devils" along with two other short stories. So, for the sake of value, and the benefit of getting two other great John Grey shorts (Lord John and the Succubus/Lord John and the Haunted Soldier), get that instead of this book. I didn;t realize until after I had both, that I had a duplicate tale among them.
Jeff Woodman is perfect as both John and his earthier friend Harry, giving them both unique and likeable voices in their first story together since leaving Ardsmuir Prison. Both characters grow and get better with future tales...so get the Hand of Devils to hear more of them instead!
Captain Jack Aubrey is many great things. Brilliant tactician, gifted astronomer, navigator and mathematician, and a skilled violinist. He is already a near legendary naval captain commanding both the HMS Surprise and the un-flagging loyalty of his officers, friends and crew.
It is this last thing that will save him.
His good friend Dr. Stephen Maturin observes often that as brilliant as Jack is at sea, he is an easy target on land for just about anything. As an equally talented intelligence agent, Stephen has sailed with Jack since the year two (1802) and together, each in their own way, they have caused such upheaval and damage to the various forces of Napoleonic France as to now be high value targets for enemy agents highly placed in British naval intelligence.
Wiley and dangerous as he is to face at sea, Jack is the weaker link on land, and enemy agents go after him with vicious purpose. His beloved HMS Surprise is being sold out of the service, and Jack is in the fight of his career in a court of law over a conspiracy of charges he has been easily framed for. His career, so much a part of the man himself, is about to shatter, and threatens to take Jack with it.
O'Brian gives rich and exquisite details of life at sea, embedding the reader in the battles and scenes, however the events that take place in the courtroom seem more shocking, perhaps because they are based on the real life events surrounding the trial of Lord Thomas Cochrane for stock fraud. It may have been 200+ years ago, but no less shocking for a justice system.
I have re-read this book more than any in the series. If your eyes are dry by the resolution of the pivotal trial events, you have not been paying attention. You cannot read this series out of order - they truly do run in series - and this book is a prime example of the build up of actions and relationships amongst the many characters and events.
Stop me if you've heard this one before - An Englishman, a Scotsman, and an Irishman walk into a conspiracy...
If you haven't read "Lord John and the Custom of the Army" you might want to catch that first (from the Warriors anthology of short stories) to understand the full scope of the events that catapult Lord John Grey into a quest to bring a fellow soldier who committed atrocities in Canada during the Seven Years War to justice.
Even before his parolee, once and future friend Jamie Fraser, is pressed into helping him by his brother the duke, and the squirrelly Toby Quinn tags along as a guide, Grey knows that he's about to unearth a hornet's nest. When he stumbles across an old family rival, Twelvetrees, events take on a different twist and subtly begin spinning out of control, and in such a way that Grey, Fraser and Quinn won't realize until it's far too late that the price for the secrets they uncover will be paid in blood.
However, it takes a Jacobite to know a Jacobite, and Fraser, already full of distrust and misgivings, and harried by his old friend Quinn, finds himself walking a tightrope between helping the Greys and betraying old allegiances, until both men find themselves in the center of a political storm of conspiracy and betrayal.
Underneath it all, John Grey juggles his family and personal relationships, from the warmth of his relationship with Hal's family, Bird, Quarry and Von Namtzen, to the open hostility of Edward Twelvetrees, to the often fractious odd half-friendship with the suspicious Fraser. When that friendship goes wrong, it's horribly, horribly wrong, but when they recover the common ground that once made them friends, even as bittersweet as it is, it shines.
While the Lord John series can be read independently of the Outlander series where he is a "guest star", knowing the full story of why Jamie reacts the way he does is best learned from the first three (Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager) of these novels. I always recommend reading the Lord John series in the correct order, since these novels and short stories build neatly upon one another. They are, in order:
Lord John and...
The Hellfire Club (Hand of Devils)
Private Matter (Novel)
Succubus (Hand of Devils)
Brotherhood of the Blade (Novel)
Haunted Soldier (Hand of Devils)
Custom of the Army (Warriors, Anthology)
The Scottish Prisoner (Novel)
A Plague of Zombies (Down These Strange Streets, Anthology)
While Gabaldon is more known for the heftier Outlander novels, Custom of the Army and Scottish Prisoner are an excellent read, and I kind of consider them a continuation of the same story. I would not be surprised to find these two works made into a movie.
If Stephen Maturin is the most hopeless landlubber ever to set sail, then surely Jack Aubrey is the most hopeless seaman ever to touch ground. They are a curious pair, two men who could not be more unalike in so many ways, sharing mostly a love of music, and yet together they are legendary. They are sometimes ordinary, sometimes brilliant men, who have flashes of genius in between long evenings of music and toasted cheese.
Captain John Aubrey of His Majesty's Navy, known widely as Lucky Jack, is an honorable, genial, good natured and generous fellow, and more often than not, skippers a happy crew, many of whom follow him from one mostly lucrative mission to another. He's a clever, crafty, and talented commander who would sail a washbucket against a French frigate if he could mount a cannon on it and stretch canvas above. And he'd probably win.
Among the crew that he takes with him on every cruise is his particular friend, ship's surgeon Dr. Maturin. As spectacular as Jack is afloat, Stephen is hopeless. Even after several years, the good doctor is often mere feet away from being pitched overboard, drowned, knocked on the head, or tipped into the hold, for lack of clapping on to whatever's available with both hands, and still has difficulty telling starboard, larboard, stern and bow from one another. He is a talented physician and biologist, however, and Jack and the crew lovingly look out for him.
On land, they are quite the reverse. Jack, who would shrewdly sort out an enemy commander's deceptions and set them on their ears, is seemingly cast adrift at home, often practiced upon by the admiralty, enemy spies, con-men, fast women, and politicians. He's a poor judge of horses, farming and landlubbers, often getting bilked out of great sums of money won as prizes for his nautical victories.
Stephen is, on the other hand, in addition to being a noteworthy 'natural philosopher', author, lecturer and surgeon, one of the most prolific British spies operating during the Napoleonic era. A shrewd judge of his fellow man, secretive, short tempered, brusque, manipulative of enemy agents, or simply deadly to them, he (mostly unknown to Jack) protects the Captain from many misfortunes, or bails him out of trouble almost as regularly as Jack plucks him out of the sea, or off some shipwrecked island. The doctor becomes as dangerous in his own right to Napoleon's war machine as Jack is, until both become targets of enemy agents.
Patrick O'Brian has created a whole hero out of two men and made us care about their companions, how they got on together, in their ideal settings, and with each completely out of their elements, and follows them over several years of triumphs and failure. The historic details are a treasure all their own, and many of the tales are based on actual events that took place in the early 19th century during the war of 1812 and the Napoleonic war. He weaves these intricate details into each book without changing the facts of history, but setting Aubrey and Maturin into a setting of period events and dialogue in which they shine.
It's high adventure in the age of sail, as well as a game of pawns in deadly earnest. Twenty books and one unfinished novel later, it's still a thrill when Captain Jack orders the crew to beat to quarters and clear for action, because you know some kind of brilliance is about to transpire. It's still nail biting suspense when Maturin is pitted against enemy spies, forced to escape or take down French agents, because there's no telling how he'll get out of it, or at what cost.
If you haven't already journeyed with Aubrey and Maturin, you can't go wrong taking an adventure with the once and future crew of the H.M.S. Surprise. Don't however read the books out of order: The novel is written in series, with some books following immediately on the heels of the events of its predecessors.
There is more than one narrator for this great series, so absolutely listen to the samples for each to decide which suits you more. There are camps who prefer one over the other, my own preference being Simon Vance, but do take care not to accidentally snap up the next installment by the wrong narrator, as an abrupt change in the voices is frequently jarring, regardless of which you prefer.
The publisher's summary leaves much to be desired. This particular installment of The Dresden Files should not be missed.
Harry gets a call from the oldest daughter of one his closest friends, Michael Carpenter. Molly is in more trouble than she knows, and Harry "An Innocent Bystander" at SplatterCon!!! gets in it up to his neck.
Jim Butcher as always is a master at developing these wonderful characters. You get more information about the Carpenters, and awesome Charity development. You kinda forgive her for treating Harry like trash until now.
In the end Harry comes face to face with some of the demons of his past, resurrected at the sight of watching an untrained wizard sentenced to a miserable end by the White Council. He'll have to pull a rabbit out of his hat to prevent the same fate befalling someone he's driven to protect they way he himself was protected at the same age.
As always, awesome writing by Butcher, and awesome performance by Marsters.
The Lord John short stories get woven into the places between the Lord John novels, and tie them together. Both short stories and novels tie the gap in the Outlander novels between Dragonfly in Amber where John first appears, and Claire disappears and Voyager where Claire/Jaime's story continues. This is ~1745 to ~1773.
In that nearly 30 year gap, John has been off on journeys of his own, and it's wonderful how Diana Gabaldon weaves history and research into a story in such detail without detracting from the characters or their situations. While I enjoyed Private Matter very much, Brotherhood is still my favorite, and you see John at his best, and his worst, sometimes funny and always enjoyable. There's a couple of battles, which are always my favorite parts when reading Lord John, and interaction between him and his family, and a mystery.
In this novel John is searching for answers about the death of his father, but the plot is woven with other subplots that converge neatly (or messily) when John has to face a crisis of honor, and finds the clue to both answers in Jamie Fraser.
There are plot pieces and characters here that find their way into other Lord John stories (Haunted Soldier, Custom of the Army) or Outlander (Breath of Snow and Ashes, Firey Cross, Echo in the Bone), but resolve themselves nicely for the time being within this book. I think, however that "Lord John and the Scottish Prisoner" (not yet released as of this review) will be the one to watch, and carry the events of Brotherhood and Custom forward to fill in a large gap in the rocky evolution of John and Jamie's friendship.
Yes, there are a couple of graphic sex scenes - if graphic sex of either hetero or homosexual participants troubles you, I suggest you back quickly away from any book in the Outlander/Lord John universe by Gabaldon.
The narrator, Jeff Woodman, does all the work in this series and does a great job, especially with John, Harry and Tom.
I listened to the chapter sample, and I disagree with reviews that are of the opinion that Mr. Glover is merely reading. He isn't - I've heard audio books that might have been a recitation of the phone directory, that made me want to ask for my credit back, and this isn't it. I don't envy John Glover though - James Marsters for 13 books -became- the voice of Harry Dresden and the remarkable cast of characters in the Dresden-verse.
The writing is engaging as always, and I can't wait to find out what happens to everyman wizard Harry Dresden. A lot can happen when you're dead. My review for the actual audiobook will (try to) stick to the book itself, but that will be hard.
I don't know what to say - I've been a fan of the Dresden Files audio books from the very first listen, waited on the short stories because the anthologies were not read by the novel's narrator, and I am a very sad panda right now.
(apologies to John Glover) Please, oh please say James Marsters is coming back!
I fully wanted to love this book, having just completed the 18th century historical novels in the Outlander series. Legacy takes place in the same time periods, and covers some similar topics, but perhaps through no great fault of it's own, doesn't seem to go into either the Sioux or French 18th century history as much as I'd hoped.
Legacy skims the surface of both of these interesting cultures without spending enough time in either the past or the present to feel as if you've had your fill of either of the main protagonists and their situations. This may be due to my comparison to the 'Outlander' novels by Diana Gabaldon, which at a staggering 48 or so hours each, give detail free reign. Even the 'Lord John' novels, which are for length at least on par with Legacy, contain a great deal more detail and flavor of the period.
In the end, you're left a bit wanting, both for the color of the background environment (so much seems to have been skimmed over after the 18th century heroine arrives in France) and the relationships, both of which were supposed to be the driving force in the book.
Of the audio experience itself, I must say that I've been spoiled by the likes of Loreli King, Davina Porter and James Marsters who bring characters and events to life. The narrator of Legacy has a clear and pleasant speaking voice, but lends no flavor to the personalities or events he is reading. Which is to say, he might as well have been reading the phone book with his precise and pleasant pronunciation.
In the end, what I remember of this book is that I wish it had been more.
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