Spoiler free summary: Right off the heels of Peace Talks, (my review is here) Battle Ground ramps up the action as the battle for Chicago (and the world) begins. Everything changes in this tragically beautiful, action packed story that amounts to what might be the longest battle sequence in history.
Character: The character development in this book is much different here. I must give a special nod to Butters. I feel like he stole the show. Molly is interesting here as well. Honestly every character has huge revelations in this book that change the scope. I’m still shocked at the rumor that Dresden is ending since I feel like these books opened so many new doors to explore. I still think Butters and Molly steal the show, though neither has a ton of screen time. I must also give Murph some credit.
Exposition: This might have been too short for a casual reader, but for fans who just wanted to get going, it’s perfect. So the quality of this category probably depends on your familiarity with the series as a whole. I loved it because I didn’t need to read segments of a story that were clearly put there just to fill in people who may not have been familiar with the series.
Worldbuilding: While there are many revelations in this book, the world building only expands a slight amount. Now that’s a metaphorical crack in the universe (Doctor Who reference), but it’s not in the amount of new data but the magnitude of the data.
Dialogue: This book actually contains a great example of how to use dialogue to develop and reveal character. Now that I think of it, it has a few. So many of the conversations, especially those that happen after the more major (spoiler related) events. If this category is an area in which you want to improve, this is a book that can help.
Description: While I think the same major thoughts apply from my last review, I do think this is better. That perception might be because this book is so much more action oriented. It would make sense, but this book did more for my imagination than its predecessor.
Overall: This book easily competes with the end of the war against the Red Court. It’s that good. I’m heartbroken if there really is only one book. If you can confirm it either way, please do so in the comments below. This story is fantastic, and brings Harry right back to his beloved place.
Spoiler free summary: Peace Talks is the sixteenth book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. All the magical powers in the world are holding negotiations to end hostilities, and that’s when Harry’s brother, Thomas, decides to do something stupid. Already caught between four very different and conflicting lives, Harry must navigate these tightropes that can’t coexist. But most people aren’t even remotely interested in peace. One group plans to use this for its own ends.
Character: On one hand, it was just so good to see Harry and Murph and the others, that a part of me just sort of relished having them back. I remember feeling like this book was good to see old friends, but that the story itself didn’t really move for me. However, just having the gang back after I don’t know how long, made me happy. I must also note (and I feel this is the right section to do this) that I sort of consider these two books to be one larger story kindly split in two reasonable chunks. They are absolutely part of one narrative arc. However since both were individual titles, I kept them as separate reviews. I think readers should read both one right after the other to get the right effect.
Exposition: I was a little surprised here because while there is exposition, I actually expected there to be more. It’s be a looooong time since we’ve seen Harry, and I for one didn’t re-read the other books to re-familiarize myself with the plot. There’s really not so much going on that one can’t catch up, but maybe this isn’t the book to start. Honestly, this book (if I understand what I think I understand) is sort of leading up to the very end of the Dresden Files, which I disagree with. There’s so many more directions for this story to go. Hopefully I’m wrong. Regardless, it’s still leading to the end of a conflict that has been building for a few books now. So new readers will, I think, be a bit lost.
Worldbuilding: Given that this is the sixteenth book, Butcher doesn’t really expand on the world he’s been writing in. Instead, he just uses it as a launching point. This is another reason why it’s not a recommended path for new readers. It’s a solid edition to the series, though not great in and of itself.
Dialogue: Most of my favorite authors have witty dialogue. This is no different. It’s good to hear the banter between characters. It’s every bit as enjoyable as any other. I don’t really know what one would have to do to have “great” dialogue. But good dialogue is that in which the conversations express character at least (if not more than) advance the plot or provide exposition.
Description: If I’m being fair, it’s hard to evaluate something I don’t typically want to think about. I know Harry is tall. I know Murph is short. I know Thomas is handsome. I know Harry’s grandfather is old. So I have what I need to a certain degree. I think Butcher is great with fight description and scene description. But I don’t know that I can see the characters so much. I don’t personally care. I tend to want stories where I can sort of book my own cast. But then I think about Wheel of Time, which got annoying with description, but I can picture those characters in my head. I think writers should consider this and what they want readers to do when they write stories.
Overall: This book is more of a ramp up to the next, and that’s OK. It’s not a great stand alone story. I even remember feeling a bit let down when it came down to it. However, the next book (see my review next week), delivers on the promise this book makes.
Spoiler Free Summary:Blunt Force Magic by Lawrence Davis is the first story in the Monsters and Men trilogy. First, I’ve already declared this the best book I read in 2019, and I stand behind that. Janzen Robinsion is a former apprentice to a group of heroic magic-wielding heroes, but that was five years ago, and none of his friends are alive. However, he stumbles into something that will cause him to choose to continue to lay low or rise to be the hero he was training to be.
Character: Janzen is a great character. He’s every bit as proactive as he is sympathetic. He’s competent in his own way, but his flaws lie in his stubbornness. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear Janzen was heavily inspired by Dresden. I don’t mind this at all given how long I’ve been waiting for a new book (which is coming by the way). I was such a fan of Janzen that I bought the next book in the series.
Exposition: Even for a first-person narrative story, the exposition is smooth. It helps that Janzen is custom made for first-person narrative. His voice and thought process brings life to the expositional content. The other note is the author does a great job of weaving in the pain of the main character’s past.
Worldbuilding: This is urban fantasy, so he had a lot to start with. However, we get introduced to some of the magic elements in ways that move the plot and expand what we currently know. In a book full of brilliant writing, this is actually the best part of the book from a critical standpoint. Anyone will notice the great characters and clever dialogue, but to be introduced to world-expanding elements in a perfectly-timed manner is impressive.
Dialogue: Janzen as a character and the dialogue are the two reasons this feels like a Dresden book. It’s clever and quick. It keeps the reader chuckling and tearing up in all the right moments.
Description: Like everything else about this book, the description was on point. It was visceral, activating all the senses. Davis put a lot of effort into not just helping us see the creatures (which a lot of urban fantasy writers do), but he also helps us see the characters. Side note: some of the characters have disabilities, and that brought a new dimension to the story.
Overall: This book was simply wonderful. The characters are charming. The plot grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags your mind and heart through a range of thoughts and emotions that leave you hungry to read Janzen’s next adventure. If you love urban fantasy like Dresden, you need to read this book.
My favorite thing about the blog so far is the inspiration I see from comments to older posts. I’m glad you all enjoy character studies as much as I do, and when I talked about “flawed” vs “Traditional heroes, you all gave me some great ideas.
The first idea I wanted to tackle was the idea of a hero, and what makes one heroic. I thought about this for some time, and decided it came down to sacrifice, courage, and loyalty. For my character study, I’m going to say I’d like my hero (regardless of his flaws or perfections) have all three of these if you look hard enough.
So since I have three traits, I should highlight three characters right? Makes sense to me at least. So without much more ado, here are three characters that I think are fantastic heroes because they exemplify these traits. BUT as a special aside, NONE of these characters are (at least regarded) as the main character of their stories. This means Sam is out from Lord of the Rings because I honestly think he is the hero of that book.
Perrin Aybara is absolutely my favorite character from Wheel of Time. Oh Rand is awesome and Mat is fun (and he has my name, so he has to be awesome right?), but Perrin’s heroics are worthy of study. (Look, Rand is easily a hero, but he’s too easy).
Sacrifice: He didn’t sacrifice his family. He LOST his family, but that doesn’t actually make one heroic. Not in my standing anyway. Instead, what he sacrificed was the simple life he always wanted. Through the whole saga he wants his wife and a simple life. This is exceptionally heroic as most people don’t long for that, especially in fantasy. Most characters dream of adventure and discovery, but Perrin just wants to be a blacksmith. He gave that up to be the man he knew he had to be. He continued to do so even thought it cost him.
Courage: Here’s where Perrin may fall short a bit in relation to the other two heroes I cover, but he still has it. No. I’m not talking about facing trollocs or whitecloaks. I’m talking about facing a part of himself that he doesn’t like. Look anyone can face external dangers. Fight or flight kicks in, and a man has to defend himself. That’s not (in and of itself) courage. It’s self preservation. Perrin faces his identity as a wolfbrother. He’s lived his whole life taught to believe wolves are evil, and THEN he realizes he’s becoming one (or like one). He doesn’t necessarily want to embrace this part of his life. Instead, he chooses to. He has reasons, but he doesn’t just face this part of himself out of self preservation or even to save his friends. He does so because he must.
Loyalty: This is where Perrin has the title. Rand frequently puts Perrin in the most danger. He even forces Perrin to go back home to deal with events in Book 4 that Rand can’t deal with. Rand has his reasons, but Perrin never fails to support Rand. He’s the first to try and understand Rand. He’s the one who goes home to defend it. He’s the one who steps up.
Xander Harris is the only character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer who doesn’t grow into something more. Heck even Dawn gets training as a slayer. Xander is just a guy.
Sacrifice: So where Perrin has some obvious areas of sacrifice. The question, if my criteria hold up, is what did Xander give up? This is tough because Xander is actually a pretty selfish character. Sure he LOSES people, but what does he let go of that he would have if he’d stepped away from the Scooby Gang? I thought about it, and nearly changed characters when it dawned on me. What he gave up was any chance to be special. Most people want a chance to shine.
Most people want a chance to be in the lime light or be seen as important. Xander happily plays third or forth fiddle to a group of people that become exponentially more powerful and unique than he is. There was an adorable episode in Season 3 where all he wants to do is help. He KNOWS something’s going on, but everyone sort of shuns him away. He also finds his power there. In that same episode he sacrifices the opportunity to be exceptional just to be a part of something greater than himself. Go watch that episode and see how he eventually turns that to an advantage. Every progressing season he stays back. He is the normal, consistent part of life for individuals that are so much more. This becomes the need he fills for the team.
Courage: This is more on the nose than I’d like. But when his sacrifice is his choice to remain normal in a paranormal world, he’s also choosing to willingly put himself in danger when he’s always out of his league. It’s different from Perrin. Perrin faces his own fears because he’s bigger and stronger. Then he gets more powerful. Xander doesn’t have those advantages. All he has is the willingness to put himself in harms way over and over again just to stay near those he loves.
Loyalty: He takes a knock here, but not a big one. Let’s put this elephant on the table. He hates Angel and wants to kill him. Maybe even still. BUT, when he CHOOSES to see good in a person, he’s untouchable. He brings Willow back. What helps his loyalty shine here is how fierce he is with it. He hates who he hates, and loves who he loves. He’s as true as the North Star, and he doesn’t shift. Even his tolerance of characters he’d rather see take a stake to the heart is based on his friends’ desire to see them protected (though again, Angel makes this hard to justify).
My final character is one I’m proud of myself for. This is mostly because, again, it’s easy to point out the hero of the story. They’re usually the ones on the cover. But my point is what makes a person heroic, and is it always the main character? In this case, how about Charity Carpenter from the Dresden Files. (Love you Waldo, but you have a (INSER COPYRIGHT) as you’re a (INSERT SPOILER) now. Don’t freak. I’m not saying he’s NOT a hero. But he was already rewarded as one, so I don’t have to defend him.) Charity though, she’s fascinating to look at under this light.
Sacrifice: I’m in the Navy, and I’m a coward. I chose to avoid a certain problem rather than ever face it. But let someone you love put himself or herself in danger time and time again. It’s harder than ACTUALLY putting yourself in danger. (Any of my service members want to argue?) She gives up her husband for years, and THEN has to let her daughter go. She also sacrifices the VERY power that would make her able to fight, and she lets this power go to be a mom.
Courage: I’m going to double tap this. Facing danger, easy. Letting those you love PUT themselves in danger? Nope. I can’t do that. I’d rather take on the entire magical world by myself with a slingshot and a prayer (no offense to that guy who fought a giant) than let someone I love come anywhere near danger.
Loyalty: Where Xander is loyal to a fault, Charity’s loyalty shines despite her wishes. She lets Harry in her life (and those of her children) because of Michael. In point of fact, she, though begrudgingly, allows Harry to remain in that family despite every reason to turn him away. THEN she agrees to watch over his child. Loyalty isn’t always shown by being there when your needed. Sometimes loyalty is putting up with a person you’d rather not just because someone you cared about asks you to. This is where Charity shines. No, she doesn’t exactly like it, and that much is obvious, but she still does it.
What do you all think? Do I have too many qualifications? Not enough? What would you add? What would you let go? Feel free to comment below. Or, offer other characters (I left a bajillion out).
As I write this, I’m stricken by a loss the world suffered. I won’t discuss it other than to mention the role that women can play in stories. I was basically raised in a house full of women. I had a few brothers that stayed with me on occasion, but the ratio in my house was always at least 2:1.
My mom raised me by herself for five years, and during those five years, I wasn’t very helpful to her. Because I know how strong the women in my life are, I look for female characters who are strong. There are different types of strength, and I’ll get to those, but for me, I hate any story that portrays a woman as anything other than a character who happens to be female. (For the record, I feel this way about religion, color, and ethnicity as well. Stories about race issues or religious issues are important, I’ll even write a few.) There’s a difference between a book about (in this case) women’s issues and a book that simply thinks women need men to exist.
There’s the Bechdel Test. But this only ensures the women have something to talk about. It’s a good test to put your characters through to prevent the issue I’m discussing, but I have a different challenge.
Develop your character. Determine everything you want to determine, then flip a coin to determine gender. Gender has a role in character. Men react differently in certain situations than women, but I’ve found that some stereotypes are mitigated when gender was determined after archetype and function in a story.
There are some amazing female characters in the world. Some that come to mind right away:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Who I may want to argue is the greatest female character of all time).
Egwene al’Vere from The Wheel of Time
Vin from Mistborn (Who may give Buffy a run for her money, but I’d still argue Buffy would win…okay…I’ll have to post a blog about that in the future).
Lessa from Dragonriders of Pern.
I could go on, but I just wanted to throw out a few things to consider.
The Bechdel Test has its limits both good and bad. Imagine a book about a woman who’s an assassin. She goes through the whole book killing bad guys and just being awesome. I’d probably love this book, but it fails the Bechdel test. There’s not even a second woman for the first to talk to.
My adaptation to this is that if you have women (or a woman) in the story, make them characters. You’ll never make everyone happy, but the first thing to do to ensure you have (we’ll call them) non-weak women in your story is to give them a role in said story.
The Next step is then to give them strength. Now, all of the above characters are extremes. They’re LITERALLY strong women. They could kill people, but that’s not the only type of strength. It is one way. And if you’re working on an action fantasy story, ask yourself, “Is the only reason this character isn’t a girl because I’m a guy?” But if you’re writing science fiction and there isn’t a “magic system” of sorts, don’t worry. Other ways to make those characters strong exist.
The Mentor Archetype: I’ve recently given Supergirl a second chance. I’m glad I did. That show’s pilot was still one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and I have issues with some of the on-the-nose “cause” plots. But I submit to you this:
The strongest female character in that show is Cat Grant.
Supergirl (Kara) has all these powers, but notice how heavily she relies on every other character in the show (particularly Cat) to move forward in the plot. In fact, the only time she’s “strong” is when she’s fighting. (Yes, that’s a pretty mean thing to say, but I watched the first season, and that’s true). Now, Kara has her moments. She finds out who’s responsible for a certain death, and that scene is amazingly strong. She’s not weak, I’m just saying Cat is far stronger as a character.
Cat is who the women on that show want to be. Cat is who everyone turns to for advice. Cat is the one who gets people moving. They still deal with a lot of issues, but they’re issues that are unique to her character, not her gender.
Writers, it’s fine to make women “super” but that doesn’t actually make them strong. Strength, in my opinion, isn’t a measure of power. Power, is a measurement of physical capability. It’s my opinion that strength is demonstrated when one’s power is lacking, but one finds a way to succeed regardless. So don’t think “give them superpowers” is the answer. Instead, give them a role in the plot that isn’t “love interest.”
Cat is the mentor in this scenario.
Other non-super, but still strong, female characters include:
Cindy Thomas (from The Women’s Murder Club series)
Karrin Murphy (A great character study in and of herself)
Stormy Llewellyn (from Odd Thomas)
My point is that character should be strong regardless of their attributes. I’ve posted blogs about developing characters and evaluating their progress. In light of recent events though I felt this post might be particularly effective. No, I didn’t mention that character or the woman who played her. She, quite frankly, requires no mention. She altered generations.