You may not be familiar with a certain wizard named Harry. No, not that one. This guy lives in Chicago and has been thrilling readers for 20 years through 17 novels and numerous short stories. Over the course of his adventures, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has matched wits and wills with vampires, werewolves, ghouls, faeries, fallen angels, and more. In the latest installment, Battle Ground, he’s faced with his greatest foe yet: an honest-to-goodness Titan named Ethniu who is intent on destroying first Chicago and then, well, everything else.
Harry wears many hats. As a member of the White Council of Wizards, he carries the responsibility to enforce and follow the laws of magic. As the Winter Knight of Faerie, he has superhuman strength and tolerance for pain in exchange for allegiance to Queen Mab. And as the Warden of Demonreach (a supernatural supermax prison in the middle of Lake Michigan) he has the resources to lock up Ethniu if he can just get close enough. Soon every creature and hero from fairytale, folklore, and myth is fighting alongside the residents of Chicago in an epic, one-night-only war.
The entire series has been building up to this moment, so Battle Ground isn’t a great place for new readers to start. Harry has to team up with old friends and enemies alike, not everyone will survive, and no one remains unaffected. In order for these changes to carry emotional weight, it helps to know all of the backstories. Even at 400 pages, author Jim Butcher hits the ground running and doesn’t have any space to catch new readers up on the series’ considerable history.
Something that has set The Dresden Files apart over the years is the way Butcher writes his Christian characters. Though the Christianity in the stories is often just another flavor of magic (especially in this installment), the Christians themselves come through as honest and authentic. Michael Carpenter and his wife Charity, as the primary examples, are both human in their struggles and faithful to their beliefs in ways real-world believers can relate. And here, in the midst of one of the many battles, when magic fails, it’s a symbol of faith in the Christian God that saves Harry and his friends.
While many fantasy novels aimed at adults wallow in nihilism, The Dresden Files is noteworthy for its nods to hope and redemption. And while much mainstream fiction places great hope in humanity (which Dresden does as well), Butcher hints that human goodness alone isn’t enough to overcome true evil.
Battle Ground is like a Marvel Avengers movie crossed with The Lord of the Rings in a contemporary setting. Unfortunately, like a TV series past its prime, the story does seem at times to try and appeal to its fans in ways not entirely true to its characters. Butcher reportedly has an endpoint in mind, though, which should reassure anyone considering it that there will be a satisfying conclusion. (Penguin Random House)