Category Archives: magical realism

Review 206: Cold Days

LL 206 - Dresden 14 - Cold DaysCold Days by Jim Butcher

Hells Bells count: 35

Be Warned: This is a new volume, so if you’re not up to date then you might want to save this one for later!

Sometimes I wonder how much Jim Butcher had planned in advance. I mean, this is book number fourteen of a series that’s been going for twelve years. Whether he’s got a giant, intricate plot map pinned up along the walls of his writing office or he’s making things up as they go along, I’m impressed. As we get further into the exciting life and times of Harry Dresden, one thing that is clear is that the series has always been moving in a very clear direction, and that the things that came before are what inform the things that come later. Jim Butcher is not a wasteful author, and that gives him the ability to do a lot of really impressive things.

As we open this story, Harry Dresden is no longer dead. He was, sort of, and had all kinds of grand fun as a ghost, but now he’s alive and it’s time for him to start paying off the debts that he incurred in the process of dying. The first of these debts is to Mab, the great and terrible queen of the Winter Faerie.

Not this kind of Winter Knight, but it'll do.

Not this kind of Winter Knight, but it’ll do.

Many, many books ago, Mab offered Harry the position of the Winter Knight – a mortal who would be the strong arm of the queen. He would be her sword, to strike where she pointed. Harry refused until he could refuse no longer, taking on that mantle in exchange for the power that would allow him to rid the world of the Red Court of vampires. And as much fun as vampire genocide is, that’s not really his job anymore. Now that he’s alive again and under no other obligations, Mab has a purpose for him. At its face, it is a terrible purpose, one that makes no sense and yet which Harry is obligated to fulfill.

On the other hand, there is Demonreach. Mab’s partner in keeping Harry Dresden’s body… let’s say viable while he was away as a ghost, Demonreach is the spirit of an island in the middle of Lake Michigan. This island isn’t on any maps, and it’s devilishly hard to find, but it represents a huge well of magical and spiritual power. This island needs Harry Dresden in order to do its duty. Demonreach is not just an obscure Brigadoon that enjoys hiding from the eyes of the unworthy – it is a guardian against powers that would ravage the world. If it is going to maintain its control and keep the peace, it needs Harry Dresden.

While all this is going on, we learn of a new force that is at play in the world. This is rather in keeping with the way the Dresden Files books have worked thus far. Every so often, our point of view is changed, and our field of vision is expanded. Way back in Storm Front, Harry Dresden was a small-time wizard investigator, not well-loved in the wizarding community but good at what he did, and that was pretty much all we saw. As the series progressed, we discovered more about the White Council of Wizards, the three Courts of Vampires, about the ever-feuding faerie realms of Winter and Summer. We went on to discover angels and demons and things that walked between them, ghosts and goblins and creatures that were just barely understandable by our mortal minds.

"KNOCK KNOCK"

“KNOCK KNOCK”

Now we take another step back, out beyond the borders of our reality as we know it. Outside our universe, there are… things. And those things want in. Why they want in is not really understood. Maybe this universe is more hospitable, maybe they’re just bored. All we know is that to let them in is to let reality as we know it die. That’s bad enough, but what is worse is the knowledge that some of them are already here. They’ve snuck under the walls, so to speak, and are carefully and busily undermining our defenses. In a game that is so intricate and dangerous, these things use great powers as pawns – including Harry Dresden – and look forward to their inevitable victory.

As with so many of the other Dresden Files books, this is a solid read, and you’ll fly right through it. Despite being vast in scope, encompassing the fate of the world as we know it, the book is still very personal, letting us follow Harry along the strange, winding path he has to walk whether he likes it or not. Harry has always been a dangerous guy to know, but now that he’s the Winter Knight, that danger is even greater. There are forces arrayed against him that he wouldn’t be able to understand even if he knew what they were, and simply being the Winter Knight is a challenge unto itself. Taking up that position doesn’t just come with awesome new powers and a direct line to some of the most powerful creatures in creation – not without a price. There are obligations as well. Rules and requirements. And, of course, dangers.

When he’s done, he’ll have more answers, and he’ll have more problems. Whatever comes next, we can be sure it will be even bigger and scarier than what has come before, and it’ll be a treat to see how he manages to beat it.

——
“I kept a straight face while my inner Neanderthal spluttered and then went on a mental rampage through a hypothetical produce section, knocking over shelves and spattering fruit everywhere in sheer frustration, screaming, ‘JUST TELL ME WHOSE SKULL TO CRACK WITH MY CLUB, DAMMIT!'”
– Harry Dresden

The Dresden Files on Wikipedia
Cold Days on Wikipedia
Cold Days on Amazon.com
Jim Butcher on Wikipedia
Harry Dresden on Wikipedia
Jim Butcher’s homepage

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Filed under Dresden Files, fairies, fantasy, Jim Butcher, magical realism, murder, wizardry

Review 182: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Huh? Oh. Oh, man. Wow.

I just had the weirdest dream.

There was this little town, right? And everybody had, like, the same two names. And there was this guy who lived under a tree and a lady who ate dirt and some other guy who just made little gold fishes all the time. And sometimes it rained and sometimes it didn’t, and… and there were fire ants everywhere, and some girl got carried off into the sky by her laundry…

Wow. That was messed up.

I need some coffee.

That was roughly how I felt after reading this book. This is really the only time I’ve ever read a book and thought, “You know, this book would be awesome if I were stoned.” And I don’t even know if being stoned works on books that way.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which is such a fun name to say) is one of those Writers You Should Read. You know the type – they’re the ones that everyone claims to have read, but no one really has. The ones you put in your online dating profile so that people will think you’re smarter than you really are. You get some kind of intellectual bonus points or something, the kind of highbrow cachet that you just don’t get from reading someone like Stephen King or Clive Barker.

Marquez was one of the first writers to use “magical realism,” a style of fantasy wherein the fantastic and the unbelievable are treated as everyday occurrences. While I’m sure it contributed to the modern genre of urban fantasy – which also mixes the fantastic with the real – magical realism doesn’t really go out of its way to point out the weirdness and the bizarrity. These things just happen. A girl floats off into the sky, a man lives far longer than he should, and these things are mentioned in passing as though they were perfectly normal.

This is not a recommended way to read this book. That’s not to say it doesn’t work…

In this case, Colonel Aureliano Buendia has seventeen illegitimate sons, all named Aureliano, by seventeen different women, and they all come to his house on the same day. Remedios the Beauty is a girl so beautiful that men just waste away in front of her, but she doesn’t even notice. The twins Aureliano Segundo and Jose Arcadio Segundo may have, in fact, switched identities when they were children, but no one knows for sure – not even them. In the small town of Macondo, weird things happen all the time, and nobody really notices. Or if they do notice that, for example, the town’s patriarch has been living for the last twenty years tied to a chestnut tree, nobody thinks anything is at all unusual about it.

This, of course, is a great example of Dream Logic – the weird seems normal to a dreamer, and you have no reason to question anything that’s happening around you. Or if you do notice that something is wrong, but no one else seems to be worried about it, then you try to pretend like coming to work dressed only in a pair of spangly stripper briefs and a cowboy hat is perfectly normal.

I’m not saying this happens in the book, but I’m not claiming it COULDN’T.

Another element of dreaminess that pervades this book is that there’s really no story here, at least not in the way that we have come to expect. Reading this book is kind of like a really weird game of The Sims – it’s about a family that keeps getting bigger and bigger, and something happens to everybody. So, the narrator moves around from one character to another, giving them their moment for a little while, and then it moves on to someone else, very smoothly and without much fanfare. There’s very little dialogue, so the story can shift very easily, and it often does.

Each character has their story to tell, but you’re not allowed to linger for very long on any one of them before Garcia shows you what’s happening to someone else. The result is one long, continuous narrative about this large and ultimately doomed family, wherein the Buendia family itself is the main character, and the actual family members are secondary to that.

Colonel Aureliano Buendía could have made his fish from ice and saved a lot of time…

It was certainly an interesting reading experience, but it took a while to get through. I actually kept falling asleep as I read it, which is unusual for me. But perhaps that’s what Garcia would have wanted to happen. By reading his book, I slipped off into that non-world of dreams and illusions, where the fantastic is commonplace and ice is something your father takes you to discover.

——
“[Arcadio] imposed obligatory military service for men over eighteen, declared to be public property any animals walking the streets after six in the evening, and made men who were overage wear red armbands. He sequestered Father Nicanor in the parish house under pain of execution and prohibited him from saying mass or ringing the bells unless it was for a Liberal victory. In order that no one would doubt the severity of his aims, he ordered a firing squad organized in the square and had it shoot a scarecrow. At first no one took him seriously.”
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
——

Gabriel García Márquez on Wikipedia
One Hundred Years of Solitude on Wikipedia
One Hundred Years of Solitude on Amazon.com

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Filed under family, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, magical realism