Harry Dresden is one of the biggest influences on my writing career and without him I wouldn't have completed Straight Outta Fangton, Esoterrorism, or I was a Teenage Weredeer. However, he's been gone since SKIN GAME in 2014. The Dresden Files have always had a strong forward momentum with near yearly releases keeping it going. The six year delay between books isn't the fault of Jim Butcher but still hampered fandom's ability to keep up with one of their favorite characters. I feared I wouldn't be able to keep up with what was going on.
So, what do I think of PEACE TALKS?
SPOILERS FOR UP TO BOOK 15#: Thankfully, this is not the problem as the book manages to give us an update on the status quo without too much confusion. Murphy is still recovering from her injuries sustained at Nicodemus' hands [and will never be 100% again or even 80%], Harry is still the Knight of Winter, Molly is the youngest Queen of the Unseelie, and Butter is now a Knight of the Cross. Things seem to be going actually quite well when he receives the bombshell that the Fomor want to have a peace conference with the White Council after several years of low-level war.
Harry is not in a great space with the White Council due to being a representative of the Unseelie Court and it's surprising that they still recognize him as a member of the White Council. I actually assumed they would have removed him as a member but his position would have gone up due to the fact the Knight of Winter is an important delegation for a friendly(ish) foreign power. Harry can't be a FBI agent (Warden) while serving as head of China's secret service (Winter's Knight), at least that's how I assumed it would go. So when they threaten him with removal it doesn't really have the same level of sting to it.
I won't spoil the rest of the plot but Harry finds one of his loved one's endangered and must choose between their welfare versus starting an international incident that could derail the titular peace talks. We've been down this road before as far back as GRAVE PERIL. Harry is never going to be able to put the big picture ahead of the small one. The question is how he's going to screw things up, not if. Much to my surprise, I have to say the book did not go in the direction I expected though. It is full of believable but unexpected twists and turns that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
The standout character of this book is undoubtedly Ebenezer McCoy a.k.a the Blackstaff. Always an important part of Harry's life, we get new insights into him and what happens when their ideological differences come to an end. Ebenezer will always do what he feels will yield the greatest good while Harry will never cross certain lines in the name of love. Seeing this rock and a hard place crash is amazing and the reasons are entirely believable.
I also really appreciated the appearance of both Lara Raith as well as Molly Carpenter. I really enjoy whenever Harry has sexual tension with either of them. I'm not a Karrin/Harry shipper and think they should never get together like Mulder and Scully. Unfortunately, this book leans heavily into that and I hope the next one will crash and burn the relationship. That's a very personal bias, though.
In fact, this is the best book for Lara Raith since maybe BLOOD RITES. I've always been a fan of Lara Raith but she's rarely gotten a chance to show her vulnerable side. Here, we find out that she effectively raised Thomas from diapers and is as much his mother as his sister. Watching her and Harry work together in a Marvel team-up is enough to justify the book's existence by itself.
Fans of BRIEF CASES or the short stories that make it up will get a lot of this book as it references quite a few of those tales. I personally enjoyed the entire Sasquatch trilogy and if Jim Butcher had been a bit more flexible with his build-up to the epic conclusion of his series (note: not a criticism) think we could have had an entire novel about Bigfoot the same way we did in the earliest days of the series.
My biggest complaint about the book is the fact it very much ends in a cliffhanger and we won't find out what happens next until BATTLE GROUND. I really wanted to know more about the investigation, the peace talks (which I think didn't have nearly as much time as they deserved), and other central mysteries. There's also an absolutely bizarre scene where we discover Butters is living the Hugh Hefner lifestyle with poly werewolf girlfriends. Way to respond to criticism he was becoming too much of a wish fulfillment character, Jim. Does your fictional creation have dirt on you? Has he somehow bribed you? Inquiring minds want to know.
I could have given this book a 4 out of 5 with these flaws but I'm just glad to have Harry back and have pre-ordered the sequel already. This is a solid and entertaining story with humor, action, good characterization, and pretty good follow-up on Skin Game's many changes to the status quo. Harry is one of my all-time favorite urban fantasy heroes and this is a return to form for him. I don't think I've enjoyed any book of his as much since CHANGES.