I'm so conflicted on this one. On one hand Cold Days is an enjoyable romp through some crazy storytelling where the world gets expanded and Harry faces some pretty rough challenges. But on the other, reading it was like walking through a minefield. I was never sure when I was next going to be slimed by the male gaze, hit with unrepentant misogyny, or bombed with gender essentialism bullshit. And while a LOT of those mines can be justified with the character of Harry Dresden, and the challenges he's facing at the moment, I have to wonder at what point is the author only exposing this ugly underbelly of toxic masculinity and when is he just flat out endorsing it? Where is that line?
Harry is the new Winter Knight. He's bound by ancient magic to Mab and must deal with all the baggage that the mantle (power) that comes with being the Winter Knight. In some ways it's setting up the battle for his soul, does he have the willpower to overcome the urges imposed upon him by the power given to him? However, I do appreciate that Ghost Story laid out pretty clearly that he does have that choice, it's not predetermined that he will become a monster. And back to the plot. Winter Queen Mab, never one to go easy on anybody, gives Harry an assassination assignment. However Maeve, the Winter Lady is telling Harry that Mab may not be fully in control of herself. So Harry must decide who, in a court of deception, is his true ally. Meanwhile, Harry learns of the ancient battle taking place behind the scenes if Faerie. Plus, there are quite a few denizens of the Winter Court who are unhappy with the fact that Harry is the Winter Knight and have decided to kill him. It's awesome.
The meat of this book takes place over fourty-eight hours, and in that time Harry is shot, stabbed, poisoned, beaten, and bombed. You know, like a typical Dresden book. I swear half the delight in these novels is seeing each new obstacle thrown in Harry's path and then watching his resigned snarking as he figures out a way around them. At one point I threw my hands up in the air and shouted ANOTHER ONE as a new opponent decided to take a shot at Harry. It's just ridiculously hilarious at this point. I suppose the higher the stakes are, the more difficult it will be.
In many ways this book is the mirror to Summer Knight. The basic plot structures is pretty similar more so then just simply following a case to be solved, and while it's been a long time since I've read Summer Knight I'm pretty sure I could map out the beats that both novels follow. e.g. in Summer Knight this happens, in Cold Days this is the mirror, etc. However, it also felt like Butcher was answering some of the more vehement criticisms of Summer Knight, but the method in which he 'fixed' it isn't all that much better.
My biggest issue with this book is the unrelenting misogyny presented in the novel. Like I said above, this book is pretty bad on that front. All of the ugliness can kind of be explained away because much of it stems from the mantle of the Winter Knight, which is apparently steeped in toxic masculinity. The power of the Winter Knight comes with a lot of anger, possessiveness, and sexual desire. So it makes sense that Harry's view point, and the novels are written in first person so it's also the narrator's point of view, becomes more overtly violent and sexual in nature. Unfortunately this includes expressing the desire to rape every one of his female allies, hell every attractive female he comes across. My issue is that Harry's method of explaining it away is that ALL people have those urges he's just got an extra helping of them and so he can push it back down just like all people do. In other words, all men have some part of them that wants to drag off a woman and possess her sexually whether she wants it or not (you know, rape her). He explains it away as just a part of life and not part of the brainwashing our toxic culture inflicts on us. If I bring up Schrodinger's rapist (which isn't actually about the thoughts of men, more about the danger women live in in our culture) then I'm a horrible bitch who hates men, Butcher says all men think about raping women and sure yea that makes sense?
Here's another example. Maeve decides that she wants to control Harry, because she is a very power hungry character. She decides the easiest way to do this is to seduce him, which honestly is a smart idea. Harry rejects her. And he does so by calling her a hose beast. Get it, it's funny cause she likes sex. She gets offended and backs off. Now, why exactly is a woman who is clearly comfortable with sex (she's naked in this scene), has a lot of sex, and isn't part of the same culture that Harry is, offended by an insult that she has a lot of sex? It's clearly meant to be a funny moment, a kind of, 'haha you sure showed that bitch whose the boss. GO HARRY'. Maeve is startled and offended, and it's pretty clear she's reacting to the nature of the insult and not the rejection or the intention to be insulting. In other words, she's offended by being called a hose beast and not simply that Harry called her a name he thought was insulting.
Really what my issue boils down to is what I said in the first paragraph. I ask again, where is the line between exposing the ugliness of toxic masculinity and reveling in it? I don't know, but though I enjoyed the book I do think it crossed over that line. I will most likely read the next one, because I'm hooked again. God dammit. But I'm a lot more wary of the books then I was six years ago.