Yes, Harry Dresden was dead – or rather, mostly dead – but he's all better now, and back up to fighting trim as the new Winter Knight, thanks to the tender tough love therapy overseen by his new boss, Mab, the Winter Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Unseelie Fae. Just in time for her to give him his first real assignment – kill Mab's daughter Maeve, the Winter Lady. Why would Mab put a hit on her own daughter? How do you kill an Immortal anyway? And what's Santa Claus got to do with it all?
The answer to the first question helps further the overall shift in this series away from what was originally the tales of “the only consulting wizard in the Chicago Yellow Pages,” a simple urban fantasy series, to an epic of cosmic proportions. For it seems that our Universe – which includes the world we know as well as the linked worlds of Faerie, the Nevernever, and so forth – is under siege from without. Literally from Outside. There are some definite Lovecraftian overtones here. And it seems that Maeve, along with others who have appeared from the beginning of the series with increasing frequency, has fallen prey to One called here the “the Adversary” or the “Nemesis,” and is actively working to unleash dark forces that have been imprisoned beneath “Harry's buddy-island” Demonreach in a prison forged by Merlin himself. Add in a dash of internecine rivalry within the highly dysfunctional family that is the Winter Court, complicated by the fact that these beings of Faerie are, as alien as they may be in some respects, all too human in others, and you get a conflict that is heart-rending in its climactic tragedy. One that may destroy Harry and all that he knows and loves.
For the answers to the other two questions, I'm just going to send you to read the book itself. Cold Days is a typically – increasingly – complex tale from The Dresden Files that cannot be summarized easily. I'm not even going to try. There's an extensive summary on the Wikipedia page for this book, but it would be far better to read it for yourself – with a proper grounding in the thirteen novels leading up to it. Plus a volume of short stories, although those are less integral to the overall narrative. I wrote previously of my great love for this series. Characters and situations from throughout appear or are called back to in this volume, which ends with major shifts for some of my favorite denizens of Harry's world. His “padawan,” Molly, whom we've literally watched grow up from a gawky young teenager to a powerful wizard in her own right, over the course of a dozen or so books, becomes much more by the end of this book. And there is a definite sense that by the end of this series Harry will look back on the trials of this “file” and think, “Hell's Bells!, I had it easy...!” I mean, Butcher has revealed that his plans for the series are to cap it off with what he calls “The Big Apocalyptic Trilogy”!
But I will leave you with this: Not only does Harry meet Santa Claus in this book. He kicks Jolly Old St. Nick's ass!
Cheers! – and Thanks for reading!