Category Archives: fairies

Books about or featuring fairies.

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

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Review 151: Ghost Story

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Hell’s Bells count: 27

In the acknowledgment section of the book, where Butcher very kindly thanks all the people who helped it come into existence, he clarifies something very important: the end of the last book, Changes, was not a cliffhanger. Absolutely not, no matter that it really, really looked like one, smelled like one and felt like one. After all, in that last scene, Dresden is on a boat, and then shot through the chest by a sniper of some sort. He drops into the cold waters of the lake and sinks and, as far as we know, dies.

Noooo! You've gone too far, Harry!!

In order for it to be a cliffhanger, then, Butcher would have to reveal at the beginning of this book how Dresden got out of such a terrible situation. Maybe he could call on some last reserve of magic or be saved by merpeople or something, but the strictures of the cliffhanger would demand that Dresden, once the next book began, not be dead but saved by some unexpected, yet still believable, means.

So, yes, Butcher is right – it’s not a cliffhanger. Dresden is, indeed, dead. He did not escape, he was not rescued. He is dead.

Now in most series (comic books excluded, of course), the death of the main character would be something of an impediment to continuing the series. But The Dresden Files is not most series, and Harry Dresden is not most main characters. He has done too much and is far too important to be allowed to do a silly little thing like die. Harry Dresden is necessary to a great number of plans and schemes by a great number of people. What’s more, his death wasn’t exactly fair, insofar as such a thing is possible.

And so he is brought back by the Powers That Be in order to balance the scales and set things right, which is ultimately what Harry Dresden has been doing all along. He’s to go back to Chicago and find his murderer, lest terrible things happen to those he loves.

Fortunately, while there are meddling kids, Harry wins them over, and the giant ridiculous dog is on his side.

The catch, of course, is that he has to come back as a ghost. This is a problem for many reasons, not the least of which is that doing a murder investigation is substantially easier when you have, well, substance. It’s hard to punch someone in the face when your fists just go right through them. So Dresden first has to figure out how to make himself known to the living world, in addition to coming to grips with his limitations as an untethered spiritual entity. Once he’s figured that part out, he has to not only solve his own murder, but keep a body-hopping necromancer from becoming indescribably powerful, save the only man who knows how to deal with being a ghost, try to redeem a bunch of street kids who are under the influence of a minor sorcerer, and figure out what to do with the real mess he made when he died.

You see, Harry’s death, and the events that led up to it, created a power vacuum – not only in Chicago, but all over the world. With the destruction of the Red Court of vampires, the magical rulers of the world are fighting tooth and nail over land and resources, and what has mostly resulted from that is bloodshed. Forces all over the world are converging on Red Court territory, each one determined to claim what they can.

This was the very first Google Image result for "Ragged Lady." The book is forever changed for me...

In Chicago, the news of Harry Dresden’s death invited all sorts of new power players into the city, who were previously smart enough to stay out. Harry never truly understood the reputation he had until he sees what his friends have to do to match it and keep the city safe. Now that the Great and Powerful Harry Dresden is out of the picture, a newer and more terrible protector has emerged to keep away those who would do the city and its inhabitants harm. The Ragged Lady is all that stands in the way of the Chicago that Harry knew being overrun.

Mix in the Faerie, a new group called the Formor, the mob, and a few representatives of the afterlife, and you have a confusing and volatile situation. Which is pretty much where Harry Dresden is most at home.

As with the other Dresden Files books, this is a lot of fun to read, mainly because it looks at Harry and his friends from a new point of view – the outside. In the six months that he’s been “away,” the people he loves have had to go on without him, and even in that short time they have become different. They have had to make choices that they wouldn’t have made while he was there, and they certainly don’t interact with him the same way they once did. Harry has to re-learn who these people are, with the understanding that his decisions did not change their lives for the better.

Then again, showy violence can be pretty cool sometimes. (Art by Dan Dos Santos)

In addition, we learn more about Harry’s past and what made him the way he is, and we finally see him start to think about whether being the person he is is really a good thing all the time. He excels in showy violence, hitting first and asking questions later, without taking a more nuanced view of the situation. Well, now he can’t hit, at least not in the ways that he’s used to. He has to look at his old ways in a new light and figure out how to get what he wants through other means.

Really, if you’ve read this far in the series, you’ll enjoy this one. Butcher continues to do a good job in giving us what we want, while at the same time showing us things that are truly unexpected. There are some wonderful moments in the book, a few exposition-heavy moments while Harry is filled in on the situation, and a good mystery to be solved. Enjoy.

——

Death should be a learning experience, after all, or what’s the point?
– Leanansidhe, Ghost Story

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Filed under afterlife, death, detective fiction, Dresden Files, fairies, fantasy, ghosts, Jim Butcher, murder, mystery, quest, wizardry

Review 42: Summer Knight

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s bells” count: 14

In the last book, Harry Dresden saved the day. He fought some of the strongest the Red Court of the Vampires had to offer and came out, well, more or less intact. To do so, he also managed to make himself the target of nearly everything in the Nevernever (the mystical other-world from which all the nasties and scaries ultimately come), lose his girlfriend to a bunch of bloodsucking fiends, and instigate an all-out, world-wide war between the White Council of the Wizards and the Red Court.

So yeah. Mixed blessings and all.

Now he’s practically working himself to death to avoid actually being killed. After all, saving the day is nice, but it doesn’t usually come with a check at the end of it, and there are bills to be paid. When we see Harry again, some months after the disastrous events at Bianca’s nasty little costume party, he’s working himself to the bone. He’s become a recluse, hiding from as many people as he can. He does this for two reasons. First, he’s spending a lot of time looking for an antidote to Susan’s vampirism – or semi vampirism, anyway. She hasn’t drunk from a person yet, you see, and until she does that she’s not really a vampire. It’s a hard job, though, which is why she not only turned down Harry’s proposal of marriage but also left the country with instructions that he not try to follow her.

So the love of his life is incommunicado, and Harry doesn’t know if she’s alive or dead – or worse. What’s more, he believes that it is his fault that she got this way, even if it really isn’t. One of the criticisms that can be laid at the feet of Harry Dresden is his deep-seated male chauvinism. He doesn’t believe that women are inferior or anything quite so barbaric as that. He believes that they’re special, that they should be treated with an extra measure of care and respect. He hates the thought of harming a woman, and will go out of his way to see to it that the women he cares about are kept safe from anything that might hurt them.

Unfortunately for him, Harry tends to hang around with women who don’t want to be taken care of, namely Susan Rodriguez and Karrin Murphy. Both of them are strong-willed women who want to be part of Harry’s life, and neither one of them particularly appreciates being told to sit on the sidelines because they’re girls. In fact, this attempt by Harry to protect them, more often than not, brings them more trouble than if he had trusted them to begin with.

I say this because it was good to see him make a little progress in this book. Following the events of Grave Peril, in which she was psychically tortured – though perhaps “raped” would be the better word – by the spells of a dead sorcerer, Murphy found herself broken. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t concentrate. She was afraid of everything, a shell of who she had been. So, in order to bring her back at least part of the way, Harry tells her everything – his dark past, the White Council, all the things he’s not supposed to share. While it was by no means a magic recovery potion, it went a long way towards establishing their equality as fellow hunters of evil.

And all this really has little to do with the plot itself, which is a pretty straightforward murder mystery/supernatural power play. Queen Mab of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, needs Harry to find out who killed a servant of the Summer Court, the Summer Knight. Queen Titania of Summer thinks, and not without reason, that it was Mab who had the knight killed. Harry has to get to the truth, and he has to do it before Midsummer’s Eve, lest the two courts go to war and take our world with them.

For the White Council, this is an excellent opportunity. If Dresden succeeds in helping Mab, she will give the Wizards safe passage through the Nevernever, which will in turn allow the Wizards to better prosecute their war against the vampires. If Dresden fails, the vampires will (in theory) be happy, and the war will end on its own. Either way, there’s a very good chance that the White Council will finally rid itself of Harry Dresden, something they’ve been trying to do for quite some time.

So for a simple murder mystery, it’s really not very simple at all. We get a good look at the expanded universe of Harry Dresden, and it’s a scary place to be. This time he’s going up against some truly heavy hitters, with some very serious stakes, not the least of which is his own life and his own free will. For the first time, we are privy to the workings of the White Council, how they work and how they don’t work, and it’s very easy to understand why they and Harry don’t get along so well.

As with the other books, this gets my full recommendation. It’s fast-paced and interesting, and there’s some damn fine character work. A bit of very good banter between Murphy and Harry caught my eye that makes both of them much more interesting and believable (not that they weren’t before). It’s moments like that throughout the series that show Butcher’s care for the characters and his desire that we see them as real as he does. Also, a very nice Indiana Jones reference, only involving unicorns.

So – and you’re going to get tired of hearing me say this – go get this book. Go get all the Dresden books, and settle in for some good reading.

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“As I pulled into the parking lot, I reflected that odds were that not a lot of clandestine meetings involving mystical assassination, theft of arcane power, and the between the realms of the supernatural had taken place in a Wal-Mart Super Center. But then again, maybe they had. Hell, for all I knew, the Mole Men used the changing rooms as a place to discuss plans for world domination with the Psychic Jellyfish from Planet X and the Disembodied Brains-in-a-Jar from the Klaatu Nebula. I know I wouldn’t have looked for them there.”
– Harry Dresden, Summer Knight
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