Category Archives: Jim Butcher

Books by Jim Butcher.

Review 63: White Night


White Night by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 12

We’re coming up to the theoretical midpoint of the series, since Butcher has suggested that he might take it to twenty books or so. Given that number, I’d say it’s time to look at the series-level story as well as the particular adventure for this book. It’s pretty clear that Butcher has a much larger story arc that he’s working on, moving us slowly away from the one-shot mysteries of the early volumes and into a larger world.

If we want, we could divide this series into thirds, and right now, I’d say we’re well into the second third. I would put the first from Storm Front to Blood Rites, with the scarring of Harry Dresden, the discoveries he makes about his mother, and the damage done to his relationship with his mentor. It’s Harry losing his lone wolf status and beginning to become a part of a larger community. He has friends now, something that was missing at the beginning, and people he truly cares about. In other words, he has much more to lose.

The second third began with Dead Beat and continues through this book. Harry becomes part of The Establishment, has something living in his head that could probably get him killed, and takes on a young apprentice, giving the former lone wolf a lot more responsibility. His decisions now have greater impact on both the mortal world and the world of the magic-users. He’s going up against far more powerful foes, and encountering moral dilemmas that prevent him from knowing when he’s actually doing the right thing.

This book is, in my opinion, a weaker sample than the ones that have come before it. Probably because it’s the one with the most convoluted and difficult to explain back-story, one that the reader has to piece together along with Harry and friends.

In simple terms: the White Court vampires – who feed on emotional energy rather than blood – are in the middle of a power struggle. Their King, of the Raith family (who feed on lust) is about to be toppled by the Malvora (who feed on fear) and Skavis (who feed on despair). The White Court despises open confrontation, and traditionally do their dirty deeds through proxies and cats-paws. This makes it nigh impossible to see any kind of action by the White Court in a straightforward and clearly understandable manner. It’s certainly more interesting than the standard vampire direct approach, but it creates additional challenges for the author and reader.

In the middle of this power struggle, someone is killing women of magical talent – not strong enough to be members of the White Council of Wizardry, but women with talent nonetheless. And there’s a guy who looks an awful lot like Harry Dresden who’s been seen sneaking about with these women. Given the rumors flying about, rumors that Harry has become darker, angrier, and considerably more powerful, well… people think the worst, as people often do.

It’s once again up to Harry to not only clear his own name, but to also clear his brother, Thomas of the White Court, who’s been very obviously keeping secrets. All the while, he has to keep from being seduced by the shadow of a Fallen angel in his head, make sure his young apprentice doesn’t stray from the straight and narrow, try to help his first love protect the women she’s sworn to help, and generally try not to get killed by any of the horrible things that want to kill him.

It’s a fun read, as they all are, with some great character moments in it – one of the true strengths of the series. Butcher’s characters behave, by and large, like real people, saying things that we could imagine saying to our real-people friends. His writing is, as usual, compelling and engaging (with the exception of some incredibly purple writing over on page 235 – “We’re all of us equally naked before the jaws of pain” – that stood out like a drag queen at a bake sale). The books are all very quick reads, but it isn’t because they’re simple – this book defies simplicity – but because they’re interesting to read, with very few wasted words and a good sense of what the reader needs to know.

As soon as it got to the White Court civil war, however, Butcher began front-loading a lot of information that probably should have been more liberally sprinkled throughout the previous books. I knew about the Raith family, and their penchant for Lust, and I knew that the White King wasn’t exactly the power on the throne. But I wasn’t prepared for the Byzantine levels of power-plays that go with White Court politics, and found it kind of rushed. It is possible that I was being a Lazy Reader, and indeed on the second read I found it easier to follow, but still – when you’re dealing with villains who disdain clear and obvious action, you need to make sure the readers can keep up with the story. It’s a fine line to walk, especially in a first-person narrative – the reader can’t know more than the protagonist does, so feeding those hints to the reader is difficult work. Putting another White Court storyline into the series before this one might have helped, but if we look at the series story arc, there may have been no good way to shoehorn that in.

There were far more interesting story points in there that I would like to have seen expanded upon: Molly Carpenter’s training, the evolution of Lash, the darkening of Harry’s reputation within the magical community…. They’re all interesting, and no doubt essential to the goings-on of the later books. And I’m pretty sure that what happened to the White Court will also be really, really important as well – I just hope Butcher remembers to make sure we have it all clear in our heads.

This is all just nitpicking, as the intrigues of the Vampires aren’t my favorite part of the series. I’m sure there are plenty of readers out there who would be perfectly happy if the rest of the series was just Harry the Vampire Slayer, and I can’t say I blame them. To each their own, right? Regardless of my preferences, I can say that the world of the Dresden Files is complex and ever-shifting, which is worth making time to read it.

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“Life’s easier when you can write off others as monsters, as demons, as horrible threats that must be hated and feared. The thing is, you can’t do that without becoming them, just a little.”
– Harry Dresden, White Night
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Review 59: Proven Guilty


Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count – 14

It’s one year later….

Many things have changed for Harry Dresden, some of it good and much of it not so much. He has family now, in the form of his half-brother Thomas (who happens to be a vampire of the White Court) and a giant dog named Mouse. His relationship with Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department is as solid as it’s ever been, and making very tentative exploratory steps into becoming a different type of relationship altogether.

He has a job – a real one, as a Warden – and all the responsibility that goes with it. The job of Wardens is to be the police and foot soldiers of the White Council of Wizards. When a Wizard breaks one of the seven Laws of Magic, the Wardens can act as investigators, judges and, all too often, executioners. The irony, of course, is that the same Wardens used to watch Harry like a hawk, as he had been accused of using magic to kill, thus breaking the first law. He got off light, under a “One strike and you’re out” form of probation with the melodramatic name of The Doom of Damocles. The Council needs Wardens, though, and Harry got tapped. Like it or not, he’s part of the Establishment now.

As if all that weren’t enough, he also has the shadow of a fallen angel in his head and an ongoing war with the vampiric Red Court to contend with. And in the midst of all this, he’s given two small, seemingly unconnected jobs to do: find who’s been dabbling in black magic in Chicago and find out why the Red Court vampires have been allowed to use the lands of the Faerie to attack the White Council of Wizardry.

They should be simple, or reasonably so. But they’re not. They never are.

Someone is using black magic to create fear. That fear is allowing terrible, terrible Things into the world, creatures that feed on fear and take the forms of some of the most terrible movie monsters we know (all of whom are, of course, based upon real characters, with only the names changed to protect Butcher from Lawyers). These creatures have already killed, attacking at a crowded horror movie convention, and Harry is determined to see that the person who called them forth pays for doing so. With blood and pain, if possible.

The discovery of the Black Magician, however, puts Harry in an impossible situation where he has to test his loyalties to both his friends and the Council. Fortunately, Harry being Harry, he puts his friends first and is determined to do the right thing, whatever it takes.

Oddly enough, “whatever it takes” happens to involve storming Arctis Tor, the stronghold of the Winter Faerie Queen, to chase down the creatures that stole off Molly Carpenter – the daughter of Michael, the Knight of the Cross. With his friends by his side, Harry goes off into what is almost certainly Certain Death, knowing that even if he saves Molly, she may ultimately be doomed.

When all is said and done, we get another glimmer of insight into how Dresden’s world works. It’s not a very nice place, and although the history of Wizarding is something that Butcher has avoided thus far, we get the impression that it was, until recently, a tumultuous profession. Easy to understand, really – you get someone with Phenomenal Cosmic Power, and odds are that he’s going to abuse it. Perhaps bend someone to his will, or try to turn some hapless victim into a frog. Even such things as time travel and contacting the Things that live beyond the Outer Gates would be possible, were it not for the swift and draconian execution of the Laws of Magic.

Harry represents an institutional change here – he’s someone who’s suffered under the Laws, who has seen how the merciless application of a rigid law can do more harm than good. Now, as a Warden, an authority figure, he has a chance to change all that. But it won’t be easy for him – wizards are a conservative bunch, by and large, and many of the more powerful ones are not well inclined to the idea of changing with the times. But they will have to change – their numbers are depleted, the war is going badly, and it seems that there is a Black Council out there, well-equipped to fight and destroy their White counterpart.

And of course there’s his relationship to the world beyond the Council. As was noted in the last book, Harry has changed. He’s become famous, not so much for saving the day and foiling the plots of evil masterminds, but for bringing death and destruction wherever he goes. As much fun as that sounds, it seems that watching people flinch when you raise your voice is not something that stays fun for very long.

And still in his mind is the shadow of Lasciel, a Fallen Angel, the merest fraction of whose consciousness is enough to tempt Harry into greater and greater levels of power – for a price.

It is, as with the rest of the books, a very good read. The tone has changed somewhat – it’s more tired, more cynical than the early books, which reflects the internal struggles that Harry is going through. But it’s fast-paced and exciting, with more than a few very interesting surprises along the way.

Also, because of the movie convention setting, there are plenty of good movie references peppered throughout the book. It makes me feel closer to Harry, since quoting movies was a major form of communication with my friends and me back in college. People here in Japan just don’t do it, and I feel the loss.

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“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.”
– Harry Dresden, Proven Guilty
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Review 55: Dead Beat


Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count – 13

While I was on my long commute to work (not so bad, as it affords me more reading time), I wondered what the Harry Dresden from Storm Front would have made of the Harry Dresden from this book. I imagine he probably would have been scared. And to be honest, I don’t think I would be able to blame him.

There’s necromancy afoot in Chicago, and as much as he doesn’t want to be, Harry is in the middle of all of it. He’s been charged by one of the most dangerous vampires in the world, Mavra of the Black Court, to find the missing volume of a series written by one of the most notorious necromancers in human history. When the necromancer Kemmler was alive, it took nearly the entire fighting force of the White Council of Wizards to stop him. Now his disciples are all hunting for the book, trying to be the first one to kill everyone in Chicago and become a god.

It’s a mission he can’t refuse. If he should do so, Mavra has evidence in her possession that would destroy the career of one of the people closest to Harry – Lt. Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department. In the previous book, Murphy helped Harry take out a nest of Black Court vampires, killing several humans who had been enthralled to the vamps. These Renfields were human only by technicality, but a photograph of Murphy blowing one’s head off would still be damning evidence. Should Harry not do what Mavra wants, the pictures would be released, and the one thing that Murphy truly loves would be gone.

The point of this book, broadly, is Harry discovering that past actions still have present consequences, and that the choices he has to make are not always good ones. While Harry does save the day, he does so at a cost.

Harry has become legitimately scary by this book. His friends and his allies aren’t sure about him anymore, either his motives or his sanity. The people who have stood steadfastly by him now find themselves afraid of him, and what he might do. And for good reason, really. Harry’s been through a lot in the last few books. He’s lost the woman he loves to the Red Court vampires, he very nearly lost his hand fighting Mavra and he’s now absolutely terrified of using fire magic as a result. On top of all that, he’s discovered that being someone’s brother doesn’t automatically mean you get to understand them. Or like them. Or be able to live with them.

So yeah, Harry’s had it rough. With most humans, it’s hard to see change from the inside, and I’m sure Harry doesn’t think he’s changed all that much. He knows he’s gotten a little angrier, maybe a little more solitary, but from his point of view it’s a logical progression. For people who aren’t with him all the time – Billy the Werewolf, Mac the World’s Best Tavern Owner, for example, the changes are drastic. And truly frightening. Harry’s still a good guy, don’t worry about that.

He’s just not a nice guy.

This book is awash in general awesomeness, and introduces a lot of good new characters, both on the good and bad sides. My favorite is Waldo Butters, the Medical Examiner for the Chicago PD. He goes from being a slightly quirky ME who kind of believes in the weird and unusual (he spent 90 days under psychiatric evaluation when he refused to classify vampire remains as human). By the end of the book, he becomes positively heroic, and is a very good avatar for The Reader. We all like to believe that we would take the world of the supernatural, if it existed, in stride, but we probably would have reacted just like Butters did when he first saw things he was not prepared for – denial, disbelief and then abject terror. He comes around, though, as I’m sure all of us would.

We also get to meet a few of the remaining Wardens of the White Council. The war has gone very hard on their numbers, and there are very, very few available to fight a group of mad necromancers in Chicago. The Red Court has dealt them such heavy blows that it’s not unreasonable to think that there’s a mole in the White Council somewhere. Who it is, though, will have to wait for another book. Their numbers have been slashed, and they need every able-bodied magic user they can get. The deal they offer Harry for their assistance is a surprising one, but makes perfect sense. And it will play heavily into the books that follow.

There’s also one genuine “Holy Shit” moment in this book. I won’t tell you what it is, because that would just spoil the whole thing. All I can say is that it’s at the end of chapter 38. You can’t miss it.

From here on out, this is going to be a very different series. Bigger, darker, as if that were possible, building on the foundation of the previous books to make something far more elaborate and interesting. I can’t wait to see what it ends up being.

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“Polka will never die!”
– Waldo Butters, Dead Beat
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Review 51: Blood Rites


Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 19 [1]

As far as I know, The Dresden Files is an open-ended series that Butcher will continue to write until he decides to end it, which is fine with me. He’s set up a universe that has endless possibilities to it, from simple mysteries to humorous romps to soul-searing betrayal and heartache. Can’t go wrong with all that, and if Butcher wants to just keep putting out Dresden books every eighteen months or so, I’ll happily keep buying them.

One of the dangers of such a plan, however, is stagnation – you end up rehashing similar plot points, perhaps throwing in a few twists and turns, but never really advancing the plot because, well, you don’t know where the plot is going. I can imagine Butcher would get to a point where he thinks, “Ummm… Okay, Harry Dresden fights vampire werewolves…. from the future!” At which point, the shark has been well and truly jumped. As I’ve said before, I would much rather see a series end well than see it go on beyond its useful life and leave me with sad, sad memories. I’m looking at you, X-Files.

While I don’t know if Butcher knows exactly where the series will finally end (though he probably does), he does manage to avoid stagnation very nicely, mainly by putting Harry in mortal danger. Okay, that’s nothing new, but this time it’s Mortal Danger with bonus Crippling Injury! And a side order of Serious Disillusion to boot. This book really stirs things up for the world of Harry Dresden and lets the readers know that there is far, far more in store for us than we knew. So bravo to you, Jim.

In this volume, Dresden is asked by his kind-of-sort-of friend Thomas to do a favor for him. Despite being a vampire of the White Court and a soul-sucking incubus, Thomas is an okay kind of guy and has helped Harry out of a few tight spots in their time. He can’t say he trusts Thomas, but he likes him. And therefore we like him as well. The job sounds simple: a movie producer has been having weird accidents happen to people linked with his movie, and two women have already died mysterious deaths. Harry’s job would be to figure out who’s putting the bad mojo on the movie studio and stop it.

The fact that it’s an adult movie studio is not brought up until later.

In the process of trying to help out with an astoundingly powerful (and regular) Evil Eye curse, Harry runs afoul of the Black Court vampires in a side plot that really has nothing to do with the main one. This seems unusual, since most of the Dresden books that have featured multiple cases do so in the spirit of Raymond Chandler, where we find out that they were all part of the same case after all.

The B plot in this book is an attempt to put down Mavra, a truly terrifying member of the Black Court of vampires. The Black Court is the type of vampire we all think of when the word comes up – the Nosferatu, the Dracula, all black and dry and horrible. They’re also the toughest, most resilient and most vicious of the vampire clans. What’s more, Mavra is an accomplished sorceress, whose power makes even Harry Dresden think twice about crossing her. Which is why he has a Plan this time. And we all know about Harry and his Plans….

All of this, though is incidental to the things he learns in this book, both about himself and the people he trusts. Those are the things that truly shake up his world and which will shape the books that are to follow. This book is a turning point for Dresden, and not a good one. While the Black Court plot, for example, didn’t have much to do with the main plot, it sets up very important elements and concepts that are deftly exploited in later books. And Harry’s always-fragile relationship with the White Council endures what could be a crippling blow.

All this is setting up the next few books and laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. One of the things I’ve come to admire about Butcher’s writing is that nothing is wasted. I once heard that the process of writing a story is like packing for someone else’s hiking trip – you only want to put into the bag what you think that person will absolutely need. After all, if they get to the end of their hiking trip and they haven’t used that ten-pound bag of rice you thought might come in handy, they’re going to be very pissed off at you.

Butcher doesn’t do that. You can be sure that the elements he lays out in his stories will be used, sooner or later., and you’ll never be left wondering, “But what was that scene with the baseball player and the chicken farm about?” If Butcher puts a baseball player and a chicken farm into his book, there’s a very good reason for it, and you’ll find out eventually.

As with the other books in The Dresden Files series, this is great fun to read. Which makes it no surprise that the series had some measure of success outside its original format – a TV series and a comic, at last count. I look forward to following it as it goes on.

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“No matter how screwed up things are, they can get a whole lot worse.”
– Harry Dresden, Blood Rites
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[1] One of these was the maxi-expletive “Hell’s holy stars and freaking stones shit bells,” which I must commit to memory

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Review 46: Death Masks


Death Masks by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 16 (plus two editing errors – “break” for “brake” on page 24 and “shield” spelled “shielf” on page 319)

It’s the “Hell’s bells” that started it. I don’t usually make notes on spelling errors in books. I do notice them, of course – they practically jump out at me and dance around – but these are the only ones where I make a note of the page.

Anyway, on to the book. If you’ve been following the series this far, you know that Harry Dresden, Wizard for Hire, has really gotten himself into deep doo-doo. Aside from his usual problem of taking on cases in each book that end in his getting the everlovin’ beat out of him, there’s a larger story arc to take in – in this case, the war between the Vampires of the Red Court and the White Council of Wizards. Which, as much as he tried not to, Harry incited and, by all the ancient laws of not killing one’s host at a party, he is definitely guilty of. To be fair, the host that he killed, Bianca, was trying to get him to do break the Rules of Hospitality so that she could kill him because he made her so angry way back in Storm Front that she drained one of her favorite servants dry.

It’s a complicated world they live in.

So far the book-level arcs and the series-level arc have been pretty distinct, though I suspect that they will become more and more intertwined as the series goes on. Sooner or later they’ll merge, and all hell will break loose. Literally, I have no doubt.

In this book, Harry has two major problems to deal with. The first is a duel – the Red Court really wants him dead, and they’ve sent one of their oldest and most powerful representatives – Don Paolo Ortega – to challenge him to a duel. To, of course, the death. Harry certainly doesn’t want to die, but the consequences of not dying might be even worse. Should Harry try to duck out of the duel, hired mercenaries are spread throughout Chicago, ready to take out everyone who means anything to Harry.

If Harry should win, of course, the city will be declared Neutral Ground, and the Vampire-Wizard war will have to rage on elsewhere. Overseeing all this is The Archive, a seven year-old girl who has the entire history of humanity – every word written, every word spoken – in her head. She is a being of enormous power, and can be reduced to giggles by a cute kitty cat. She and her bodyguard/driver Jared Kincaid are there to see that the duel goes according to the rules, and are ready to exact very harsh and fatal punishment to he who violates them.

Again, the White Council, who by all rights should be standing by one of their own, is secretly hoping that Ortega will take Dresden down. The Wizards are losing the war to the vampires, and any excuse they can find to call a stop to the death and destruction is a welcome one. The trouble is, the Vampires may not want to stop….

In the other corner, Dresden has a paying job, one that is uniquely suited to him – find a certain relic for the Vatican. It’s priceless, of course. A length of linen cloth with a variety of stains and discolorations that may or may not have the imprint of the resurrected Jesus Christ burned into it. Yes, it’s the Shroud of Turin, or as Harry would call it, “The freaking Shroud of Turin.” It is, of course, an immensely powerful artifact, regardless of whether or not it really is the burial shroud of Christ.

Magic, as Harry tells us, is greatly about emotion and belief. If you want to do a spell, you have to really believe in that spell. You have to know down to your bones that it’s going to work, or it won’t work at all. It takes great hatred to make a voodoo doll work, for example, above and beyond the usual magical accoutrements that one needs. Millions of people believe in the divine nature of the Shroud. That gives it power, which can be used for benevolent or, as is the case in this book, malevolent ends.

This is where we meet some of the more dangerous foes in Dresden’s universe: the Denarians.

The Denarians (more formally The Order of the Blackened Denarius) are a group of fallen angels who are far, far nastier than the usual breed. There are thirty of them, each bound to a coin, an ancient Roman denarius, which may or may not have been the silver coins paid to Judas for a kiss. When a human touches the coin, the fallen angel is able to make contact and enlist that human as a mortal carrier. Some of the Denarians seduce their hosts, where others just use brute force to subjugate them. Either way, the Denarians are millennia old, nigh immortal, and evil down to their cores.

The leader of these creatures calls himself Nicodemus, and he wants the Shroud so that he can do terrible, terrible things to the world. Not end it, necessarily, but bring about the kind of chaos, panic and disorder that he and his kind thrive on.

Fortunately, Harry has the Knights of the Cross on his side – Michael (whom we have already met), Sanya and Shiro. The three of them are willing to fight the Denarians, but want Harry out of it. Why? Our old friend the half-understood, vaguely worded prophecy. Which, like so many other prophecies throughout history, should be regarded as highly suspect.

There are a lot of layers to this story. We get a fun new group of baddies to deal with, a better understanding of the war between the Vampires and the Wizards, and even another, more human look at John Marcone, the undisputed head of the Chicago underworld, who is also looking for the Shroud. For slightly less nefarious purposes, however.

Each book builds on the ones that came before it, yet each book lives on its own, which was a very good decision on Butcher’s part. While you will certainly want to jump straight into the next book upon finishing this one, you don’t actually need to. There’s a certain amount of closure, with just enough loose ends to fuel your speculation for the next book. I shouldn’t have to say this by now, but – go get ’em.

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“The Council. Arrogant. As if nothing significant could happen unless a wizard did it.”
– Shiro, Death Masks
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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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Review 37: Dresden Files 03 – Grave Peril

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

“Hell’s Bells” count: 26

If you’re reading this series in sequence (which you absolutely should be, or things will stop making sense very quickly), you’ve got a good handle on how the world of Harry Dresden operates. He’s a lone wolf, so to speak, standing up to the Occult Forces of Chicago with only the support of his contact in the Chicago PD, Lt. Karrin Murphy. There’s also intrepid investigative reporter Susan Rodriguez, for whom Harry’s feelings are slightly more than professional.

There’s also the mysterious White Council of Wizards. While you may think that belonging to a worldwide magical fraternity might be a good thing, Harry Dresden would most certainly disagree. To be fair, he has a history – he did kill his mentor using black magic, which is something so bad that it’s number one on their list of Things a Wizard Must Not Do, which comes with one free beheading. His associates in the White Council barely tolerate him, and make it very clear that he’s worth more to them dead than alive. But more about this in other books….

The point is that Harry so far has been a fairly small-time operator. Yes, he takes down evil sorcerers and vicious werewolves, but mostly on his own. In this book, the camera pulls back a little and we learn more about his world and his connections, and a broader story starts to emerge.

The most interesting of these additions is Michael Carpenter, an associate of Harry’s whose view of the world comes from a very different place. Michael is a religious man, a committed Christian who sees Harry’s use of magic as impure and sullied, but associates with him anyway because they have a shared goal: the elimination of evil. Michael Carpenter is the Fist of God, one of the three Knights of the Cross. As such, he wields a faith powerful enough that even Harry can feel it. Oh, and he also wields a giant sword. With one of the nails from the True Cross worked into it. Amoracchius is a powerful weapon against evil, and a prize that anyone would be glad to have.

In this book (as in all his books), Harry is given more trouble than he can handle. It begins with ghosts, as so many things do. The ghosts of Chicago are being stirred up by something – they’re acting out in ways they would never act, causing an above-average amount of chaos and disorder in the city. And when there’s ghosts around, tearing up the pediatrics ward of your local hospital, who is it you’re going to contact telephonically? That’s right – Harry Dresden.

The ghosts are the least of his worries, however. The force behind them, the malicious entity that is driving the ghosts mad, is of far more concern to him. There’s something out there, a Nightmare, that is out for blood. It’s attacking Harry and his friends, and doing it through their dreams. Not just Harry’s friends who are in good with the supernatural, but some of his Muggle buddies as well. This thing is angry, evil, and can tear a person’s soul apart, leaving an empty husk that does nothing but try to scream.

As if that weren’t enough, the Red Court of Vampires is having a party, and they want Harry to come. Sounds lovely, right? A costume party with the vampires, a promise of protection to all invited guests – how can you have a better night? Myself, I’d start by not hanging around a house full of vampires and their allies. Especially when the hostess, a high-ranking member of the Court, has a serious personal grudge against me. The vampire Bianca wants Harry deader than dead, and she manages to set off a complex series of events to make sure it happens.

This book, as I said, expands the Dresden universe a bit. It assumes that the readers are fairly comfortable with what we know, and gives us a lot more to think about. The world-wide spread of vampires, the hide-bound White Council, and the ramifications of having a Faerie Godmother. In the previous books, we saw Harry come out on top against small-scale foes – now the camera pulls back to show us how he goes up against larger institutions.

In this book, Dresden is almost always out of his league – although I can’t imagine who would be in their league while facing a hoarde of really pissed off vampires while being on the brink of death already. Buffy, probably. Or River Tam. Anyone written by Joss Whedon, I guess. But Dresden makes it through. Not in the “Finding reserves of strength you never knew were there” style found in the Whedon Supergirls, but more in the “This just might be crazy enough to work, unless I kill myself doing it in which case it might not go so well after all” style.

Plus, it has my favorite trope of modern fantasy fiction – even if the hero wins, he doesn’t actually save the day. In fact, things get a whole lot worse. Which is all gravy for Jim Butcher, because it means he has all the more material to work with for the rest of the series.

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“There should be some kind of rule against needing to kill anything more than once.”
– Harry Dresden, Grave Peril
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The Dresden Files on Wikipedia
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Grave Peril on Amazon.com
Jim Butcher on Wikipedia
Harry Dresden on Wikipedia
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