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.
“There should be some kind of rule against needing to kill anything more than once.”
– Harry Dresden, Grave Peril