The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Werthead

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The Dresden Files #3: Grave Peril



Harry Dresden, Chicago-based wizard for hire, finds himself drawn into a new case. A plea from a helpless young woman sets him on a course that will lead to a cataclysmic showdown with an old enemy, and may cost Dresden that which he cares about the most...


Grave Peril is the third novel in the Dresden Files series of urban fantasies and an important turning-point in the series. The first two novels, Storm Front and Fool Moon, were entertaining but little more than enjoyable fluff. Grave Peril is a considerably darker and more personal book, with Butcher's writing much more confident and assured as he puts Dresden through the emotional wringer. Whilst reading the book I was in put in mind of those 'gamechanger' episodes of Buffy and Angel when Joss Whedon would rip up the status quo by doing something to the characters that hurt them badly and established a new paradigm he would have fun setting up and exploring.

Grave Peril expands the cast of the Dresden Files with Michael Carpenter, a Christian knight armed with a magical sword, joining Dresden in his battle with the forces of evil. We also get a greater depth of worldbuilding, with both the vampire and Sidhe inhabitants of Dresden's world being fleshed out in a lot of detail. Whilst Butcher's approach does not stray too far from standard fantasy/horror depictions of these creatures, he succeeds in making them feel fresh and interesting, a near-impossible task given how ubiquitous these forces have become in recent supernatural fiction.

Butcher's writing is fun and enjoyable, with more of Dresden's attitude, character and humour bleeding through the first-person prose. His writing has definitely stepped up in quality from the first two books in the series and he effectively conveys the horror of several disturbing scenes in the book. He's become better at conveying emotion since the opening volumes of the series and several scenes are real gut-punches. There's also a more epic feeling to events, with ramifications from this book likely to extend over several books to come, opening up the story to something larger and more interesting in scale.

Some complaints remain. As with Fool Moon, Dresden is injured several times in the book and Butcher goes a bit overboard in his descriptions of how tired, hurt and helpless Dresden feels due to these injuries. There is the feeling that with each successive volume, Dresden's powers and abilities with magic are growing (along with those of his allies) and this requires Butcher to go to some lengths to 'nerf' Dresden's abilities to simply stop him using a hand-wave of magic to solve all of his problems. However, this is a minor issue, and Butcher's impressive improvement in the areas of prose and characterisation overcome it quite handily.

Grave Peril (****) is where The Dresden Files comes of age, and it does so with aplomb. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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The Dresden Files #4: Summer Knight



Harry Dresden is in trouble. He's inadvertently started a war between the vampires and the wizards' White Council, his girlfriend has suffered an unplanned magical transformation and he's in danger of being booted out of his house and office. When a new paying job comes along it seems like a great opportunity for Harry to get on top of his troubles...until he finds himself in the middle of another magical war.

Summer Knight, the fourth novel in The Dresden Files, picks up some months after the events of Grave Peril and is the first book in the series to feature extensive continuity call-backs to previous volumes without a huge amount of exposition about what's been going on. Four books and twelve hundred pages into the series, I guess Butcher decided it was time to stop catering for newcomers and get on with business.

Having covered evil warlocks, werewolves, vampires and ghosts in the first three books, Butcher explores the faeries of his setting in this volume (though they showed up in the previous book, there's more revealed about them this time around). Making faeries work as threatening forces is tricky in supernatural fiction due to the cliches that come to mind when they show up, but Butcher does a good job here, defining the Sidhe of Dresden's world in some detail as threatening and sometimes malevolent beings who are dangerous and tricky to deal with. Their addition to the story, along with more information about Dresden's wizardly colleagues, expands the scope of the worldbuilding nicely.

Butcher's prose is as enjoyable as ever, with Butcher continuing a nice line in black humour. This book is notably lighter in tone than the dark Grave Peril, but things are still grimmer than in the first two, slighter novels in the series. The continuation of an over-arcing story arc from the third book (which still isn't resolved at the end of this volume) gives a more epic feel to events, with Harry's mission in the book having larger and more important ramifications in the wider conflict and world. It's good to see returning characters like Billy and his werewolf pack, the Alphas, whilst Karrin Murphy returns to the forefront of the action and, as she puts it, successfully kicks some major supernatural arse in one well-realised action sequence.

At this point The Dresden Files is becoming an enjoyable television series in novel form (which makes the failure of the TV version of the series more of a shame, though that may be down to how much they deviated from the source material). Each novel so far has had a satisfying self-contained narrative, but also added to the mythology and, in the third and fourth books, has brought in larger storylines spanning multiple volumes that bring a more epic feel to the series.

Summer Knight (****) is another well-written entry in a highly enjoyable fantasy series. It is available now in the UK and USA.
 

Werthead

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The Dresden Files #5: Death Masks



Harry Dresden has a lot on his plate: he's been challenged to a duel to the death to determine the outcome of the war between wizards and vampires; he's been hired to find the missing Shroud of Turin; his old girlfriend Susan is back in town for unknown purposes; and, just to round things off, thirty arch-demons are on the prowl in Chicago. And that's not even mentioning a pair of European art thieves hitting town and all three Knights of the Cross turning up to confront a mutual foe.

Death Masks, the fifth book in The Dresden Files, is the busiest book in the series to date. It sports at least four distinct plot threads (along with several related subplots) which interconnect with one another in a number of unexpected ways as the novel progresses. Each one of these plots would be enough to drive a novel by itself and Butcher seems to delight in upping the ante and complexity of the series to new heights. Combined with the ongoing, series-spanning storylines, this makes Death Masks the most epic book in the series to date.

That said, Butcher takes care to ensure the story is fully comprehensible at all times, and drives the narrative forward with his customary energy and vigour. He also finds time for some accomplished characterisation, with recurring crimelord Jonny Marcone being developed particularly well. It's also good to see some other characters like Susan and Michael returning, along with the introduction of some intriguing new characters like the Archive (a mystical repository of knowledge taking the form of a little girl) and Nicodemus (a potential new nemesis for Harry). The first appearance of the Order of Saint Giles and the Denarian sect of demons also expands the scope of Harry's world impressively.

Death Masks (****) is another very strong entry in the series. New readers will be lost (I recommend they start with the first book, Storm Front) but returning fans will find yet another page-turning and entertaining urban fantasy novel. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
 
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