Malin’s #CBR5 Review #145: Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is now one of the wardens of the White Council of wizards, and he’s about as thrilled about it as many of the wizards on the council are about him being recruited. Harry’s asked to look into rumours of black magic in the Chicago area, and his mentor, Ebenezer McCoy, also requests that he enquire with his faerie contacts about why the Fey Courts are refusing to involve themselves in the conflict with the Red Court of vampires, even after the vampires broke into faerie territories in the Nevernever.

Harry still owes Mab, the Winter Queen, two favours, and his dealings with the Fey never really turn out in his favour. Lily, the new Summer Lady (youngest of the three Summer Queens) owes him a favour, but neither she nor Fix, the Summer Knight, can directly answer Harry’s questions, or aid him, due to a compulsion laid on them by Titania, the Summer Queen, who’s not exactly one of Dresden’s biggest fans. Getting the answers McCoy wants isn’t going to be easy.

The possible black magic use he’s been asked to investigate seems connected with mysterious attacks at a horror movie convention. Molly Carpenter, the teenage daughter of Harry’s friend Michael, comes to him for help. Her boyfriend is the chief suspect after a man was viciously attacked in a bathroom, but claims he’s innocent. Shortly after Harry arrives at the convention to investigate, a number of people are attacked by a seven foot tall assailant who looks just like the killer in the slasher flick recently screened.

Full review.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #99: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

I don’t know what it is about this book, exactly, but I think it might be my favorite in the series so far. I’m giving it five stars because I really like the direction Butcher is taking this series in, and because it had all of my favorite Dresden stuff in it in a more fun way than the last two books, which were five star reads in a more intense way.

The book opens with Harry being in rehab for, well, for being dead for six months. You can imagine the recovery time for that. Mab has got Harry in Winter and is nursing him back to health by trying to kill once or twice a day. Classic Mab. When he’s recovered enough to take up his duties as the Winter Knight, that’s when the fun really starts. On top of most of the sidhe being out to get him, and his friends and family being pissed he didn’t tell them he was alive sooner, Harry has 24 hours to figure out who and what are going to blow up Demonreach, the island that Harry became the magical warden of several books back. If he doesn’t stop it, the explosion is going to take most of Illinois with it and release hundreds of thousands of demonic beings into the mortal world. And he has to do it all while trying to figure out who’s good, who’s bad, and which people in either group want him dead (the answer being lots on both sides).

There were so many things I liked about this book, it’s hard to list them out. I loved the whole tone of the thing, Harry having to face the challenge of coming back from the grave (so to speak — he wasn’t really technically “dead” after all), dealing with Molly and his brother (Thomas and Harry <3) and Murphy. I loved how different in structure and intent this one felt to all the others, especially the first eleven books (the last two broke the mold in their own special ways). I loved the lurk of Mab, and the uncertainty of her intentions. I loved the new fairy, who better end up being Toot’s girlfriend. I loved how the plot actually managed to surprise me, not once, but several times (a rare thing, simply because I read so much). I loved how each of Harry’s interactions with recurring characters show how far he and this series have come. I loved Demonreach, and Harry being inexplicably naked for the entire last part of the book. And I super loved the glimpse of The Big Stakes that we and Harry get, because it sets the whole series in a new context, and hints at the future to come.

The direction of the series from here on out is a complete mystery. Other than the vague hints we get (Harry and Molly working for Winter, for instance, and that giant wall of fighting fairies), Butcher’s previous rulebook just doesn’t seem to apply. There’s a lot of stuff in play right now, and it’s very exciting. Can’t wait for Skin Game to come out on 2014, and it’s been a blast catching up on this series this year.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #144: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

It’s nearly Halloween (Harry’s birthday) and Harry Dresden is less than thrilled to discover that his friend Police Lieutenant Karrin Murphy is going off to Hawaii with another man. He’s even less thrilled when Mavra, an extremely powerful vampire of the Black Court, who he hoped they’d managed to kill in Blood Rites, turns out not to be dead and is blackmailing him with Murphy’s involvement in the case unless he helps her. If Harry doesn’t find something called the Word of Kemmler in three days, Mavra will make sure Murphy’s career is ruined, and that she may very well face criminal charges because of aid she gave Harry on a mission against the Black Court vampires. Harry obviously can’t let that happen, and so he has no choice but to agree to the vampire’s demands.

Turns out the Word of Kemmler is a book, the last writings of a very powerful and very dangerous, now dead, necromancer and whoever possesses the book will gain access to terrible powers. Harry’s not the only one looking for the Word. Three of Kemmler’s former apprentices are in Chicago, wanting the to be the first to find the book and become the most powerful necromancer of them all.

Full review.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #132: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only consulting wizard, is asked by his White Court vampire friend, and sometime ally, Thomas Raith to help a movie producer who seems to be the target of a death curse. As Thomas has aided Harry in the past, and even saved his life, Harry can’t really refuse, but he demands payment both from the client and Thomas, in the form of information about why the vampire has been helping him, sometimes even at the risk of Thomas’ own life. But how will Harry react to the truths that Thomas is so reluctant to share?

It turns out that the movie Harry is supposed to act as supernatural security on, and pretend to be an production assistant on, is a porn flick, which everyone of his acquaintances seems to find hilarious. The job quickly turns a lot more dangerous than Harry had expected, with the vicious death curse striking twice a day, affecting anyone close to Genosa, the director. It quickly becomes apparent that Thomas and the rest of the Raith family are more closely connected to the imperilled movie production that Thomas let on, and because Harry’s life never seems to be complete unless multiple parties are trying to kill him, the powerful and vengeful Black Court vampire Mavra is determined to end him, one way or another. Full review on my blog.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #83: Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost_Story_ButcherI am really, really glad I didn’t give up on this series. It took longer than it probably should have for the books to get this good, but now that he’s reached the middle of his series, Butcher isn’t afraid to get all experimental and I’m totally loving every second of it.

Changes ended with Harry Dresden being gunned down by a mysterious assailant and sinking to his death in the cold waters of Lake Michigan. (I mean, what other way could he have ended a book that featured so many life-altering changes to Harry’s life, most of them bad? It seems obvious in retrospect.) Only, because this is fantasy, dying doesn’t really prevent us from following Harry to his next destination.

I’ve read books where characters momentarily die and visit the afterlife, but I’ve never read one where the narrator stays dead for any significant period of time, and I’ve certainly never heard of an established character in a long-running series doing something like this*. Of course, the novelty is a large part of the fun, but I also think Butcher does a really good job exploring the ramifications of Harry’s death not only for Harry, but for all his friends, family, and the city of Chicago as well. Harry has to navigate his new, er, lifestyle and the reactions of those he loves, all while mayhem — in typical Dresden Files fashion — threatens to break loose.

*That doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before, just that I’m not aware of it if it has.

The book also ends with a couple of hopeful yet chilling twists that I won’t spoil, just in case you haven’t read it yet. But it’s good, trust me. I really don’t understand why people didn’t like this book — from what I understand on the internets, it was pretty controversial for some reason? I’m not seeing it. So what the hell. Five stars! (It’s probably more like 4.5, but I’m feeling generous, and the ending more than made up for any dragginess in the middle.)

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #119: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

3.5 stars

This is the fifth book in The Dresden Files, the books about professional wizard Harry Dresden. This review may therefore contain some spoilers for books that came earlier in the series and also for this one, and you may want to skip it until you’ve read the books up to this point.

Harry has a number of difficulties facing him – his ex-girlfriend Susan (who Harry’s been moping over since she left him a few books ago) is back in town, getting ready to pack up her stuff to move to South America, and Harry is worried she may have found a new guy. A powerful Red Court vampire is also in town, challenging Harry to a duel, to settle once and for all the bad blood (pun intended) and warfare between the wizards and the Red Court once and for all. If Harry refuses to duel, the vampire will hunt down and kill anyone Harry cares for or has worked with, so he’s not really got much choice in the matter. Thirdly, a priest wants to hire Harry to look for the stolen Shroud of Turin, and it seems like there are demonic entities who’d like nothing better than to find the artifact first, so they can unleash a devastating plague on humanity. The rest on my blog.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #97: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Rating: 3. 5 stars

Harry Dresden is a wreck. He spends all of his energy trying to save his ex-girlfriend Susan from the vampiric curse that’s pretty sure to claim her, and as a result, he may lose his office, his apartment and what few friends he has left. Mab, the Winter Queen of Faerie wants him to figure out who killed the Summer Knight, and most importantly, prove that she isn’t the murderer. Harry tries to refuse her offer, but there are more complications thrown his way.

The White Council of wizards arrive in Chicago, and most of them want to gift wrap Harry and deliver them to the vampires, hoping this will make the vampires stop waging war. The only way Harry can keep them from basically stripping him of his wizard status and giving him up to become a vampire chew toy, is by accepting Mab’s offer. If he doesn’t figure out who killed the Summer Knight and stole his power, the Summer and the Winter Queens go to war against each other at Midsummer Eve, and that will have catastrophic results for the entire world. He should probably clean himself up a bit.

More on my blog.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #57: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

side jobsSide Jobs is a collection of short stories and novellas published by Jim Butcher in various anthologies. Each story follows Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard for Hire, on smaller cases in between books (and one case that is from Thomas’s POV). The only exception is the last story, which is new for the collection, and takes place about two hours after the ending to Changes (and made me want to go out and read Ghost Story immediately . . . sidenote, this novella may also be indirectly responsible for me accidentally becoming a criminal).

I think it was very considerate of Butcher to publish these in one place so I don’t have to track them down myself (either that or his publisher wanted money and he gets my good will as a side bargain). I really resent when authors publish things in anthologies because it’s so hard for me to keep track of everything, which I realize is a horrible and stupid reaction, but I don’t care.

Most of these stories are fun little side trips (hence the name) that wouldn’t have fit elsewhere in the books (some are a bit shoehorned in, as there are thematic requirements to some of these anthologies, i.e. the star-crossed lovers one with Murphy and Harry). And the very first story of the collection is a bit shaky, not that I’ll hold it against it, as it was the very first bit of the Dresden Files Butcher ever wrote, and as he admits in the intro to the story, it’s at best an amateur effort and only included for funsies basically. That’s probably my favorite part of the collection, actually, is those introductions in front of each story. Well, that and the last story, which is told from Murphy’s POV.

If you’re a Dresden Files fan, this is a must read. Don’t pick this up as an intro to the series. You will be lost and/or not care. Or maybe I’m lying and I just want you to read things in order like a normal person. Wow, this review is weirdly angry. I think I need a snack or something. TOODLES.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #53: Changes by Jim Butcher

changesEverybody give Jim Butcher a slow clap. He’s finally written a book that impressed me so much that I’m willing to give it five stars. (It only took him twelve tries to get there!) I’ve been waiting for something awe-inspiring in order to bust out the five star rating, and I’m pretty sure this book qualifies.

Changes is a rather literal title. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find something within its pages that doesn’t represent a change in Harry Dresden’s life (or that of his friends and family), whether its something as minor as dealing with a broken wizard’s staff, or as major as learning you have an eight year old daughter that you never knew about. A daughter who has been kidnapped by a vengeance-seeking noble of the Red Court vampires. Harry deals with both in this book, and the whole range of the spectrum in between.

Actually, let’s list out all the changes that happen in this book, so I can better illustrate for you just how monumental this book is in terms of the whole arc of the series (this should be obvious, but DO NOT READ IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE SPOILED):

1. In the very first sentence of the book, we (and Harry) learn that he has an eight year old daughter, Maggie. She is the product of his one night reunion with Susan back in Death Masks. Susan never told him about her, and sent the little girl off to live with a foster family so she would be safe. Harry understandably becomes very, er, UPSET, about most of this information and remains that way for the rest of the novel.

 Harry’s office, which has been with us since the very first paragraph of the first book, was blown up by Red Court vampires. (They get away with this, we learn, because they actually own the building. In a neat bit of continuity, Butcher mentioned that Harry’s rent went up a couple of books ago in passing, and it turns out that the Red Court buying the building was the reason why.)

3. The White Council is sidelined by a mysterious illness, and new Senior Council member Christos makes his power play. After books of inaction and thumb twiddling on the part of the Council, this is pretty significant.

4. Harry receives an inheritance from his mother: her knowledge of the ‘Ways’ of Faerie, an extensive collection of passages to and from the Never Never, which enables Harry to travel quickly from one place in the world to another.

5. Harry learns (finally, the dolt) that his apprentice Molly is in love with him.

6. Harry’s infamous car, The Blue Beetle, is finally and utterly destroyed, after eleven books of it being wrecked and fixed, over and over again. (Inside the car is also his wizard staff, which is also destroyed.)

7. Harry’s apartment is burned to the ground by minions of the Red Court, along with all of his worldly possessions (excepting a few illicit magical items he had hidden from the FBI, like Bob the Skull and The Swords). Again, this is a place well established in these books. It is kind of mind boggling that all of these things  Butcher has set up for as givens in his storyworld are just completely disappearing.

8. Harry gives in to Queen Mab and becomes the Winter Knight in exchange for the extra power he needs to save his daughter. (He also needs her to heal him, as he breaks his back falling off of a ladder while trying to rescue his neighbors from their burning building and seems to be paralyzed from the weist down.) This is actually probably the biggest change in the book as it has so much potential not only to change the way Harry views himself, but how he lives, and how the books from here on out are structured. He essentially gives up his freedom and independence in order to save his daughter, something inherent in the Dresden worldview as built up over twelve books, and as such, is not an act we can take lightly or that can easily (if ever) be undone in the world Butcher has created.

9. Susan becomes a full vampire of the Red Court and Harry kills her in order to destroy the entire Red Court (the machinations of this are too complicated to explain, just read the book). This is also a huge moment for him, as he murders someone he loves, knowing full well it doesn’t have to be done. He also takes responsibility for her murder of Martin, which caused her to become a vampire in the first place, as he essentially goaded her into it, knowing what the outcome would be (the destruction of the Red Court, the end of the war with the Council).

10. The entire Red Court is wiped out, thus ending the war that has been going on since book three, Grave Peril, when Harry rescued Susan from the Red Court vamp, Bianca. It’s fitting that he should be the one to end it, as he was the one that started it. This potentially has implications for the entire world as Butcher has created it, as Harry mentions that there were a lot of Red Court vamps hiding out in plain sight in powerful positions worldwide, and now they’ve just simply vanished.

11. Harry learns that his mentor, Ebenezer McCoy, is also his maternal grandfather.

12. Murphy loses her job as a cop thanks to the events of the book, and will presumably take up the holy sword Fiddelachius, and become a Knight of the Cross. This still leaves Amoracchius to be taken up by some unknown person in a later book.

13. In the aftermath of saving Maggie (Maggie having been bundled away to safety by Father Forthill) and before he takes up the mantle of Winter Knight, Harry finally makes a move on Murphy. She doesn’t reject him.

14. Oh yeah, and Harry dies. The book ends with him being shot by an unknown assailant while on the deck of Thomas’s boat, The Water Beetle, while waiting for Murphy to show up for their date. From what I’ve heard of book thirteen, Ghost Story, this is not a condition he will get out of in a hurry.

If I hadn’t already read a couple of interviews with Butcher where he pretty much stated it outright, this book would have clued me in that Butcher is playing the long game with this series, and this book was clearly designed as the pivot point. The series was often unpredictable before Changes, but it followed a general formula, where certain things were always a given. Now, though. That’s pretty much all shot to hell, and the next eight books in the series will be very different than what’s come before.* Because it was designed as a pivot point, a lot of previous storylines paid off here, and it was incredibly satisfying for that to happen after having spent twelve books with these characters. One of the advantages of television, which is why I always compare this series to TV, is that spending long periods of time with characters creates a different type of relationship between them and the reader.

*Supposedly, there will be twenty books in the The Dresden Files proper, to be followed immediately by a trilogy to be called The Big Apocalyptic Trilogy (tentatively to be titled, cutely, Hell’s Bells, Stars and Stones, and Empty Night, after the magical profanity Harry is prone to using).

Anyway, all of this is to say that I’m REALLY glad I stuck with this series after almost giving up on it after book three, and thanks to my buddy Dan in particular for giving me the recommendation in the first place. (One of my favorite things on the internet is this sentence he wrote in his review of Turn Coat: “It’s next to impossible for me to write anything about this series without it devolving into incoherent fanboy sputtering followed by a loss of consciousness.”) I figured if someone could possibly love something that much, it must be worth sticking around for. It took a while, but I turned out to be right. So thanks, Dan!

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #40: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

3475161I’m going to keep this (relatively) short because I’m about 7 gajillion reviews behind, but this series just keeps getting better and better. There aren’t many series that I’ve read that up the ante like this as they go along. In fact, most start out really promising and then totally biff it along the way. The Dresden Files just keeps getting more interesting and exciting and emotionally complex. I think a lot of that might have something do with Butcher having started this series as a formulaic urban fantasy noir, but he’s taken it to another place in the decade plus since. It’s definitely not ‘epic fantasy’ but one might choose to use the phrase EPIC when describing it, if only because starting a new Dresden book lately makes me want to get on the floor and roll around and maybe squeal for a little bit.

Turn Coat is the culmination of the series-long feud between Harry and the Warden known as Donald Morgan, a hundred year old wizard who is also the de facto executioner for the White Council, and who’s had it out for Harry ever since he was sixteen years old. But this time, Morgan’s in trouble. He’s being framed for the murder of a member of the senior council, a murder which would also implicate him as a traitor, and he wants Harry’s help to find the real murderer. Why Harry? Because Morgan knows Harry has experience in being unjustly vilified, and also he would literally rather die than see an innocent man condemned. And yes, the irony in this situation is delicious, for Harry and for us as readers. On top of that whole situation, Harry is being chased by a scary-ass monster called a Skinwalker, and his involvement in the case threatens not only his own safety, but that of his friends and family.

I didn’t like this one as much as I liked Small Favor or as much as I’m liking Changes, but it’s pretty damn good. Morgan has always been a frustrating character for me, and he remained so for most of this book, but his arc wraps up nicely by the end. The flavor and intensity of the plot movement in this book hints that big stuff is coming, and Harry takes some pretty significant losses. The fact that these losses seem to largely be foreshadowing is a frightening thought. (And if some of them don’t get, um, fixed, I’m going to throw a shit fit.)

On to book twelve.