narfna’s #CBR5 Review #35: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

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I’m not sure when exactly I turned the corner from ‘like’ to ‘love’ on this series, but I realized somewhere in the middle of this book that I had, and it’s totally going to affect the way I read the rest of the series. I am famous (FAMOUS I TELL YOU!) for my inability to be objective when it comes to books that I love. (Seriously, try me. Say anything bad about Harry Potter at all and I will rage-punch your stupid face in about two seconds.)

The other thing about this review is that I’m quickly coming to realize there’s a certain amount of challenge in reviewing books in a series this big (23 books, eventually, 14 of which have been published so far). Unless something goes wrong, or changes significantly, it’s hard to keep finding things to say other than I LOVE THIS OH MY GOD. (Or, alternatively, THIS IS SO ANNOYING OH MY GOD.) Maybe I should start taking notes.

So: Small Favor. Queen Mab of the Winter Court of the Sidhe has called in the second of three favors Chicago’s only Wizard P.I. (and now Warden of the White Council), Harry Dresden, owes her. She wants Harry to rescue everyone’s favorite mobster and sometime associate of monsters, fairies, and wizards, Gentleman Johnny Marcone. This isn’t something Harry is much interested in doing, but Mab, er, insists. Almost immediately, other crazy stuff starts happening, so Harry knows it can’t be a coincidence. The freaking billy goats gruff (called Gruffs, in a significantly larger and more scary rendition of the classic folk tale) have been set on him, probably by Summer. And last but certainly not least: The Denariians are back in town, and they start causing trouble pretty much immediately. It doesn’t take Harry long to tell that all of these events are somehow related, and he blunders through the investigation in his usual way, with his smart ass quips and uncanny instincts, putting himself in constant danger and getting the shit beat out of him every five minutes. All of this of course leads to Harry solving the mystery and then concocting a plan of epically stupid proportions guaranteed to put everyone’s life in danger even if it works.

The plot itself is mostly really spot on (it got a little too action heavy in the middle for my tastes), and there’s some really satisfying mytholgy/arc stuff that is revealed in this one. Harry finally gets some satisfaction, if you know what I mean. He finally tells someone about Lasciel’s shadow (first Murphy, then Michael), and the whole thing comes to a head with Michael and all of them doubting him. Butcher slips in a cool little mindfuck that I won’t spoil. I also got the distinct feeling that Butcher is moving us steadily away from rooting for Murphy/Harry as a romantic pair, and that’s good (I could also be very wrong about that, but with his life-span and emotional issues, I’m not seeing it ever working out between them). Small Favor was also full of plot points from previous books coming back to bite Harry in the ass. Murphy looks like she might be the one to take possession of the sword that Shiro gave him back in Death Masks. Harry now has two of them, incidentally.This one also sees the return of Kincaid and Ivy, and also brings Luccio into his inner circle (sort of) when she totally wants to bang him.

Like I said, a bit action heavy in the middle, but the end is the perfect combo of both action and emotional resolution. Plus it will never not be funny that in the middle of battle with the eldest Gruff brother, in what reads as a completely absurd moment, Harry finally cashes in the boon Summer gave him back in Summer Knight by asking for a donut with sprinkles on top, and it’s the only thing that saves his life. Plus, the way James Marsters reads that line when he asks for the donut, it’s even more fucking hilarious.

Some set up for future books: Harry’s Wizard Sight is coming in, the island where the battle takes is obviously important in future events, Harry’s new ability to weild soulfire (and the introduction of the Watchman, Uriel), the Black Council’s been poaching for both sides, apparently, and Buthcer strongly hints that Lucifer is somehow involved. Yeah, that Lucifer. Anyway, I will probably zoom through the rest of this series pretty quickly. I’d been planning to read one book a month, but I’d guess I’ll be done by July at this rate, and then I’ll have to wait for new Dresden books like the rest of you schlubs.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #9: White Night by Jim Butcher

So: White Night. A typical installment of The Dresden Files. Or not. Maybe that’s something I would have said back when I was reading books one through three, but I’m actually really impressed with the way that Butcher has fleshed out the world that wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden lives in over the course of the nine books in the series I’ve read so far.

In fact, the further I go in the series, the more I think that the way it’s progressing is much more akin to that of a hybrid procedural/serialized TV series than a series of novels. Each book could easily be compared to an episode, especially considering that each of them cover only a period of days. Like in an episode of Warehouse 13, just to pick one example, there’s a self-contained mystery that usually sprawls out to cover a variety of storylines, and then there’s the over-arching serialized stuff that gradually develops book after book. Fringe worked this way, too, for a while. Probably what’s really grabbed me about this series at this point is that Butcher is clearly not afraid of shattering the status quo and letting the story develop and change. Stories like that are my kryptonite.

This one takes place nearly a year after the last one, with Molly Carpenter firmly ensconced as Harry’s wizarding apprentice. Harry is having trouble impressing upon her the danger of her new job — she still thinks it’s a game, sneaking out to investigations when Harry has told her to stay behind, stuff like that. And Harry is also having trouble with his temper — good old fallen angel Lasciel is beginning to affect his personality, and it’s starting to scare people. Then somebody starts murdering women magic practitioners in the area, and Harry’s half-brother, Thomas, is the main suspect. Things escalate from there.

With the exception of one overly long and sort of pointless flashback (the first of its kind in the series, I believe), the pace on this thing just chugs along. The mystery got a bit convoluted at a couple of points, but overall, it was interesting and fun, and contributed to the story the whole series is trying to tell. His relationships with his friends and family are strengthened and he finally gets rid of his Lasciel problem for good. And as has been the case with the last couple of books, most of the players are people we’ve met before, which is something I really like as it adds depth to Dresden’s world.

I still have some issues with Butcher’s prose (his INCREDIBLE overuse of the world ‘quietly,’ for example), but honestly at this point I probably have no right to complain, because I keep reading the things, don’t I? If I want the story, I’m going to have to do deal with it (seriously, though, I searched on a Nook and the last book had 200+ instances of that word — it has lost all effect at this point and is now just incredibly annoying).

On to book ten soon*, probably in April.

*With the exception of book 13, which James Marsters wasn’t available to narrate, I will be listening to all of these on audiobook, because James Marsters is the voice of this series for me now. I love that man.