Tag Archives: Jim Butcher

Review: The Dresden Files 6-Blood Rites

We have headway! I got my hands on Dead Beat for Thursday and I’m about a third through it already. Now maybe I can keep one ahead of the game. Now on to…

Blood Rites starts off with a puppy rescue and flaming monkey poop. No, I’m not joking. But it doesn’t (quite) stay that humorous, as Thomas of the vampires’ White Court has a favor to ask of Harry. One that smells of family drama in more ways than one. On top of that, the Queen of the Black Court (yep, more vampires) has dropped into town. While Harry attempts to cut her off before she can cause too much damage,he ends up paying in a big way – and I don’t just mean Kincaid’s bill.

Since I mentioned him, I’ll start off by saying that I was so excited to see Kincaid again. Admittedly, I missed Ivy, but it was also really nice to see him outside of his role as her protector too. Plus just imagining this big, touch mercenary relaying her message to Harry was all sorts of entertaining. (Won’t spoil it for you, it is too giggle-worthy.) I like it when side characters get fleshed out a bit in later books, since it makes it feel like remembering who they are was actually a worth-while effort.

Speaking of characters who got some good development (wait for it, there is a bad piece of development ahead too), Thomas was amazing in this book. He got to be all serious and it really brought home that some of that playboy/party-hard image is a facade he wears to protect himself from his feather. It also served to reinforce how human he still is even among the White Court, compared to his older sister Lana or his father for example.

Plot-wise, it wasn’t anywhere near the tangled mess of some of the earlier books. I was able to track it a lot better, and the cast of characters was both condensed and tagged well so that I never lost my grasp. Some long-awaited moments finally happened, such as Bob being a sneaky little devil and Harry doing more than verbally threaten him in response, meeting some of Murphy’s family and learning more about that part of her life, and delving into some much needed history of both Ebeneezer and Harry’s mom. Oh. My. God. Harry’s mom. Not even the big, important thing but… HER NAME! I just got her name with this book. Margaret LeFey. Morgan Lafay. AHHHHHHHH! (*explosion of squeeing*)

… *coughs* Okay,  now that all of that is out of my system… On to my problem with this book. Murphy. On one hand, she was another good point. We actually got to see her aikaido, see her struggle with what it meant to be in the loop of magic’s secret existence. Even if the situation with her sister and mother was slightly outside of believable for me, I was totally going to give it a pass since it looked like Butcher was finally figuring out how to balance “Murphy is a cop” with “Murphy is a girl.”

And then we get to the final battle with Lord Raith. Let me firmly establish this – I do not like rape as a plot point at this time in our culture. It has become all too easy to use it to degrade and/or destroy a powerful female character. And it is only used against female characters. There is no male-only equivilant, and until we as a society learn how to handle rape without blaming the victims (though I’ll join the bus and say survivor is a better word) or doing even more harm to them, we need to keep it out of our plots.

Butcher hints at it but doesn’t go that far, which would ever so slightly appease my rage. Except for how it is telegraphed that the rape would go down. That Murphy would enjoy it, even though she had already CLEARLY said “no.” And then he proceeded to show how that would happen with Raith’s powers. Not Okay. Not in any circumstances, fantasy world setting or otherwise. Why? Because there is this thing called writer responsibility. Even though Raith is the antagonist and a vampire, he’s also given enough humanity in him that he could easily be considered “cool” by someone who will then want to model themselves after him. Even if they don’t, it spreads the idea that women can enjoy being raped to anyone who is excellent at taking things out of context to suit their own needs. (Don’t believe me on that front? Look at every hate group or group of college students trying to get their own way and how they take information out of context to make their point.)

It was almost enough to make me “black list” this whole series. This book was full of some decent highs and one devestating low for me. What did anyone else think?


Review: The Dresden Files 5-Death Masks

I know I own a ton of double posts, but I’m having an AWFUL time getting my hands on these books (thus why I put off this review, I JUST got Blood Rites yesterday after having it on request for a week, and I still haven’t heard back on the next). I’m going to go ahead and post Blood Rites on Tuesday in HOPES I get the next one and I can start steam rolling… But no promises.

On to the actual book you all came to read about. Death Masks picks up with Harry receiving both a job and a duel in the same day. One concerns the famous Shroud of Christ, an artifact that even if it doesn’t have magical properties already, simply by power of belief, it is one big bad magical item. The other is of course about the ongoing wizard/vampire war. Which also brings Susan back into Harry’s life. As if that isn’t enough drama, there is also a prophecy about Harry dying that even has his own allies working against him. Can’t this poor wizard catch a break?

Not if Butcher wants to maintain his plot style. I’m not sure if its a case of me getting used to it or it smoothing out, but the sheer amount of STUFF he has going on is slowly becoming less exhausting for me to wade through and keep up with. It helps that he’s focusing on particular elements and fleshing them out right now rather than going off in random directions (hello, Summer Knight). There are times where the setting is lost in this one and he really relies on the reader having an image in their head already for what things look like. It isn’t so bad that I want to bash him over the head with it, but at times I wished he would go into a little more detail so the characters aren’t just floating around in my head like actors with bad stage pieces.

Character wise, I was much happier with this novel. Marcone got some much needed fleshing out, which makes me like that character just even more. (…I like the cold ones who will do anything for what they perceive as being the right reasons, okay?) I hope we continue to see him, and I really would like to see what that ending evolves into…or at least, it better evolve or I shall throw a hissy fit. Murphy was hysterical in parts, providing much needed giggles even if we didn’t see much of her in this one. Same with Thomas who is such a strange little vampire and I love it. For her part, Susan has actually become a better character. I can’t say I l like her yet, but I can at least stand her, which is better than what it was.

And on a bigger note… The sexualization of every female character was less in the face, though it did pop up occasionally. It was also the sort that I could rationalize as being part of the male character thought process (since I don’t write in male point of view very often, it seems likely). Harry’s weird sense of what Butcher calls chivalry (though it isn’t, it’s a distorted MEANING of the word) came around to bite him in the butt, which I think is also part of what made it sit better with me this time around. And not in the, “Oh, I’m going to help someone because I have to because they are female,” sort of way, but actually, “You are going to be that stupid, fine. I will GLADLY take advantage of you treating me like some fragile little flower,” way on the girl’s part. I actually give him a pass on female characters this time. Now let’s see if he can keep it up.

The only thing that I have to nitpick is something so minor, I hesitate to bring it up. But really, I kinda have to. With every other title, I’ve gotten it and understood what it had to do with the book. This one… I have no idea, or at least no SOLID one. Sitting here writing this review, I started wondering if it was talking about the silver coins, but now I’m thinking not. Usually the title is also mentioned somewhere in the book, so did I miss it on my read through? Comment and let me know your thoughts, and I’ll see you Tuesday!

Review: The Dresden Files 4–Summer Knight

Warning: Rant ahead.

Summer Knight pretty much takes the ending established in Grave Peril and trashes it. Rather than sort-of coping with the help of his friends, Harry is instead drowning in his depression over Susan. It takes one of the Fairy Queens ordering him on a job (there is no options) and the Council’s threats of killing him over the war between them and the vampire Red Court to snap him back into his groove. What follows is a tangle of trying to figure out what is truth (not easy when dealing with fairies) and taking steps to prevent the next great weather shift, be it an Ice Age or the kind of plant growth that is deadly for the human race. Oh, and not being assassinated. That last one is important.

Before the rant begins, let me be at least a little kind. Butcher finally found the right balance to how much information we as the reader needs to stay equal with Harry on the detective/private investigator side of the book but not to get ahead of him. I didn’t feel like Harry was making wild leaps in logic that I couldn’t see every few seconds, but I also wasn’t about to throw the book because Harry was missing something glaringly obvious. This is a huge improvement compared even to two books ago, Fool Moon. The action sequencing was also a lot better. There wasn’t a dependency on Harry finding just a little more strength over and over again (or if there was, it was so minor I didn’t notice it), and it was doing gradual spikes, letting me breath and absorb after a huge rush of action, but still staying strong enough that I didn’t have the urge to put down the book.

As a slight warm-up to the rant, two things. First, the world-building took a step back. Even though the focus was primarily on the fairy, there were so many different aspects of it being thrown at us, I would have been completely lost if I wasn’t used to managing my own spawn of characters. I understand the hugeness of the Nevernever and the fairy that Butcher was going for, but since so few of the previous books had much to do with the fairies aside from a couple very specific people, we as readers got lost. There almost needed to be another book between this great war set up and the last one to help ease us into the fairies better.

And the side characters. Lord, there were a lot more than usual thrown at us, and we had to keep up with a lot of them without many tags to go off of. Billy was an interesting character to bring back, but I wasn’t sure he served as good of a balance to Dresden as Michael did. Maybe because Billy is so gun-ho about being beside Harry instead of advising caution in some cases. It was frustrating, since Dresden tends to jump into things headfirst. And the various members of the White Council–including Dresden’s second teacher–were just…paper dolls that had words to say and otherwise weren’t really as influential as you would think they are since they earned names and vague descriptions.

Mentioning side characters gets us into the rant. I about said, “Screw it,” and announced that this was going to be the last book I reviewed in this series, that’s how frustrated I was about this book. For those who read last week’s post, I was begging for a strong female character to balance out Dresden, even citing that Murphy had potential, if Butcher wanted to go that way. And with a book featuring so many fairy characters, many female, there was a chance for this to happen, maybe even with human characters as the book went on.

It started off bad. The first Winter Queen that Dresden meets is described in nothing but sexual metaphors. Now, whether this is supposed to be comments on her fae nature, I don’t know, but the problem is at first, she is a mortal woman. A potential client. And Dresden is so blase about the fact that he looks at her in a sexual way, despite the fact that he is supposed to be fretting himself to death over his ex-girlfriend.  Then Mab goes all fairy, and that appears to be the end of it. But she is only the beginning. Every single fairy is described the same way, making them into sex objects rather than actual characters.

These are the fairies, and I’ve already said he has problems with them in Grave Peril. That should be the end of it, right? Not too bad? Oh no. Because now we meet the mysterious Elaine from Dresden’s past. We’d gotten enough of an idea of her over the course of the last two books, but much like the ending of the previous book, a lot of that is thrown under the rug with what appears is going to be the Butcher equivalent of the DnD phrase, “A wizard did it.” And again, she is described as a sex object. Which I guess I am supposed to excuse because she and Harry used to have a relationship? Yeah, that doesn’t fly for me. I’ve put up with the stupid version chivalry that Dresden follows (which isn’t the real version, I would know), but this is enough to take the cake.

Oh yeah, speaking of that form of chivalry. Remember Murphy? The potentially powerful female character who I had my hopes pinned on for her being a good balance to Dresden once she got brought completely into the loop? Shot to friggin’ dust bunny HELL in this book. Not literally, but I’m beginning to see signs that Butcher is going to utterly wreck her and there is nothing I can do but whine about it (so I shall). The Murphy we’d met in all the previous books wouldn’t mix drugs and alcohol. And while she might struggle with things that go bump in the night after the previous book, she’s seen too much over the last few months with Harry to completely fall apart like she has in this book. Butcher tries to bring her back during a shoot-out in Wal-Mart, but it doesn’t work for me. She shouldn’t have fallen that hard in the first place, and now that she has, I bet he’s going to just make it worse.

At this point in the series, there is no arguing that you can pick up a book and understand them completely. They are starting to rely too much on the reader reading the previous books to know about the events Dresden has faced recently. Which, with a long-running series, I guess I shouldn’t be too upset about him making it (sort of) to Book 4 before reaching this point. But then I think of several series that I’ve read over the years that manage it for much longer, so… I don’t think I can. Here’s on to the next. Hopefully I can keep these reviews going.

By they way, thank you all for being patient on this post. My wrist needed to be iced down before I could even write the announcement yesterday. And then again before I could go to sleep. Hopefully the new brace I ordered will help it from continuing to be a problem.

Review: The Dresden Files 3–Grave Peril

I’ll honest, I was not seeing the draw of this series. I now stand corrected. While there were some things about it that still bugged me, this third book has changed my mind.

Grave Peril picks up at a break-necking speed with Harry Dresden and a new character, Michael. The supernatural world is all stirred up, and it’s up to Harry and his Knight friend to figure out why. But things get complicated with not one but THREE vampire courts meeting, and Harry’s girlfriend Susan getting herself nose-deep in trouble again. Harry has to gamble with the forces of the Nevernever to return peace to Chicago, but in the end, he has to pay a price.

(Any more info, and I will spoil you, I’m sorry.)

Butcher has finally figured out that focusing on a short handful of magical aspects makes the story so much easier to understand. Ghosts were the newcomers this time, with some old stuff being focused on more heavily (vampires, fairies, and the power of faith). As a result, I was absolutely able to track what was going on where. Even the true-sight aspect was given some nice extra attention. I love the image of Murphy the Avenging Angel. The explanation of the Nevernever was still a little shaky, but since most of the focus was put on the ghosts and the vampires, I was able to chill about that, since it wasn’t the focus. The pacing was smoother, with a few moments of non-action to let the reader’s mind reset. There are some issues with the endings (I’m getting real sick of Harry finding a little more strength, and then a little more, and then a little more), but I’m hoping we’re starting to see the end of that.

For characters, I started to understand Harry a little better in this book. I was able to get under the sarcasm and actually see the character, which is much better. His fairy godmother was also a piece of work, and I liked how she was played. On the other hand, though, I felt like she was a little flat. I think she could use some fleshing out if she’s going to reappear in later books. Susan has always annoyed me, and while she got better in this book, I still don’t think much of her or the way she has been written into this book. She’s built to be rescued, and even now, after all the crap that happened to her in this book, I’m not sure if that is going to change.

Michael was the star of this book. He reminded us of the human side, both to Harry and to the conflicts going on. Harry is so dismissive of Murphy and Susan, it’s hard to keep the humanity of it all in perspective. Michael was a welcome change, and I loved the interactions between him and Harry. Mostly because at times, my own feelings about religion are echoed in the text, and that’s a great personal connection for me. But unlike Harry, who has only a few friendships left, Michael has a family that he has to worry about being in danger. He’s down to Earth, and has no real knowledge of the wizard-side of things, which makes Harry explain more, which I have to appreciate.

Flaws wise, they were minor this time. The pacing, and my disgust with Harry’s seemingly endless sources of energy, have been noted. I am hoping the treatment of women gets better too. Three books in, and all the main female characters we’ve met so far are…not that great. Murphy has potential, but we’ve yet to see it realized. But the rest? They are either sex objects for Harry to romance and rescue (I don’t care that he said he loved her in this book, it doesn’t change what she is), completely helpless, supposedly decent but of course no where NEAR as powerful as Harry and thus they are going to end up dead, or they are a member of the cruel and selfish fairies/insert random evil creature-race here. Just ONE powerful female figure that isn’t sexualized or trivialized by Harry, that’s all I ask…

Unlike the second book, I didn’t feel like this third book relied on the previous two for the reader to understand everything. There were a couple of things that could have used a little more fleshing out for a first time reader (Bob wasn’t as clear as he could have been, as far as his existence and such were concerned). But really, I wish I had picked up this book FIRST. It would have made getting through the other two that much easier. Butcher seems to have figured out what the style for the series is going to be, so I hope the next couple of books smooth out the last couple of major flaws and keep improving the areas of once-weakness.

Just as a head’s up, next week’s post might be slightly late. Not so much because of book availability (I’ve already requested a hold and should have it by Monday), but my right wrist and the wonders of carpel tunnel syndrome have caught up with me. I’m fine most of the time with it, just occasionally it will get sore and hard to use. I’m going to ice it for the next few nights while I’m sleeping and wear my brace during the day, so hopefully it won’t be an issue. I just wanted to give you a warning in case the post happens in the mid-afternoon instead of the morning.

Review: The Dresden Files 2–Fool Moon

And the writer slides in with the review at the last second… Now I know to check online to see if my library has all the books. On with the review!

Fool Moon picks up right where Storm Front left off. Sort of. The book actually picks up shortly afterwards, and things haven’t been looking up for Harry. He’s living on ramen noodles, and regretting the falling-out of his relationship with Detective Murphy (and the resulting lack of a paycheck). But a series of murders require his attention again, especially with the threat of jail over his head alongside Murphy losing her job. The suspect seems to be obvious, but as always where a wizard is involved, things get complicated fast. Harry also has to come to terms with some parts of himself, and that isn’t comfortable. Especially if those facts have to do with the parents he’s never met.

There was a lot going on in this plot. Butcher included not one but several different kinds of werewolves, a fact I liked. While I haven’t done much research into it myself, I am friends with a fellow writer who is working on her own werewolf series, and she did a lot research to come up with her mythos (I just got to be the sounding board). The different types resonated with all the research she’s thrown at me over the last few years, and I loved Bob’s irritation with Harry during the discussion. Some of that was also a clever way of hiding info-dumping, to which I say… Meh. It sorta worked? I knew what it was, but it didn’t bug me. I also loved the way the demon-summoning happened in this book and the way it relayed information, again, working to keep the info-dumping interesting, and in this case helping flesh out the rules of the world.

I also liked the conversation between Harry and his subconscious while he was asleep, and later the echoes of that when he puts on his new coat. That is the sort of imagery and subtle plating I love in stories. I hope it means there is more to this little talk, that there might be something bigger behind it. We also got some more information on Harry’s back story, which was well needed after the first book. Elaine was an interesting addition, and the issues with what Harry might or might not know about his parentage sparked my interest. But then, back stories are my addiction. I love them, and hate when writers skim on them. The struggle between Harry and the dark parts of his personality I thought were a brilliant touch, and I hope he continues to flesh those out.

There was an improvement with the world, as I said earlier with the demon, and Harry’s character description. It felt better to me, maybe because we weren’t dealing with so many sources of magic and I was able to focus on one part of it and really get it. I hope that trend continues. As for Harry’s description, it wasn’t included as part of the description of another character, which I think is why it didn’t stick to me last time. I think Murphy’s description took over and so I got hers because of the re-enforcement of her traits and tags, but his didn’t get repeated, so I lost it. This time, his description stood out on its own, so I was able to keep it. I wish it could be reinforced a little more often, but I know how hard that is with first-person.

On to the problems. The first…there was a lot of stuff going on in this book. I know, I’m repeating myself, but it needs said again. I had issues with the pacing of this one.  It was constantly going from about the second chapter. The first book, at least we eased into the high pace and by then, I stopped caring. This one threw me into the roller coaster right off the gate, and I hate that. Seriously. Because then it has to keep rushing, keep getting faster and faster and faster. And by that point, any connection between characters is getting lost. We didn’t see enough of Carmichael in this book to mourn his death, and we certainly didn’t see enough of the FBI agents to hate them before suddenly, “Oh look, another set of killers!” Butcher had a lead foot in this one, and it was too much for me.

In addition, I felt like so much got thrown at the wall, but we didn’t spend enough time on it for the reader to appreciate it. On one hand, you want the reader eager to read the next page, desperate to know that next bit of information. This time, though, there was that lack of feeling of satisfaction. Harry often felt the click of information falling into place like a puzzle this book. But the information for the reader hadn’t even been offered long enough for us to understand and accept it to add to what was going on, so we couldn’t feel that satisfaction with him as Harry put it together. On one hand, you don’t want your protagonist to be stupider than your reader and figure it out before them. But you don’t want to out-smart the reader, and I’m afraid Harry is rapidly approaching this. It’s a fixable mistake in later books, so we’ll see…

The final problem was… Oh dear Lord, this is the second book. It relies on the reader having read the first book, though at least not the worst I’ve seen of books that do that. It did eventually explain why Murphy and Harry were at odd-ends, and if you’d read the first book, you knew what all the little flashes were throughout the rest of the book. But to a new reader, they would have been confusing and there wasn’t enough information given to really explain it. Murphy and the issues with her got beaten like a rug over and over again, but the rest? Not enough. But over all, I would rather the pacing be slowed down for attention paid to the different wolf parts of the plot than to rehash the first book.

Review: The Dresden Files 1–Storm Front

Strap in folks, because this is going to be a long one. And in that, I meant that this is the first in a long series of reviews. That’s right, I’m doing all the Dresden File books, with breaks to talk about writing and RPG as always.

Storm Front follows Harry Dresden as he goes from struggling to make his rent to suddenly being the center to too much attention as a series of murders start across Chicago. Why is he involved? Because Harry is a wizard (save the Harry Potter jokes, please), and not only does he consult with the police on any murder where magic is a likely culprit like now, but he has been hired by a woman to find her husband, who has been dabbling in magical forces. To make everything more complicated, Harry’s past lurks over his head and could take his life if he puts a toe out of line. Almost literally. And then the mob is involved. Some days, it obviously doesn’t pay to get out of bed.

Not that Harry gets to see his bed much in this book. The pacing is pretty rapid-fire, and is constantly going. And snowballing. It was one of the strongest parts of the story, since it made it hard to put the book down. Some of that was the very nature of what the character did professional. PIs (which is basically what Harry was in this book) allow a writer to constantly throw stuff at them. What made it impressive was how everything dovetailed together. It is completely possible to have a sub plot that doesn’t go anywhere thrown into a PI-type plot, but this time it actually worked well with the main plot and kept feeding the tension instead of distracting from it.

Another thing well done was Harry’s interaction with other characters. The descriptions were great, especially from a first-person view point since they showed some of Harry’s personality as well as what they were looking for (I’m a sucker for a two-for). We saw him not only in direct, physical conflict with people, but with intellectual conflict, even with people that he liked. It was also great to see a non-romantic relationship between the male character and the female. Harry had a healthy, sisterly relationship with Murphy, and if it develops into a romance later on in this series, I might cry in frustration unless it is done just right.

Enough of the virtues, though. I did have a couple of problems with this book that I could technically forgive, but on the other hand, I can’t. One is the lack of a mental image I have of Harry. This is my big problem with first-person view point books. It is so difficult to get the details of what he looks like out, and out quickly. As a result, I know Harry’s personality, I know his history, I even know his powers and magical abilities. But I’m really spotty on what he looks like, mostly because it took him so long to get that information to us. To a certain extent, you can rely on cover art, but then you have people who get the bad luck to get the end of the cover art budget so the protagonist looks like the exact opposite of your character. It’s something that’s a struggle with any book, and in this case it just showed for me.

The other problem I had was the world. At first, I blamed this on the fact I’ve never left a set little area in Oklahoma/Texas with a couple of exceptions. Chicago was as foreign to me as Paris or London would be to anyone else. But then I realized that Chicago had very little to do with the problems I was having, since I’m pretty good at adapting to new cultural norms/landmarks. The problem was the magic. In some cases, I got enough information that I understood it, and sometimes the lack of details made sense because you can’t dump everything into a book. But overall, my feeling for the fantasy of the world is pretty disjointed. We’ve got fae, we’ve got the standard wizard stuff, we’ve got a few twists on the traditional. I’m not saying it didn’t work completely, but I feel like it could have been smoother.

Over all… It was the first book in a series. It was capable of standing alone, but it could be extended upon easily. Some aspects of it were clumsy, and the obvious hints that there were going to be more to this story sort of bothered me, but that’s me. I like each book to be it’s own little thing, and leaving little hints just annoys me if they are too overt. I’ve learned from several reliable sources that the series gets better as it progresses, so I’m hopeful for the series as a whole. I just wished there weren’t so many obvious, “Here, I’m going to mention this really important thing…and then not talk about it so you’ll read the second book.”