January 2018 Reading Notes: Dresden Files Binge

In January I continued the binge-reading of the Dresden Files that I began in December. The Dresden Files is a series of supernatural hard-boiled detective fantasy in which wizard Harry Dresden makes his home in modern day Chicago, earning his rent money as a private investigator, specializing in the supernatural end of things— vampires, ghosts, demons, werewolves, fairies, goblins, zombies, necromancers, etc, etc. 

My mini-reviews below might contain spoilers, so if you really care about not finding out crucial plot points ahead of time, be warned. I’ll try not to give away too much and save the real spoiling for a separate post hopefully to come. We’ll see about that.

Book 5 – Death Masks

This book has elements I loved, the Knights of the Cross, who wield legendary magical swords forged with nails of the true cross. I love seeing Harry grapple with faith and evil. I was less enamored with the Shroud of Turin as magical MacGuffin. I just don’t buy it that the forces of evil can use one of the most sacred relics of Christendom for nefarious purposes. 

I really like the character of the Archive, who is introduced in this novel.

Book 6 – Blood Rites

Back to vampires and it is becoming clear that the various courts of the vampires— red, white, black— are major players in supernatural geopolitics and a major driving force of the metaplot of the series, which casts the White Council of Wizards as the consistent underdogs constantly on the defensive against the vampires and other supernatural big guns. In this novel Harry goes undercover on the set of an adult movie, which is facing some kind of curse. Not my favorite of the series, though it has its moments that really make it worth reading.

Book 7 – Dead Beat

Necromancers and zombies attack Chicago. Harry has to call in backup because this is too much for him to handle alone.

Book 8 – Proven Guilty

Molly Carpenter, Michael’s teenage daughter, is in trouble and asks Harry for help. Harry steps in to uncover what supernatural force is attacking fans at a local horror convention. I liked the twists and turns in this book and especially revelations about Michael’s wife, Charity, who has not at all appreciated Harry’s negative influence on her husband, whose life gets much more complicated and dangerous every time Harry turns up. Add a teenage daughter who just might have a crush on Harry, and the over-protective mother goes into high gear.

Book 9 – White Night

Someone is picking off minor magic workers. Elaine reappears and we get more hints about Harry’s dark past. Dresden finds himself in the middle of a conclave of vampires. I want to avoid spoilers, but I want to note a most interesting interlude in which we explore the question of free will.

Book 10 – Small Favor

Beware when you make a bargain with the fair folk, they are apt to call in favors when you least expect it and when it will be most inconvenient. I like the fairy stories the best, I think. The fairies are more interesting than vampires, being amoral rather than immoral. They are’t always clearly enemies, sometimes they’re something more like allies, albeit dangerous ones. The Archive appears, one of my favorite characters. Though my absolute favorite character in this novel is a rather nondescript janitor.

Book 11 – Turn Coat

When Harry’s nemesis shows up at his door begging for help, he has to figure out how to show that he’s not guilty. Harry is up to his neck in geo-political drama of the wizarding sort. I really liked the pacing of this one, the drama and intrigue. I liked finally getting a much more insider view of the White Council. Things are going in a very interesting direction.

Book 12 – Changes

Changes is right. This novel changes everything. The building action finally comes to a head: the vampires, the hidden seeds of an insurrection in the wizarding world, Harry’s former love Susan. And one by one all of Harry’s attachments are stripped away from him. Is he going to lose everything he loves? And yet, this seems right. In the previous novel Murphy points out to Harry that he is too attached to his comfortable life, afraid of change. Now it seems he’s going to have no choice but to change. And that’s really exciting and scary. This is the test of the character and the series, can what is good about the Dresden Files survive the shakeup? Well, I know a lot of readers lost it about now, but I’m terribly hopeful. Because this is a classic purgatorial story. Butcher isn’t making changes for the sake of change. There’s something much deeper going on here. The seeds of this change were planted early on in the series and they have been sprouting for a while, and the careful reader could see that Harry has been walking closer and closer to the line. He’s far to prone to let the ends justify the means, far too comfortable with the darker side of magic, far too apt to flirt with the devil. And the question posed by Michael Carpenter still hangs in the air: can Harry finally embrace the cause of Good whole heartedly? Can he accpet that God is good, that he loves Harry? Can he allow himself to be saved? It becomes increasingly clear that what hangs in the balance in this series is Harry’s immortal soul, which Harry is far too cavalier about.

Book 13 – Ghost Story

It’s a Wonderful Life meets Dante’s Commedia. It takes guts to kill off your protagonist and have him narrate the story *as a ghost*. I really didn’t want to like this novel. I was a resistant reader from the start. And yet the story grew on me. Harry has to solve his own murder. But keeps getting sidetracked by the desire to put out fires and clean up messes, especially all the messes caused by his death, the unintended consequences of his actins in Changes. This novel continued what I liked about Changes: it’s purgatorial. In Changes Harry was stripped of all of his attachments one piece at a time. In Ghost Story he is called to examine his life, to consider his choices, his actions, his rationalizations, his motives. And he doesn’t always like what he sees. And the reader is shown more clearly that Harry has always been a profoundly flawed character— and Butcher knows it. What seemed in the first books like clumsy writing looks more like amazing character development from this perspective. Is this the sign of a more mature Butcher ret-conning his own early work, mining its shallows for hidden depths? Or was this in the cards all along? Were Harry’s flaws planned from the beginning? Either way, this book made me hopeful about Harry’s character arc. I think there’s a possibility of redemption for him. At the same time, I’m a little scared to move on to the next book in the series.

Nine books in one month. I’m taking a break for Lent but will come back to finish the last couple in April. Then I’ll have caught up to the series in progress and will be on tenterhooks until the next one is released.

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