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My Favorite Disney Villains

A couple years ago, I listed some of those villains that get underneath my skin, the most insidious, hateable ones in the last 20 years. Now let’s take a trip down Memory Lane of everyone’s favorite distributor of those evil bastards, Disney. Because if they’re good at one thing, it’s making you love to hate these jerks. Buckle up and get ready to throw popcorn at your screen. These are my favorite Disney villains.

Jafar (Aladdin)

I have to admit the nefarious Jafar was a villain I needed to mature in order to truly appreciate. When I was a kid, I knew I hated the smug S.O.B but a couple years ago, Aladdin was running on cable and I actually sat down and watched the film instead of just singing the songs.

Guys.

Jafar was awful.

But in a good way.

As in, “wow, I am really impressed at what a horrible human being you are,” not in a gross “I dig this guy” kind of way. Think about it. Not only does Jafar have a very vibrant, memorable personality, but he has a highly specific skillset and a master plan to get what he wants, and he’s not afraid to manipulate every single main character in order to obtain his goal. I also like that weirdly enough, his relationship with Iago is not only hilarious, but perplexing in a way. They argue non-stop, but then you can kind of tell he enjoys having him around as a henchman and so they can both bond over being unapologetically evil. I especially love little bits of dialogue like “So…how did it go?” or when they’re musing about beheadings (“Ewwwww!”) or after they’re discovered and Iago’s trying to pack up his stuff but stops to go, “And what do you think about this picture? I don’t know. I think I’m making a weird face in it.” Stuff like that you miss as a kid and then you get older and find it much funnier that Jafar and Iago actually have a rapport going the entire time and it’s hilarious.

What I also noticed upon my adult viewing was that his voice actor, Jonathan Freeman, truly did a phenomenal job. Jafar’s voice is just…epic. I’m in awe of how Freeman managed to make slime and venom just drip from every word out of his mouth. Special mention goes to the perverted moment at the end where Jafar wishes for Jasmine—who, mind you, is sixteen—to fall desperately in love with him out of sheer spite that she refused to comply. I mean, it’s liable to give you some kind of venereal disease when those words come out of his mouth. I always shudder in disgust when he goes, “Now, pussycat, tell me more about…myself.” Brr, now that’s good evil. Hell, his voice acting is so badass that even though the second Aladdin straight-to-DVD sequel Return of Jafar is complete garbage, his musical number in it is outstanding and I still listen to it to this very day.

Plus, Jafar is one of those villains who wasn’t afraid to have some flair about him. He did everything in style, down to taunting Aladdin in the final fight with a hurricane of puns while attempting to kill the poor kid. Say what you will about plotholes (seriously, yes, I can admit that Jafar obviously should have just killed the royal family and taken over instead of trying to do it the hard way; I mean, he had mind control powers, for goodness sake), but Jafar ages like a fine, evil wine, if you ask me. If you haven’t taken a gander at him in recent times, please do. I think you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at what a colorful character he is.

Hades (Hercules)

Have I mentioned that I have a thing for snarky villains? Because I have a thing for snarky villains and for that reason, Hades is easily in my Top 10 favorite Disney villains list, even though these are in no particular order.

Like Jafar, Hades in my opinion gets better with age. And since James Woods is apparently a large garbage fire in real life (*rimshot*), it’s all the more important that I love this character while violently ignoring who voiced him, much like John Smith from Pocahontas (side note: please tell me I’m not alone in my massive crush on John Smith, mm, he’s exquisite).

Hades is a riot. Not only is he funny as hell (*second rimshot*), but his hatred for Zeus and the other gods is pretty legitimate, as they live in a shiny utopia and he’s stuck downstairs with the dead. Now, keep in mind, I have a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit, and so yes, I am very aware that this harmless little Disney movie in no way is accurately portraying Greek mythology. I’m one of those people who can honestly roll with the punches, and Hercules is one of my favorite Disney films, so I can forgive that they weren’t trying to adapt the myths as they appear in real life.

I like that Hades has a good reason for hating Zeus, and that he wants to screw him over any way possible and take the throne, and that he is actually a flawed villain. Sometimes you get villains who get away with everything all the time and it can be kind of tedious, but Hades was the right balance of conniving and evil, but he still screwed up on a regular basis. Plus, like Jafar, I love that Hades has minions that he bounces amazing dialogue off of, particularly my girl Meg. (I love her, in case you can’t tell.) I really love the relationship they have, where she unwillingly serves him and sasses him outright to his face pretty much 24/7. She even stands up to him in spite of having zero power when he asks her to turn on poor sweet Hercules. Even after everything goes tits up, Hades was still trying to bring home the win when Hercules bargained for Meg’s soul, and you’ve got to admire the guy for trying.

Besides, out of all the Disney villains, he’s probably got the best inventory of reaction .gifs. You just can’t resist using them. All hail Hades.

 

Mother Gothel (Tangled)

You have to admit that it takes one cold, empty, vain bitch to kidnap someone’s child and raise them as your own and pretend to love them just for eternal youth.

And that’s why Mother Gothel rocks my socks.

I mean, wow. The level of cold-blooded could qualify her to be Mr. Freeze’s wife, for heaven’s sake. We’ve seen plenty of villains do unbelievable things in the name of vanity and greed, but raising a daughter just so you can siphon off her energy for beauty? That’s the lowest of the low. If you recall, Mother Gothel was on my Most Hateable Villain list as well because of how sociopathic she was, but that’s why I find myself loving her too. She does all the classic awful things that bad mothers do, like manipulating Rapunzel by lying to her about the real world, picking at her self-esteem, and then just isolating the poor child for her entire life for her own gain.

I also think that her voice actor, Donna Murphy, got robbed in the Oscar season because while “I See the Light” was adorable and lovely, her vocals for “Mother Knows Best (Reprise)” sends chills down my spine. ICYMI, Donna Murphy is actually a trained Tony Award winning actress and that’s pretty obvious from her stellar performance. I love that Mother Gothel is so delightfully over the top and yet she can switch to bone-chillingly threatening in a heartbeat. It’s not often that Disney has the villain outright stab the hero in the gut on screen and watch him die with a sick satisfaction. She’s definitely an underrated lady and not to be trifled with in the least, and I have to respect her for that.

Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)

First of all, can I get a round of applause for whatever brilliant casting director hired the amazing Keith David for the part of Dr. Facilier? I mean, bravo. Both for his acting and that killer singing voice.

I adored The Princess and the Frog for so many reasons, and Dr. Facilier is definitely one of a kind and helped make the film what it was. Much like Hades, I liked that he carried a grudge for a good reason. He couldn’t use the voodoo on himself, and being a supposedly impoverished black man during that time period gave him a serious ax to grind against the upper class, both black and white. He was a slippery, cunning bastard who knew just what thing to whisper in your ear to get you to fall for his scheme. I loved that what he offered Tiana in the end wasn’t some awful, evil deal, but something she truly wanted with all her heart and so she wavered for just a second thinking about it. Some of the best villains ensnare the heroes that way, after all, playing on their aspirations.

The magical aspects surrounding him were also interesting, as we don’t see enough of the kind of male witch-doctor angle from villains in children’s movies. He had a particular kind of charming threat to him, and it was believable that so many people in New Orleans got caught in his traps. I truly enjoyed how unnerving his shadow minions were and the stunning visuals in his amazing villain song “Friends on the Other Side” that a lot of people cited as the best song in the movie’s soundtrack (I can argue for and against it, as almost all the songs hit me right where I live).

And I can’t leave without mentioning how freaking terrifying the way he meets his end was. I’m an adult and I still find it chilling. Kudos, Disney.

Ursula (The Little Mermaid)

I have a slight confession to make here: I don’t care for The Little Mermaid, and I didn’t even when I was a kid. I think even as a little six or seven year old kid, I thought it was stupid that Ariel ditched her entire family and life for a hot guy. Now, as I got older I can also apply the reasoning that she also wanted to explore the human world, which is better, but I still never bonded with Ariel.

But Ursula?

Yeah, we can hang.

Ursula’s complete over-the-topness is probably what I remember most fondly about The Little Mermaid, aside from the absurd “Les Poissons” Big Lipped Alligator Moment song. She’s so delightful because she’s petty, vindictive, and manipulative. Most of the time when you see the Top 10 Disney Villain Songs lists, Ursula’s “Poor Unfortunate Souls” is near the top. It’s not only an incredible song but an incredible performance. Like Jafar, the voice actress Pat Carroll sold that performance to the umpteenth degree. She makes your skin crawl, but at the same time, she’s so damned entertaining that you can’t help but smile a little. One of my favorite lines is when she called Ariel a “trollop” because she actually was getting Eric to fall in love with her even though she couldn’t talk (side note: hmm, that might be another reason I subconsciously didn’t care for this movie; granted, Ariel’s adorable behavior was what Eric was falling in love with, but you can probably still make the case that this is pretty shallow) I mean, wow, that’s pretty salty to call the little dear a “trollop” and I found it endlessly hilarious as an adult.

Plus, Ursula’s transformation at the end was beyond epic. She was legitimately terrifying and there wasn’t any manipulation to be had—she straight up tried to murder everyone involved and rule over the ocean as a titan. You gotta respect the lady’s goals. She does nothing half-assed. She even meets her end in a spectacular fashion. I tip my hat to you, Ursula, as one of the baddest girls of them all.

Scar (The Lion King)

By now, we’ve all pretty much cited that The Lion King is Hamlet But with Lions, and in spite of that, it’s still just a well told, well executed Disney film. We come back to it all the time for its powerful relationships and beautiful score and stunning visuals.

Then, on top of that, we get Scar.

Oh, Scar. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Scar is such a phenomenal villain that aside from Simon Gruber, Jeremy Irons never found another role as good as that one. He’s another that usually tops the Disney Villains lists for just being so terribly entertaining and maniacal. One of the things I find compelling about Scar is that he has more than just one of the seven deadly sins as a hubris, he has quite a few: envy, pride, wrath, and gluttony, most prominently. He’s envious of Mufasa, he’s so prideful that he thinks he can lead the pride (*rimshot*) even though he has no leadership skills, he murdered his own brother in cold blood and then tried to murder his nephew as well, and he let the hyenas literally eat the entire pridelands into famine. Wow. Aside from Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, he might be one of the only villains to check off so many sins all at once.

Scar’s personality on top of all that evil is also why he usually tops lists. He openly snarks at everything, friend or foe, and he’s not afraid to drop the pretense of being Amicably Evil and just be flat out evil. Even after Simba finally catches up to him, he tries to manipulate him and the pride. He’s cruel, but he makes you laugh. He’s evil, but he does it with flair. He’s ineffectual in a fight, but he knows how to turn the tide in his favor when it comes down to it. He even meets his end trying to manipulate the hyenas once again. Scar is unforgettable and fascinating and we need more villains like him in future flicks.

Gaston (The Beauty and the Beast)

If there’s one villain on this list that I love to hate, it’s Gaston.

At first, I wasn’t going to add him, but then I took a deeper look at my opinion of the man, and that’s what changed my mind. Anyone who knows me knows I am a feminist—a real feminist, not the kind who are just man-hating SJWs—as in I want men and women to have the same amount of rights and treatment and live in harmony without either side dealing with unfair bullshit.

Gaston is the ultimate sexist, misogynistic pig. He’s my worst nightmare. Just looking at him makes me want to put my fist through the screen.

And that’s why he sticks with us.

For example, I have recently likened the character Grant Ward from Agents of SHIELD to Gaston, simply because a portion of the AoS fandom has become those three little blonde girls you see in the background of Gaston’s incredible musical number. Unfortunately, in real life and in other forms of fiction, Gaston exists. There is always a handsome guy whose actions are utterly reprehensible, but he’s charming and good-looking, so people are willing to overlook his monstrous actions. Ward’s fangirls have locked themselves in the Denial closet because they find him attractive, so he gets a pass even though he is literally a Neo-Nazi murdering psychopath. But I digress.

Gaston fascinates me, in a way, because of his vanity and his ego, and how far he is willing to go just to satisfy them both. It would be different if he had just been manipulating Belle to get in her pants, but as the movie continues and he later uses her father to get her to cooperate, it becomes more than that. Then, it’s about Gaston trying control Belle. She told him no. He doesn’t want to hear no. It’s no longer about sex at that point. It’s about a woman with her own mind and her own desires and they don’t line up with a typical “man’s man” alpha male and it drives him crazy, since he thinks a woman is just a thing to own. It escalates brilliantly once he finds out about the Beast and he incites a full on lynch mob before proceeding to straight up murder the Beast over the woman who 100% rejected him multiple times. Honestly, you could write an essay unpacking the layers to Gaston and Belle’s antagonistic relationship. It’s pretty incredible to examine.

Besides all the deep stuff, Gaston is wonderfully over-the-top. You can’t take your eyes off the man. He’s such a relentlessly awful douche, down to being presumptuous and assembling a wedding reception before proposing to Belle, as he’s just that sure she was going to say yes. Wow. Just wow.

There isn’t a day that can come around when I’m not willing to totally belt out the lyrics to “Gaston” because it’s one of Disney’s most singable songs. Complete with ridiculous flourishing and strutting about like the man himself. Because, really, Gaston is the best and the rest is all drips.

Hopper (A Bug’s Life)

Funnily enough, when I went through both the Disney Animated Canon and Disney/Pixar lists, I didn’t find myself really thinking any of the Disney/Pixar villains were the kind I loved. For example, I put Lotso from Toy Story 3 on my Most Hateable List (the damned bear made me curse in a theater full of children, for God’s sake!) but I had to really think about if any of the Pixar villains left an impression on me this way. Well, a couple years ago, they were running A Bug’s Life on the Disney channel, and I thought about the fact that I hadn’t seen it as an adult, so I gave it a shot.

Dude.

Hopper is an incredible villain.

Granted, I shouldn’t be surprised, as it’s Kevin freaking Spacey doing the voice, and even when Spacey’s at his most over-the-top, he’s phenomenal. However, Hopper is one of a kind and deserves more attention, but most of the time he gets overlooked since A Bug’s Life is a slightly underwhelming film overall. It’s a case of an outstanding villain inside of a mediocre film.

Hopper figured out that all he really needed to do was devalue the ants and make it seem like they didn’t have a choice in the matter. His tall stature and intimidating voice did half the work for him, and it was all downhill from there once the ants were afraid to stand up for themselves. What I found most interesting was after the grasshoppers were back at their place and saying they didn’t need to go back for food, as we’re shown they had plenty, and Hopper kills the two who spoke up, because it’s not about the food. It was never about the food. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hopper wanted the ants to stay subservient and it didn’t matter how he accomplished that goal, down to killing the queen and her poor little granddaughter if necessary. The level of cruelty Hopper displays as a dictator is pretty chilling, even in a movie that’s plenty bright and colorful. What I found most chilling was when Flik finally stood up to him and he gets slapped around for his trouble before Hopper seriously is about to crush Flik’s skull in front of the entire ant colony. Wow. Public execution in a kids’ movie. Who knew Pixar had it in them?

Basically, I’m pretty happy Hopper was tiny and fictional, because that kind of person can destroy entire nations with that mentality and personality and the will to get it done. He was easily able to fool the ants into being afraid because he knew the right pressure points. I think it was an important lesson for kids to take away from the film, even if it probably went over their heads and stuck more with the adults. It’s a good reflection of how men like that rise to power, by making the masses believe that they don’t have a choice, and that their voices don’t count. (*side-eyes America*)

So kudos to you, Hopper. You made a pretty damned legitimate threat in a movie about circus bugs.

Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)

The Great Mouse Detective deserves a thousand times more love than it gets. However, this tends to happen a lot with the films before the Disney Renaissance. A lot of them weren’t heavily circulated on TV or DVD, and so people tend to forget they’re there. This is an example of a film that didn’t talk down to children. It gave them a challenging, scary caper to follow and provided us with a wild ride that is honestly pretty damn great, all things considered.

In case you missed out on it, The Great Mouse Detective is exactly what it says on the tin: a mouse version of Sherlock Holmes. We follow along as Detective Basil of Baker Street is given the task of finding a kidnapped scientist, as the scientist’s little daughter has hired him and his right hand man Dawson to find her father. Like in Sherlock Holmes, Basil has an archnemesis: Ratigan. Literally a huge rat who is just as brilliant as Basil, but he hates being called a rat.

Oh, did I mention Ratigan is voiced by the late great Vincent Price?

Are you ordering the DVD on Amazon yet? You are? Great. You’re welcome. Please enjoy.

I mean, you had me at hello right there. Vincent Price is the master of the macabre, and it’s nowhere better seen than in his performance of Ratigan. He’s your classic villain, where he constantly leaves little messages to Basil and thwarts the detective’s attempts to stop him, taunting him constantly, nearly breaking his spirit in one instance.

Ratigan is one of my favorites for being so very, very devious. I mean, for the crime of one drunk mouse calling him a rat (seriously, the mouse is blatantly drunk, and there’s also a freaking strip tease routine later, so how can you not appreciate this movie?) he feeds said drunk mouse to his enormous fat cat that he somehow owns. A rat that has the balls to own his own natural enemy. That’s Ratigan.

What truly seals things is that Ratigan gets angry if anyone calls him a rat because he considers himself to be a criminal genius and has enormous social stature, but then when his plan is foiled, he literally goes completely feral and attacks Basil in one of the scariest final sequences in Disney history. I’m not kidding. It’s downright unnerving. Even if you don’t see the film after my recommendation, do me a favor and look at this fight sequence. If a little chill doesn’t go down your spine, you’re crazy or in denial.

Percival C. McLeach (Rescuers Down Under)

Like some of the other Disney films on this list, Rescuers Down Under is one of the Disney films that gets overlooked a lot simply for being earlier era Disney, but it’s actually one of those rare sequels that is largely hailed as better than the original. Not only is the animation absolutely gorgeous, it’s a thrilling ride with lots of humor and colorful characters that will capture your heart pretty much instantaneously. Rescuers Down Under is also one of the movies that I decided to rewatch as an adult since I didn’t recall much from my childhood other than really liking John Candy’s role as the goofy seagull.

Well, one thing that also left a lasting impression on my rewatch is Mr. Percival C. McLeach.

Now, a lot of you are probably squinting right now going, “Wow, that was really the bad guy’s full name in this movie?” I’m with you on that one. I actually forgot his name too until I Googled it. However, look at his picture and I’m sure it’ll immediately snap into your mind what a greasy, insidious piece of evil crap this guy was.

For those who might have missed the movie, Rescuers Down Under is about a sweet little Australian boy named Cody who stumbles across an incredibly rare, beautiful, huge golden eagle and befriends it, but there’s a poacher on the loose who is dead set on catching the eagle and he doesn’t care who or what gets in his way. The Rescuers are sent in to help the lost boy find his way home and protect him and the eagle from McLeach.

Oh, did I mention McLeach is voiced by the late great George C. Scott?

You’re buying the DVD on Amazon right now, aren’t you?

Once again, the reference will probably go over the kids’ heads, but anyone my age and older knows that you can’t resist that smoke-and-venom laced voice of George C. Scott, and his talents are on full display in this movie. McLeach is exactly like his namesake—a bloodthirsty parasite. You’d think that as a full grown man, he’d just let the kid go and take the eagle, but no. McLeach considers the kid to be a threat because the kid knows that poaching is illegal and could rat him out, so not only does he kidnap the kid, he uses the kid as bait for crocodiles. Yes. This man used a small child as live crocodile bait. I mean…no wonder this movie is better than the original. Who has the balls to be that damned evil?

Plus, like Jafar and Iago, McLeach’s relationship with his creepy little lizard Joanna is hysterical. The lizard has a lust for eggs and so a couple hilarious segments devoted to the lizard getting at them like any annoying pet would. I highly recommend the sequence of the lizard getting the dozen eggs McLeach was trying to eat for lunch out of his lunchbox. It is Tom and Jerry levels of hilarious shenanigans. I know Disney overuses animal sidekicks, but that scene truly deserves a lot of credit for comedic timing and visuals.

Give this film a try. I think you’ll honestly find yourself impressed with how well it stands up, and how truly beautiful the animation style is. You get an excellent feel for the outback and a great story with vibrant characters to boot.

Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)

Man, sometimes Disney just knocks it out of the park with casting, and the Emperor’s New Groove is no exception. It’s one of those Disney movies that is irresistible from start to finish. No matter when it’s on and no matter what platform, I will watch this movie and laugh myself silly every time.

Once again, we have a villainess who is just so over-the-top phenomenal that I can’t help but sing the casting director’s praises. We are treated to none other than the glorious late Eartha Kitt as Yzma, the emperor’s evil advisor who is responsible for the plot to kill him, which thankfully went awry. Eartha Kitt is a legend for a reason. Yzma is just as funny and snarky as Hades, and I honestly think it would have been amazing for these two villains to meet and have a Snark Off.

I love Yzma’s constant cantankerous nature on top of her clear vanity and ego. It’s one of the personality types that often is given to male characters, and so it’s all the more interesting and fun to see it portrayed via Eartha Kitt’s amazing voice acting. She’s wonderful because she feels like the kind of person who would be in power over Kuzco’s empire while he’s running around being a selfish brat. I love how fashionable she is and how she just rolls with the ridiculous things she’s forced to endure while trying to catch Kuzco. Her deadpan alone will bring tears to your eyes. “Are you talking to that squirrel?

Plus, Yzma and Kronk might be my all-time favorite Disney villain duo if only because they’re relationship is pure genius. Despite how the partnership ends up, it’s pretty funny that they both seem to know each other well and get along on some superficial level. Pretty much everything Kronk does is amazing and I want to put him in my pocket, so it’s easy to see that Yzma hadn’t gotten rid of him yet even though he was driving her crazy. Special mention goes to the jump rope moment where she is discussing her evil plan while actually jumping rope and playing patty-cake with Kronk. It’s priceless. You can’t not love this duo. Even after Yzma loses, she and Kronk are still hanging out and it’s brilliant.

If there’s one company that knows how good it feels to be evil this October Halloween season, it’s Disney.

My Favorite Awesomely Bad Disaster Movies

Let’s keep the month of October going with my favorite disaster movies! Disaster movies usually get their own category since they are so prevalent and pop up every handful of years using the same tropes, but I still think people tend to forget that they are technically horror films, even if they can lean more towards the action-adventure side than the scary side. I still think they’re worth taking a look at as we count down the days to Halloween, so let’s go.

Volcano (1997)

First off, are you noticing the trend yet? The 1990’s were just offering up terrible monster and disaster movies left and right, and I can’t thank them enough for it. Volcano is slightly more obscure than your average blockbuster movie like Twister or Armageddon, and for good reason. Like Anaconda on my movie monster list, it had the fatal flaw of taking itself completely seriously, and thus failed on every single level imaginable. It’s probably possible to make a horror movie about a volcano—not probable, but possible—but this is the exact way not to do it. But that also leads to big unintentional laughs for a sensible person like you and me.

Volcano is about an earthquake that basically awakens a volcano that was somehow lurking underneath the streets of Los Angeles.

I’ve already lost you, haven’t I?

Wait, come back. Just go with me on this one for a minute.

Tommy Lee Jones plays a city official trying to help with the disaster relief and Anne Heche plays a scientist (Sit down! Stop trying to leave while I’m talking to you!) advising him on what to do. And yes, it is a ludicrous as you think it is.

For me, the faulty science is what makes this movie noteworthy. I mean, wow. It gets so many things wrong and the fact that they’re trying to make a true blue disaster film out of incredibly slow moving lava is just comical. As I mentioned above, there might be a way to make this a horror film, but not in these circumstances. What you’d want to do is write about an island where a volcano erupts and let’s say the eruption takes out all the boats, so your survivors have to carefully navigate the island and get to a safe zone as they wait for help to arrive, and even then, you still can’t make the volcano the main villain. You’d probably need a secondary antagonist, like a selfish, cowardly member of the group who lets people die or tries to sabotage the survivors to ensure that he gets out alive.

Volcano fails on a stunning level to deliver thrills and chills because it’s just so stupid, but at the same time, it’s pretty spectacular in its failings. Tommy Lee looks generally annoyed by everything he sees and it’s enjoyable as hell. There’s stupid subplot about race relations that has one of the corniest pay offs I have ever seen. There is a scene where they knock over a bus to help “direct” the lava down another part of the street, and if you can’t find that funny, you need your head examined. It may kill a few of your brain cells, but I still think Volcano is worth a watch.

The Core (2003)

Speaking of awkwardly cast movies with terrible science and woefully miscast actors, The Core!

Let me tell you the ways of this facepalm-inducing attempt at a disaster movie.

As a result of unusual sun activity, the earth’s core stops spinning. Apparently, this causes catastrophic side effects, like a literal hole opening up in the ozone layer that proceeds to melt the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of opening some tequila and drinking to the end of the world, a group of scientists and the government decide that rather than accepting our inevitable demise, they should drill to the center of the earth and drop nukes in order to get the planet’s core spinning again.

You can’t make this shit up, man.

To be frank, The Core is a pretty blatant rip off of Armageddon. It’s incredibly obvious not only by concept alone, but by the hodge-podge “misfit team” the movie cobbles together. The strangest part is that the movie casts some damned great actors even though overall it’s a colossal failure at using them, including Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Bruce Greenwood, Stanley Tucci, Alfre Woodard, and Delroy Lindo. I am convinced that the writers’ room and director just hyped this movie (and its imaginary box office dollars) up so much that all these credible actors decided to say yes to such a rancid script. The dialogue is atrocious. Almost no one fits in their roles properly. Most of these actors are character actors who deliver excellent performances in dramas or sharp-witted comedies, and here they are generic rogue scientists trying to save the world.

As a whole, the movie is awkward, uninspired, and relies heavily on clichés. However, it’s another one where it’s so unbelievable that it has to be witnessed. It seems to misunderstand the movie it’s trying to emulate on its most basic level. Say what you want about Armageddon (I personally argue it is the only “good” film I’ve seen in Michael Bay’s inventory; I like Bad Boys and the first Transformers as well, but neither movie is “good,” merely entertaining), but it knew what it was going for: a misfit team of roughnecks saving the world from a terrifying threat. The actors in Armageddon were cast well and each of them fit in their roles and you genuinely cared about them. This group can be killed off or interchanged without consequence, but to be fair, the only person who seems to actually be trying is Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s snarky comments and uptight pretentiousness is by far the most entertaining thing aside from all the laughable science. He is 2000% done with everyone and everything in the movie and it actually brightens the film quite a bit.

The Core is a masterful train wreck of ineptitude, but I think it’s worth a watch if only because it just botches everything it attempts and is a lesson on what not to do in a disaster movie.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

The Day After Tomorrow puts the ‘disaster’ in ‘disaster movie.’

To be completely honest, I almost left it off the list because it greatly annoys me—now, granted, not as much as Emmerich’s other failure 2012, but TDAT has a reputation for its awfulness that cannot be ignored. For example, most of the time when movies do big budget blockbusters of this caliber, they ask for help. Michael Bay consulted with actual NASA for Armageddon, even though his premise was forced and not the correct way it would have been handled. It had enough basis in reality that NASA happily agreed.

The Day After Tomorrow is so scientifically false that NASA refused to consult with the film.

Yeah. It’s that bad.

The Day After Tomorrow is about the earth reaching its breaking point because of climate change and basically a chain reaction of cataclysmic events begin happening as a result, from hail the size of basketballs to tidal waves that put New York underwater. Dennis Quaid is a scientist trying to insist to the government that they need to take action to protect people, but he is summarily ignored as a crackpot until it starts happening. He finds out his son is trapped at the New York Library and sets out in the killer cold to rescue him and whoever else he can find that survived the tidal wave and ensuing blizzard.

To be frank, you’ll probably go comatose from all your brain cells exploding at once if you try to watch the movie without the help of Rifftrax. That’s the only way I can stomach it. The movie beats you over the head with its environmental message, even to the point of inserting a Dick Cheney look alike to scoff about climate change while the brave and noble Dennis Quaid proves him wrong. The sanctimonious tone of it all is insufferable, and then adding the bad science on top just makes it an exercise in going crazy.

However, there’s plenty to laugh at, from the miscast Jake Gyllenhaal (who is supposed to be a high school kid, but looks like a thirty year old with 90’s scruffy hair) to the hilarious scene of them literally out-running freezing cold air. Yes. Cold. Air. Is. The. Villain.

It’s almost hard to look away from this movie because it’s so staggeringly ignorant and it relies on some of Emmerich’s most tiring clichés, from the absentee father to the dumb self sacrifice to the cheesy redemption arc for the main lead. Everyone is sleep-walking through their performances and every weather-related catastrophe is done wrong. Even the title clues you in to how uninspired it is. Hell, there’s really not that much action when you put it together as a whole. They even had to shove in an improbable chase scenes with CGI wolves aboard an abandoned ship. Yes, you read that correctly. The movie is just spinning its wheels mostly, but at the same time, it makes it a lot of fun to riff and takes shots for. Just make sure you’re drinking the good stuff, or you’re liable to fall asleep.

The Happening (2008)

Remember when we talked about Lady in the Water being absolutely phenomenal because it’s the most bullshit horror story ever played completely straight?

Meet yet another one of M. Night Shyamalan’s mesmerizing pieces of crap that is played totally straight as a horror film and yet is the furthest thing from it.

The Happening is about a “mysterious” event occurring all over the United States where people start randomly killing themselves en masse, which is preceded by talking strangely and walking backwards. The whole country starts freaking out, and one of the people in the middle of the fray is Mark Wahlberg, who for some reason is playing a school teacher. He and his girlfriend Alma, played abysmally by the walking zombie cupie doll Zooey Deschanel, try to escape the path of the event and survive.

Oh, and the thing that’s killing everyone?

It’s plants.

Yes.

Freaking. Plants.

Congratulations. That is the lamest villain of all time.

However, The Happening is overstuffed with bizarre things, much like Lady in the Water, so much so that it’s become a cult classic over the years because it does everything so wrong. Mark Wahlberg seems to have been given zero direction, so he’s basically mouth-breathing and panicked and clueless the entire time, whereas Zooey just stares blankly ahead like a bushbaby and emotes about as well as a sock puppet without a hand in it. The deaths are over the top and come across as silly rather than scary, and like most of his bad films, the side characters all consist of people with weirdly alien quirks that make no sense and don’t endear you to them. It’s like someone asked a Martian to write a script for a disaster movie. No one acts like a normal person would in the middle of a disaster. There are entire conversations that happen for no reason and characters come to idiotic conclusions with almost no evidence or prompting. For God’s sake, there is a scene where Mark Wahlberg tries to reason with a house plant that turns out to be made of plastic. This movie should be framed in the Smithsonian for a crowning achievement in failure to be a disaster movie, in that it is a complete disaster from start to finish.

But I guess that means it lived up to its genre, if only in the literal sense.

Birdemic (2010)

If you’re a nerd and you’ve already seen Birdemic, you’re probably giggling madly right now, and you’re not the only one, trust me.

For the non-nerds out there, let me introduce you to a movie that is so poorly done that most people don’t think it’s actually a real movie.

On the sunny non-descript streets of California, a software salesman falls in love with a newly hired Victoria’s Secret supermodel and then the city gets attacked by birds.

Again, I would like to repeat that I am not joking and I did not make this up.

I wish I could help you understand how incredible Birdemic is without visuals, but it’s hardly possible. By now, you might have heard of the infamous movie The Room by Tommy Wiseau, which is often hailed as one of the worst movies ever made.

Well, take The Room and multiply it by five, and you get Birdemic.

Birdemic was shot on a handheld camera, but not in the way that found-footage movies are shot. I mean the budget for this film is so nonexistent that filming was done by hand or on a tripod. The film also doesn’t have a sound editor, as there are huge audio spikes heard throughout the film as well as background wind noise that are inconsistent. The titular birds are not real birds, nor are they props.

They are literally graphic sprite .gifs of eagles flapping their wings.

And the eagles make seagull noises.

Oh, it gets better, friends.

The eagles dive bomb buildings and explode like kamikaze pilots. With plane sounds.

Think I’m done? No, friends.

The main actor in the movie is so bad that a case can be made that he is the first lobotomized actor.

The actor is so bad that he can’t even walk in a straight line like a human.

I’m not joking.

He literally even walks wrong.

Then add in the fact that lines are misread, repeated, or accidentally cut short due to the film’s lack of a professional editor, so you even get to enjoy movie mistakes as they happen in the film that were left in due to overall incompetence.

I know you’re thinking I’m crazy and I made this up, but look! Look! It’s real! It’s a real thing that exists!

Birdemic is beyond definition. Most people at first glance think it’s a parody, but I assure you, the “director” was dead serious and thought he made a real movie, much like Tommy Wiseau. The worst part is he was apparently “inspired” by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, even to the point of trying to get Tippi Hedren to cameo, but she understandably refused to accept the invitation.

And if you want to get your money’s worth, once more, I highly recommend the Rifftrax for it. It’s simply amazing. Either way, you need to witness the Birdemic. You will find yourself forever changed.

My Favorite Awesomely Bad Monster Movies

Guys! It’s October! Yay! Time to break out the pumpkin-flavored everything, sweater dresses, leggings, boots, and of course, horror movies of every size and kind!

Now, to be perfectly honest with you, I am a chicken. I can’t watch horror movies because I have an overactive imagination that manifests itself into vivid nightmares or insomnia if I watch them. However, I do admit that I like monster movies quite a lot. In celebration of the month of October, as we creep towards Halloween, I’ve decided to make a list of not just monsters movies that I like–terrible monster movies that I happen to like. Because, hey, it’s more fun that way. So kick back and enjoy!

Lake Placid (1999)

Don’t talk to me if you don’t like Lake Placid. It is by far one of the greatest blends of horror-comedies to ever exist and no one can ever convince me otherwise. I have to say I really appreciate movies that understand the tropes they’re using and not only use them well, but have fun along the way. Self-awareness, when done properly on film, can result in some of the most priceless moments possible, and Lake Placid is an excellent example.

In case you missed it, Lake Placid is about an insanely huge crocodile that is discovered in the titular lake. A team is sent out to confirm the sighting after someone was killed by it and after it’s discovered, the race is on to capture it before it munches everyone and everything on that lake.

Lake Placid could have been some dry attempt at making crocodiles scary, and to be fair they already are and don’t need any help from horror movies, but instead they decided to adopt a tongue-in-cheek tone that just sells the movie so much better than a straight horror film ever could. Easily, the movie’s best characters are Oliver Platt and Brendan Gleeson, who both enter into a gut-busting snark off contest for the entirety of the movie. Brendan Gleeson plays the straight-laced, grumpy, Harvey Bullock-style cop and Oliver Platt is a rich, crazy crocodile expert called in to consult. The two immediately hate each other and it’s comedy gold listening to them insult each other at every available moment in spite of the fact that they are hunting a literal killer croc. Plus, the movie is actually pretty creative and engrossing with its action sequences of hunting the crocodile, and there are not one but two genuinely awesome twists before it’s over. The fact that the characters are so aware of how ridiculous everything around them is makes it an absolute joy to watch. Special mention goes to Betty White, who knocks it out of the park in her small bit part of the foul-mouthed granny whose fault this pretty much all is.

Lake Placid is always in rotation on cable channels, and if you haven’t seen it, please do yourself a favor and enjoy it this Halloween season. Ignore the sequels, though. Those aren’t awesomely bad, those are just bad bad.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Deep Blue Sea is an unforgettable experience, as it is somehow a mashup of like twelve different kinds of horror melded into one brainless mess of pure brilliance.

Deep Blue Sea tells the tale of a scientist who has been trying to cure Alzheimer’s disease using a protein that grows in the brain stem of the Mako shark. Her project hasn’t turned in results and is about to get axed, so she convinces the benefactor to visit the facility and see that she can produce the protein. She can’t grow enough protein by the 48-hour deadline, so she illegally tampers with the sharks and grows their brains twice the size to produce more, which makes the sharks smarter, and so the super smart sharks decide to kill everybody and destroy the compound so they can get out into the open water.

If you’re not laughing by the end of my description, there is something wrong with you.

Deep Blue Sea, like Lake Placid, is mostly a precious jewel of a movie because of the fact that the characters are aware of how ridiculous the premise is and so they make the experience unforgettable. The main credit goes to LL Cool J, who is the Lampshade Hanger of the movie, and snarks it up being one of the only two black men in a sinking compound overrun with super smart killer sharks. He delivers lines that will have you howling the entire time. The movie also has the audacity to give you some truly comical moments of failed science. Everything from sharks swimming backwards, which is physically impossible, to sharks figuring out what cameras are enough to take them out like they’re in a slasher movie, as well as appliances that shouldn’t be functioning in five feet of standing water and lighters being conjured out of literal nothingness to deliver improbable deaths to said super smart killer sharks.

While some of you might know the film for the infamous Samuel L. Jackson moment, the rest of the film really does warrant a watch. It’s mostly self aware, but there are other things to giggle at where the movie tried to Do a Thing and failed miserably, like trying to make Thomas Jane seem like a stoic badass except they didn’t write him any badass lines, nor did they have him do anything badass, nor did the director direct the poor actor to do anything other than “stare blankly ahead and say everything in monotone.” Plus, once you’re done, look up the unbelievable trivia about the movie’s re-written ending. I won’t spoil it for you, but it is quite satisfying, trust me.

Deep Rising (1998)

Several months ago, I was at my parents’ house hanging out for the day, and my clever thumbs scrolled past Deep Rising. I frowned as I saw the title, as it sounded vaguely familiar, and so I turned it on.

It was the best decision I made that weekend.

When I was a kid, I recall that there was some kind of awful D-list movie about a ship with people trapped inside being attacked by disgusting tentacles. At the time, I was repulsed by gore, and so decades went by before I ever recalled the movie again.

In short, Deep Rising is a movie about a luxury ship that gets attacked by a mutant octopus with sentient tentacles.

I am dead serious.

Complete with cheesy effects for when you finally see said mutant octopus in the flesh altogether.

Where do I even start?

First of all, it bears mentioning that this is a Stephen Sommers film, and so there is a certain amount of self aware campiness to the film, much like his far superior Mummy films (excluding the non-existent third one). However, for the most part, you’re actually supposed to be afraid of the somehow-sentient tentacles that illogically creep around the ship eating passengers and “mercenaries” (I say that because they are some of the stupidest people ever conceived on the silver screen.)

Second of all, the casting is dreadful. There’s just a random assortment of actors miscast in these roles, like Famke Janssen and Djimon Hounsou. My parents and I were sitting on the couch choking on our salad with laughter at the utterly moronic scenarios played completely straight, like a mercenary shooting up an empty room and then turning his back so that the tentacle gobbles him up when he turns around even though he had fair warning as the other people ran away from it. My personal favorite moment where I erupted into peals of laughter was part of the finale with the “hero” and Famke riding a wave runner through the ship running away from the tentacles while firing Endless Magazines at it and executing perfect hairpin turns through the ship’s hallways at about eighty miles per hour. Or the guy that gets shot out of one of the tentacles somehow standing up and trying to talk despite most of his body being digested already.

Deep Rising is often cited as a poorly executed Alien ripoff, and that’s probably true, but it’s so absurd that it begs to be watched. Your jaw will hang open in disbelief the entire time and there is no way you don’t end up with stomach cramps laughing at the cheesy late 90’s effects, the awful gore, and the corny dialogue.

Anaconda (1997)

Back when I was a youngster, I was one of those freaky kids who actually liked snakes and thought they were absurdly cool animals. I still do, actually. At the time it came out, I was pretty young and so Anaconda seemed a little scary to me even though I liked snakes.

Then I became an adult and the wonderful fellas at Rifftrax decided to do a live riff of Anaconda. I attended. And I have never been happier that I did.

Unlike the other films on my list, Anaconda is a poor, blessed little movie that actually takes itself seriously somehow. I mean, where do I even start describing where things go wrong? It was pretty much doomed from the very start trying to turn an animal like an anaconda into a giant killer monster that is so sadistic that it vomits up prey it just killed in order to try and eat more prey. The movie is even stupid enough to put that as a prelude at the beginning of the movie. Who is dumb enough to put a completely false fact in front of their horror movie? These folks, apparently.

Anaconda tells the baffling tale of a photographer and crew going on an expedition to film on a river. They are joined by a completely psychotic “snake expert” who derails the entire trip and essentially takes the crew hostage to go hunt a monster anaconda so he can capture it alive (somehow he thought he could fit that 40 foot snake on that tiny boat, but it is never directly discussed) and presumably sell it for a lot of money. This Card Carrying Villain is played unapologetically by Jon Voight, who for some reason puts on the worst “South African” accent to ever be committed to film. He’s so obviously evil that he just mugs the camera with an evil sneer and does things to this crew of morons that should have clued them in to the fact that he was a remorseless murdering fiend the second they laid eyes on him.

But Voight’s awful performance is pretty much the only other thing that sells this stupid movie.

Voight is just hamming it up to the point of absurdity, but the crew he’s terrorizing is so lacking in brain cells that you’re kind of fine with him sacrificing them to lure the anaconda into his clutches. There is even a scene where his big, fat, old butt gets into a fight with then-young Ice Cube (who is so woefully miscast I cannot to this day figure out who said yes to him and why unless he just donated a whole bunch of cash for production contingent on starring in the film, because the man can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag filled with live snakes) and Voight somehow wins. Yes. Jon Voight out-fights Ice Cube. Oh Lord. It’s just the most idiotic thing ever, but you can’t look away because it’s like a train wreck.

Voight aside, the other reason you need to witness Anaconda is the laugh-worthy anaconda itself. First of all, the CG will send you into hysterics. It hasn’t aged well, and even the practical effects can make you burst into giggles, particularly with two scenes: the “fight” between the anaconda and a jaguar, where the jaguar is so obviously a stuffed prop that it might as well have been a kid holding one of those rubber snakes and wrapping it around a Beanie Baby, and the scene where the anaconda literally breaks through the wooden hull of the boat’s main deck like the freaking Kool-Aid Man. Oh, and did I mention that the snake screams? Not hissing. Screaming. Like, shrieking screaming, when it attacks. I have no words for how hysterical it is, because snakes can’t make noises other than hissing, so the dummies in the editing room made it shriek and it’s so funny I can’t do it justice. Plus, the snake does other things that snakes can’t do like climbing up ladders at the speed of sound, busting through planks of wood, surviving being exploded and lit on fire, and even gunshots. The snake’s behavior is even more absurd, as they assert that this particular anaconda is some kind of reptilian serial killer that murders for the fun of it, and anyone who knows anything about reptiles can already tell you that’s a load of crock. (*rimshot*)

It’s an awful, awful movie that can provide you with an insane amount of entertainment because of its lack of self-awareness. It’s one of those times where they were trying so hard to make a horror flick that they ended up making a comedy instead.

Godzilla (1998)

Let me start by disclaiming something—I don’t like Roland Emmerich. In my entire life, I have liked exactly two of his movies: Independence Day and this. ID4 is pretty much self-explanatory, but I know I’m definitely one of the only people in the world who likes Godzilla ‘98. It’s partially because of my nostalgia goggles, as this was one of the big action films that my family and I really bonded with. I personally think this movie is hilarious. Whether it’s unintentional humor or pretty much all of Hank Azaria and Jean Reno’s lines, I have such a great time watching this idiotic and yet fascinating film.

Godzilla ’98 doesn’t appear to really be trying to remake or adapt any of Godzilla’s direct canon films in Japan, at least as far as I know. It’s sort of just cobbling together enough story for why the big thing is on our side of the pond. Blah blah blah, government experimentation with nuclear power created basically an iguana that walks on its hind legs and is the size of the Chrysler building. Matthew Broderick is a scientist advising the government because he’s an expert in genetic mutation, or some kind of science gobbledy-gook. Hank Azaria and White Bitch (I refuse to use her name, because she was a conniving, useless trifling bitch) are trying to report on the story and get caught in the crossfire, while Jean Reno is leading a covert team trying to wrap everything up and prevent people from learning the truth about who is responsible for Godzilla’s creation.

Godzilla’s mixture of humor interspersed with, come on, be honest, some pretty excellent chase and destruction sequences, are why I always have to recommend it for your monster movie viewings. It’s more action-adventure than horror, but they do add some horror moments in there towards the end. It blatantly rips off Jurassic Park in the final act—down to stealing actual iconic shots, for heaven’s sake—but the movie is another where it is clearly intended as tongue-in-cheek and can be enjoyed as a brainless popcorn flick because of it. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, aside from maybe slipping in an environmentalist line here or there and then the “man is the real monster” moment in the last scene.

I know it’s a crime against humanity in some circles, but I liked the design of the Godzilla creature. I thought it was very interesting and it had such a massive scope because of the cinematography. He felt huge and dangerous and scary. And yes, I did see the 2014 Godzilla remake that was so dreadfully boring and only had a total of 11 minutes of Godzilla in it, and frankly, you can eat my shorts. I thought the 2014 Godzilla movie was a huge flop, with nothing but a boring, blank-faced Aaron Johnson and I’d take my cheesy ’98 Godzilla over it every single time. If nothing else, it had the balls to destroy Manhattan and show the big reptile the entire movie through, not for 11 freaking minutes. Say what you will, but if you came for a monster, you got a monster from start to finish. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a gritty, “realistic” tone doesn’t immediately make your remake better than its counterpart. Write that down, Hollywood.

I say grab some popcorn and enjoy the cornball idiocy of ’98 Godzilla.

Lady in the Water (2006)

Wait, wait, don’t get up and leave! I promise I will justify the inclusion of one of M. Night Shyamalan’s many bombs as an awesomely bad monster movie.

Many people were fortunate enough to have skipped M. Night’s misguided, kooky, bizarre foray into the rare horror-fantasy genre, and the fact that it was universally panned by critics didn’t help matters. I mean, you have to have a pretty massive ego to take a “bedtime story” you allegedly told your children and turn it into a feature length film, but keep in mind that by this point critics had been telling M. Night he was the next Spielberg, so his ego was at maximum inflation at the time, despite the fact that his previous film The Village flopped. Well, it went about as good as you thought it would as a feature length movie about a stupid “fairytale” with made up names and badly told, nonsensical mythos.

Lady in the Water is about a water nymph called…are you ready for this…a narf (*cue 10,000 The Pinky and the Brain jokes*) that stumbles her way onto land via a pool in an apartment complex that is run by Paul “what in God’s name did they pay him to star in this farce” Giamatti. He finds her and takes her in and shortly after he is going to take her somewhere to get help, a grass-monster that looks like a wolf called a Scrunt (*barely suppressed laughter*) attacks them, so he takes her back to his place and starts to try to figure out how to get her back to her people. One of the tenants apparently knows the “story” of the nymph’s origin and tells him he basically has to identify a bunch of people with foretold roles that will help get her home.

Are you laughing yet? You should be laughing by now.

But let me get to the point. Lady in the Water technically counts as a monster movie because the Scrunt is in fact stalking the nymph the entire time and terrorizing the people in the apartment complex, even killing one of them by the end of the film. All of it is filmed completely seriously as a horror film, and so we’re going to treat it as such.

Why is it worth watching?

Because it is certifiably insane.

Not only do you have to listen to the word “narf” a bunch of times, you are expected to do so with a straight face. There are just so many things in this movie that make no sense and will have you rolling around on your couch with laughter because the entire thing from start to finish is played completely straight as if it’s some kind of amazing horror-fairytale fusion. I hate to break it to you, movie. You ain’t that. I’m not going to spoil all the truly insane moments in the film, but let me at least say this: there is a real, actual scene in this movie where a small child predicts the future…by reading cereal box labels.

I am dead serious.

It’s that kind of movie.

Plus, you need to witness the incredible pretentious metaphorical-handjob M. Night gives himself as he writes himself into the movie as a writer who is prophesized to write a book that will help elect a man president and said president ends up basically saving the world, but the writer’s “radical ideas” get him killed before that happens, so he is presented with the choice of not writing the book and living, or writing the book and sacrificing himself to save the world. Yes. I am not exaggerating any of that. It happens in the damn movie, and M. Night plays that character.

But let me add one drawback: most of it is long, boring talking with almost no musical score. If you have a short attention span, instead direct yourself to the Nostalgia Critic’s review of the film and he’ll give you all the gut-busting highlights of the movie in less than half the time. Hell, even if you do watch the movie, I still recommend that review because it is spot on describing what an unforgettable mess the film is. You’ve got to give it a go this October. You deserve it.

And what’s next week’s October list? Why, it’s my favorite awesomely bad disaster movies!

Cautionary Tale: Netflix’s Iron Fist

Man, it’s rough when an entertainment company you love breaks their winning streak.

Marvel’s been cranking out consistently good material both in the cinematic universe and in the television universe for years now, and I think maybe we all got so used to it that we forgot it’s possible to completely miss the mark. To me, that’s what their latest venture, Iron Fist, is in essence: a swing and a miss.

To be frank, I rage quit the pilot to Iron Fist twice. Keep in mind, I wasn’t one of the naysayers who hated it before it came out and I actually didn’t listen to the early negative reviews because I knew there were people who wanted to hate it right out of the gate and nothing was going to change their minds. I saw the trailer and felt underwhelmed, but with Marvel’s excellent track record, I was willing to give it a try. This is not to say that I haven’t had problems with a few Marvel properties before. For instance, I didn’t finish Jessica Jones—not because it wasn’t good, but rather because I was not the key demographic for that show. Being an urban fantasy author, I have seen the exact same archetype that Jessica Jones is about a million times and so I was already burned out on the “inexplicably attractive but perpetually rude and standoffish private detective with super special powers” trope long before the show came around. Plus, the pacing was too slow and I wasn’t a fan of the gratuitous sex scenes with the far superior character of Luke Cage.

So why did I rage quit Iron Fist?

In order to understand why I’ve included Iron Fist in the cautionary tales catalog on my blog, let’s take a look at just what made me quit watching the pilot twice in the same day. Let’s do a comparison between the first fifteen minutes of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, and see if you can understand my utter frustration with this new show.

In the first fifteen minutes of Daredevil, here is what is established:

-How Matt Murdock lost his eyesight as a child and gained his powers saving an old man’s life

-Matt’s devout Catholicism and conflicted conscious because of how he misses his father and realizes how much they are alike in having “the devil” in them

-Matt goes down to the docks and stops a bunch a human traffickers from kidnapping innocent women

-Gives us that unforgettable opening sequence of blood over the city

-Introduces the unbelievably perfect Foggy Nelson and what he does for a living with Matt as well as the friend they have on the police force

-Introduces Karen Page and her predicament

-Introduces the dynamic between Karen, Matt, and Foggy

In the first fifteen minutes of Luke Cage, here is what is established:

-That funky, colorful opening sequence

-Introduces Pops and his shop members as well as Luke’s overall cool-as-a-cucumber-but-don’t-push-your-luck-fool attitude

-Introduces a minor character and her son who will impact the plot later on

-Establishes the relationship between Luke and Pops and hints at Luke’s powers

-Hints at Luke’s backstory and shows us his daily struggles to find rent money and his desire to stay under the radar even though he could do more if he wanted to

-Introduces Harlem’s Paradise as well as the first two main villains, Cottonmouth and Mariah

And in the first fifteen minutes of Iron Fist, here is what is established:

-A bland, forgettable afterthought of an opening sequence

-Danny thinks he owns a building

-Danny thinks people he knew over a decade ago still work at his father’s company

-Danny thinks he can talk to the CEO of a company with no appointment and zero proof that he is the founder’s son who was believed to have died in a plane crash a decade ago

-Danny thinks that two people he knew when he was a kid would recognize him as an adult and after he was presumed dead as a child

-Danny presumably has no money and no shoes and just sleeps in the park after meeting a bum who ends up not contributing to the narrative whatsoever

-Danny, still looking homeless, starts speaking Mandarin to the Asian girl hanging up dojo fliers

-Danny breaks into his old house and walks around like it’s not big deal

-Danny’s relationship with Ward is revealed as abusive

Do you see the stark difference between these shows? How is it that Daredevil and Luke Cage can establish that much story in a quarter of the runtime and yet Iron Fist establishes almost nothing in the same amount of time? This is exactly why I couldn’t get through Iron Fist’s pilot in one sitting. First of all, Danny is characterized like an entitled douchebag. We don’t know anything about him other than he’s woefully naïve and just assumes that everything will fall into place for him without concrete evidence towards his claims. We don’t know why he came back to the city or what his mission is, whereas with both of our other examples, we are quickly shown the character’s personalities and what they are working towards. All we know is that Danny thinks he owns the company, but yet we see no skillset that suggests he even could run it when he doesn’t even have the good sense to wear shoes while walking through New York or to find some kind of proof that he is in fact Danny Rand.

I’ve been describing Iron Fist’s script as “something that was written the night before it was due and was never revised.” Now that the whole show is up on Netflix, we’re starting to get stories that fill in why this show is falling flat on its face, such as the fact that Finn Jones, the titular Danny, only trained three weeks before shooting a show about martial arts. That’s unheard of. If you check the backgrounds of most actors who are cast as superheroes, they train for literal months at a time—not only so that they are physically intimidating, but so that the fight choreography is nuanced, believable, and a joy to watch. For example, one of my favorite modern fight scenes is Captain America (Chris Evans) versus Batroc (Georges St. Pierre) because Chris Evans trained for months to be able to do a majority of the shots in that amazing fight scene since he is in fact opposite a real UFC fighter. It is painfully obvious when Danny Rand fights that he isn’t a martial artist, and it would be different if it were like Daredevil when you have the complicated routines performed by an amazing stunt double. I didn’t make it past the pilot, but I’ve heard that Iron Fist’s fight choreography centered around Finn Jones is underwhelming at best, and it’s impossible not to make a comparison to either Daredevil or Luke Cage, which had intense fight scenes that were both unique and engrossing.

Furthermore, even if you forget the sloppy fighting, the dialogue is wooden and poorly done. Dialogue is about moving the plot forward, making complications between characters, or solving a problem, and none of that is included in the pilot episode of Iron Fist. It is so obvious that they are dumping exposition on your head. They don’t even try to hide it. Hell, the two main villains basically have a meeting where absolutely nothing gets done. They just meet to show the audience that they’re evil and in cahootz with each other. They don’t solve the problem at hand; they instead regurgitate rancid dialogue to establish their relationship.

Lastly, it also doesn’t help that Danny comes across as a pretentious college kid who spent one summer abroad and thinks he’s a dyed-in-the-wool Buddhist martial artist. He once again finds the Asian girl and starts condescendingly telling her that she should teach kung fu if she wants more students, mansplains that he’s supposed to “fight the master of the dojo” now that he has entered their city, and asserts that she should just give him a job even though he still looks like a crazy hobo. Understandably, she tells him to get lost, but it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth that he’s so arrogant. The troublesome part is that arrogance is a normal thing in certain heroes like Tony Stark or Thor, but even in those movies, we are immediately shown that both of them have a heart and are just spoiled rather than truly being douchebags. Danny doesn’t give us a moment of humanity in the pilot. He doesn’t give us a reason to care about him, and at the end of the day, if you don’t do that in the first episode of your show, odds are that you are doomed to fail.

In the end, even though I can’t fully judge the show since I won’t be finishing it, I think this is a product of Marvel rushing to put something out so that they have time to work on the Defenders instead. Danny Rand is an afterthought. This whole show feels like an afterthought. It doesn’t have a flavor. It doesn’t have the careful writing or beautiful cinematography of any of its siblings. If nothing else, then Iron Fist teaches us caution—that even when you’re on a winning streak you can still bomb out if you don’t take your time and tell a story worth telling. Even the mighty Marvel can trip and fall. No one is above that.

Let’s just hope they try harder with the upcoming Defenders show.

Cautionary Tale: FX’s Taboo

In my experience, writing a good story is like baking a cake.

You have to measure each ingredient carefully. You have to know what things taste good together and what to leave out. Put too much liquid and it won’t firm up. Don’t put enough, the cake is dry. Add too much sugar and it’s inedible. Don’t add enough and it’s bland and tasteless.

Finally, after you have a good story, you add your icing. For novels, icing can be the worldbuilding aspects, extra juicy scenes to pander to the fans, or any manner of things. In television, however, I would equate the icing to the acting and atmosphere of a story.

FX’s mini-series Taboo is like a dry cake with excellent frosting.

Naturally, spoilers ahead. 

Unfortunately, what I believe happens in instances like Taboo is that the writers got so wrapped up in the “mystery” of the show that they just flat-out refused to tell a story the way that people have been doing it for thousands of years, because for some reason, they thought they knew better. We’ve all seen shows, movies, or books of the like, where it’s so clear that the author wants to lead you around by the nose and never see a twist coming that they actually fail storytelling in general.

You see, Taboo has a terribly interesting premise, and it has strong dialogue delivered by an incredibly talented cast. I fully admit that I am a Tom Hardy fangirl, but it’s true that I gave this show a chance because it had the potential to be unlike anything else on network television these days. Hell, FX is one of my favorite channels for that reason. They like to take risks and explore the worlds outside of the boring lineup of every other channel with its shows only about doctors, lawyers, or cops. Furthermore, the cinematography is Emmy-worthy, and that’s saying something considering the show is set in Crapsack World 1800’s where everything is dirty, cold, wet, and diseased.

Still, this is what happens sometimes when you get big name directors like Ridley Scott who are so concerned with making something unsolvable that they lose the entire reason why we sat down to watch Taboo in the first place.

Let’s start with the big man himself, James Keziah Delaney. Is his part well-acted? Absolutely. Tom’s using his A-game and he’s given us a heavy, disturbing, intriguing performance as Delaney, who is just as batshit insane as a man can possibly get, and is so far into the antagonist role that you could easily argue he is a villain protagonist. Over the course of the show, we really are not given much in the way of redeeming qualities. At the most, we see he has a slight fondness for the madam’s daughter Winter and he has a slight attachment for his father’s servant Brace, but he is portrayed as basically a step below full on evil. He takes Anti-Hero to a whole new level, and it’s the first mistake that the show made: you cannot root for a man who is almost completely aligned with the villain, and so you never grow attached to him, therefore meaning that his fate is ultimately pointless.

As I mentioned before, basic storytelling means that you introduce a character, introduce their motivations, glance over their background in order to help the audience understand them, and then you put them on a journey.

Well, what the hell is James’ motivation? They never give us a full picture of who he is as a man, despite how much time we’ve spent with him. The writers threw us a few crumbs, but there is no payoff for who James Delaney is and why he does what he does. For example, most storytellers would make this a revenge story based around how the East India Company killed James’ father. We would assume as much, but we’re shown that James doesn’t have that much loyalty to his father and isn’t broken up at finding out he was killed for the Nootka land.

Well, maybe it’s about James’ mother, who was clearly a Native of some sort. Maybe she’s the reason he’s fighting the company to go to Nootka and maybe rediscover his roots. Nope. They never go into who his mother was, what she did, why she did it, how it affected him, or if he actually has any supernatural powers. They tease at it constantly and never address it, and it’s worse because it could have been one of the most interesting concepts of the entire show. Once more, it’s because the writers think it’s cool to keep the audience guessing and keep them in the dark, but all it does is make you impatient and frustrated that they’re jerking you around for the sake of jerking you around. James’ mother should have a larger impact on understanding who he is and where he came from, but ultimately she matters about as much as James’ father, which is not at all.

Over and over again, James makes decisions that can’t be predicted or absorbed by the audience because the show constantly holds us at arms’ length in order to deliver “ooh, aah, what a twist!” moments. I don’t know why they seem to think this is enough to keep our butts in the chairs. Without a reason to care or understand or sympathize with James, why should we stick around for a few cheap, paltry writing tricks?

Let’s say for argument’s sake that maybe it’s not about understanding James Delaney. Fine. What about Zilpha or Lorna? Nope. We’re not given any motivations for either of them. Zilpha is living under the greasy boot of her stupid abusive husband until the last two or three episodes. We don’t know how she ended up with him. We don’t know why she puts up with his abuse when she clearly has some kind of self-esteem and thoughts independent of him. Was her husband always an abusive creep or did James’ reappearance change him? Sure, it’s satisfying when she stabs his bitch ass and he dies knowing that she sent his sorry butt to the afterlife, but then the show immediately ruins it by letting her story unceremoniously end with suicide. What? Are you kidding me? Why did James doggedly pursue her, to the point where he was giving her wet dreams, and then just randomly drop her on her ass? They never explain why he just cut her off and then she just dies for no reason. What was the point of telling that story in the first place if there is no pay off?

Alright, then let’s focus on Lorna. Maybe she was meant to be the focus. Nope. No dice. Lorna shows up all proud and arrogant like she’s hot shit in a champagne glass, but she then proceeds to just take up space as the Token Vagina of the group. She contributes absolutely nothing to the story until the season finale when she exonerates James from the murder of Winter—which, by the way, no one was investigating and he was just stomping around London free as a bird in spite of this—but even then that became a moot point because James was escaping London altogether and Winter’s mother dies in the finale. Again, what was the point of this character? They never show us anything about her marriage to James’ father, if it was even legit, or if she knew all along that attaching herself to him would give her Nootka, or why she wanted Nootka to begin with considering she was just an actress. How could she sail to America and expect not to be instantly killed upon arriving? Or was she just going to sell Nootka to the highest bidder? We, as the audience, cannot answer any of these questions, and that is a huge sign that this story is sour.

There are so many points in this show where there is no pay off. It’s just sloppy. For example, we later see that James and Goddard did file the account of the Influence’s sinking and gave it to Chichester, but then James just murders Stuart Strange, who is the reason why Chichester wanted justice in the first place. Stuart is dead and therefore cannot pay for his crime in the justice system. Perhaps it means the destruction or at least the seizure of the East India Trading Company, but those two actions are at odds with each other in terms of the story. You could argue that it shows that James has at least some common decency, but since we still don’t know what’s going on inside his head, it’s not satisfying.

To me, Taboo could have been a delicious cake with delicious frosting, and instead, it is a dry cake with fantastic frosting. Most of the time, you want it to be bad frosting on a good cake because you can simply scrape the frosting off and eat the cake, but Taboo is at its core an unstable story wobbling because the cook was so busy trying to be Avant Garde that he just forgot the right ingredients and the right measurements.

I must admit that I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be back if FX orders another season. It’s extremely clear that the people in that writers’ room just want to dick around instead of doing their job and telling a story so that we care about the characters we’ve spent so much time with. I suppose I’ll have to mull it over and decide if it’s worth it for another go at an extremely overcooked cake with poor flavoring, but excellent frosting.

Maybe if Tom Hardy shares it with me…

Kyoko’s Favorite Movies of 2016

So. This year has been an enormous, raging, uncontrollable garbage fire, but at least it gave us some good movies. Here’s my shortlist of the best movies for 2016 that have been released.

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Captain America: Civil War: I don’t think anyone’s shocked at this being one of my first picks for the best of 2016. Like the Avengers, this movie gives me a massive rush of fangasm to see so many of our Marvel heroes in one story, and it’s great because not only do we know the core team, but we also get introduced to some new faces. Everyone went into this movie expecting to love the fight scenes—which were incredible—and yet we all came out with the same consensus: bump the main team, we need 1000000% more Black Panther and Spider-Man. I am truly blown away how much I liked those two. They were by far the biggest standout characters introduced into the MCU and I cannot wait for both of their solo films, because they have proven to be incredibly interesting. Still, I of course give the movie credit for being the most heart-wrenching film in the MCU canon. We were hit hard and often in the feels, from losing Peggy Carter to seeing Tony and Steve’s friendship fall apart to seeing poor Bucky being used against his will to murder the innocent. It’s a phenomenal film with all the right elements and it has a massive rewatch quality for that same reason.

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Moana: Again, this is no surprise. I am a huge Disney fan, and I am especially a fan of Disney princess films and how they have evolved over the decades. Moana is exactly that: the natural progression of a Disney princess with modern day writing. Honestly, it’s like the movie had a checklist of “impossibly awesome things” and it just checked them off one by one. Likable, realistic protagonist? Check. Creative, visually-stunning environment? Check. Bechdel Test pass? Check. Hilarious lines? Check. Catchy-as-hell musical numbers? Check. Gripping story with plenty of action and adventure? Check. Open exploration of people of color, also portrayed by people of color? Check, check, check. This film is a dream. It’s just so exciting and wonderful and powerful that I’ve already seen it twice and I’m trying my hardest not to see it a third time before it leaves theaters. So few films understand that there is a difference between seeing a movie and experiencing a movie. Moana is an experience. I found myself tearing up at the oddest moments, at moments that weren’t even sad, because I was just so wrapped up in the adventure and how it made me feel like anything was possible and that I got to be on this journey with these wonderful characters. Call me petty, but I am so damned glad that Moana was the one to take the crown away from Frozen in terms of opening weekend. Every bit of praise this film has gotten is more than well-earned. It’s practically demanded.

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Storks: This one sort of slipped by a lot of people due to when it was released, but Storks was just the quirky kids’ film that I was looking for and I really enjoyed it. Even though I want to say they marketed it as the makers of the Lego Movie, this film smacks a lot of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, in terms of 70% of the jokes being Lampshade Hanging. It could really be argued that it’s more for teens and adults than it is for kids’, and I think the box office and its critical reception reflect that. It’s certainly not a bad thing, either. I was howling. It’s extremely creative, the performances are hilarious, and the humor is spot on. I told my parents to rent it one day so they can crack up at all the great parenting jokes. I consider it a hidden gem among the 2016 films and it’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

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Zootopia: Before Moana blew my mind, Zootopia was the other Disney film that completely made me fall head-over-heels in love with it, and I still am to this day. The last time I’ve watched a Disney film this many times, it was Tangled all the way back in 2010. I love Zootopia so much that I own two versions of it: the DVD and the Amazon streaming digital video, though to be fair, I didn’t know Netflix would add it to their library this fall. Zootopia is life. It’s such a well told story with an amazing examination of all kinds of prejudice, from basic sexism to complicated accidental reinforced stereotypes to obvious bigotry. I haven’t seen an animated film handle these concepts this well since Cats Don’t Dance. It’s so relevant now considering what’s been going on the past several years and yet even without the strongly worded, mature message, it’s just an enjoyable film with delightful characters.

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The Legend of Tarzan: Oh, quit gaping at me. This movie was also pretty much panned by most people, but no one really disliked it moreso than they were just indifferent to it. Of the movies on my list, this is definitely at the bottom, but regardless, I actually really enjoyed this movie. To be clear, I didn’t expect to. The trailers were pretty generic and I really adore Disney’s take on Tarzan, so I wasn’t really in the market for a new interpretation, but once I saw that it wasn’t Disney remaking itself like it’s been doing in recent years, I decided to give it a try. (And half naked Alexander Skarsgaard is hard to say no to.) I discovered a surprisingly thoughtful film that paid respect to both sides of the fence in terms of nature and man. It doesn’t browbeat and it doesn’t have the same white savior problem that a lot of films similar to it tend to have. I really loved the flashback scenes of Tarzan’s early life. They were gripping and deeply emotional, and the performances were excellent, as was the cinematography and the soundtrack. I would argue it’s worth a watch or a rental for that same reason. I do admit that Margot Robbie is extremely damsel-y and useless, and Christoph Waltz is completely wasted on this script, but everything else about the film was good.

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Deadpool: This needs no explanation. It was perfection. You know and I know it. Boom.

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Kubo and the Two Strings: Like Storks, Kubo was sort of a niche marketed film, really only made for those who are really passionate about animated fairytales. Well, I am one of those people. I adore Laika productions, and Kubo is no exception. It’s a masterfully told, utterly moving, impressively beautiful film. It’s mature, but it still is palatable for children and young adults. If nothing else, Kubo needs to be seen for how rich and vibrant and detailed its cinematography is, and considering everything is stop-motion, it demands to be appreciated. The only downside is that unfortunately, the cast is not as diverse as it should have been. Don’t get me wrong: the voices chosen totally fit the characters and each actor did one hell of a job, but I still find myself disappointed that a movie set in feudal Japan has so few Japanese actors in it. The biggest casualty is George Takei, who had about three lines as a minor character. What the hell, Hollywood. It’s friggin’ George Takei and you didn’t give him a main role? Shame on you! Despite that shortcoming, Kubo is phenomenal and should not be missed.

I’ve got two more films on the docket for 2016: Rogue One and Passengers, so stay tuned for a possible update to this list in a couple of weeks. Have a happy!

The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Blood Rites

Welcome back to the Dresden Files Reread and Review! We’re back for another adventure with our gangly smartass Chicago wizard Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. This time we’re tackling Book Six, Blood Rites. Naturally, spoilers for this book and minor spoilers for other events in the series.

Disclaimer: this novel is absolutely RIFE with Harry Dresden/Karrin Murphy moments. I apologize in advance, because I am going to be an insufferable shipper the whole time and there is nothing you can do about it and I am so sorry. This is also my longest review to date, so basically strap yourself down and prepare for the following:

The first thing to note about Blood Rites is that it actually has a reputation for one of the best opening and closing lines in the entire Dresden Files series. Look upon this opening line and enjoy:

“The building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.”

Yep. Are you ready for this book? I am so ready for this book. Let’s dive in.

Our wonderful hero, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (conjure at your own risk), Chicago wizard and private investigator, is currently fleeing—I shit you not—three demonic monkeys throwing supernatural flaming poo at him. Pun very intended. Read that sentence again and question the sanity of Jim Butcher.

It turns out he’s actually on a rescue mission, retrieving a litter of Foo puppies that were stolen by said beasties. Foo dogs are incredibly intelligent, borderline supernaturally strong and fast warrior dogs, and Harry’s been hired to get them back. He manages to escape the building he rescued them from and climbs into his ride with the one and only Thomas Raith, White Court vampire and occasional ally. And also my third favorite character in the series.

The demon monkeys form Monkey Voltron—and I’m not making this shit up, it says that in Harry’s narration—and continue chasing the boys, but they manage to kill it and head onward towards Brother Wang and the monks who hired him. In the meantime, it turns out Thomas tracked Harry down to ask him a favor, which is unusual since technically the wizards and vampires are still at war. Granted, Thomas is a White Court vampire, and they don’t have much of a beef with Harry, but the Red Court vampires still want Harry’s head on a plate cooked medium, and so Harry is understandably a bit tense about whatever made Thomas come looking for him.

Thomas wants Harry to help his friend, Arturo Genosa, who might be the subject of an entropy curse. Those are nasty long-distances curses that are committed by powerful, usually hateful individuals, and so Harry makes a deal that he’ll help as long as he gets paid his investigator’s fee and if Thomas will finally come clean about why he’s helped Harry several times with no real explanation.

Harry drops the puppies off and then he and Thomas head to go see Genosa, but just when they arrive, a Black Court vampire attacks the car. Luckily, it turns out one of the Foo puppies stowed away under the seat and it barks right before the vamp attacks, and Harry and Thomas manage to fight it off. They go see Genosa and Harry learns that he has three ex-wives as his starting list for potential killers. Thomas collects his girlfriend Justine and departs, while Harry is set to pretend to be Genosa’s production assistant on set so he can try to catch the killer and prevent the curse from killing anyone else.

Afterward, Harry and the puppy head home and he asks Bob, the air spirit of knowledge, to go out to search for the lair of Mavra, the head of the Black Court vampires who have him on their hit list. He intends to find where they are holed up and strike first rather than waiting for them to up the ante. It’s at this point that Harry finds out Genosa isn’t a regular movie producer.

He’s a porn movie producer.

Cue hysterical laughter.

Harry heads to the gym to see our residential Queen of Awesomeness, Lt. Karrin Murphy, head of the Special Investigations department of the Chicago Police. In between positively adorable dialogue, short jokes, and low-level flirting, Harry asks her to help him find Mavra’s lair and take the bitch out, since Murphy’s sharpshooting and incredible instincts have saved Harry’s life dozens of times.

Side note: if you’re not into audiobooks, I would urge you to reconsider. The Dresden Files entire series is narrated by the one and only James Marsters, who most recognize as Spike from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, and his voice-work is nothing short of phenomenal. I actually did read Blood Rites first, but my friend lent me the audiobook for a long road trip and the audiobook might be yet another reason Blood Rites is one of my favorite books in the series. Marsters just nails Harry’s inflections and changes in mood, and one of the things I love most is how he reads lines about Karrin Murphy.

You see, up until this point in the series, Harry sees Murphy as a dear friend and ally. But that’s consciously. I honestly think he doesn’t notice that he has a crush on her until later on in this novel, which I will discuss when we get there, but Marsters does this amazing thing when he reads Harry’s narration and description of Murphy that just seals how he feels about her even though he doesn’t know he feels that way yet. There’s so much affection in his voice, as well as respect, and even a little bit of longing, and it adds to the experience of the novel tenfold. Even if you don’t purchase it, find some excerpts and listen. I guarantee you’ll love it that much more.

We also learn that Murphy’s family reunion is on Saturday and she’s dying for a reason to ditch it, so she agrees to help Harry out, and takes care of the puppy while he heads to the set of Genosa’s skin flick.

Not long after Harry arrives, he starts to meet new people, and we get this little gem of a scene:

Guy: Who the hell are you?

Harry: I the hell am Harry.

Guy: You always a wiseass?

Harry: No. Sometimes I’m asleep.

Marry me, Harry, you sarcastic little shit, you.

He meets the producer, Joan, and helps her get set up, but not long after that someone is attacked again by the entropy curse. One of the actresses is hit by the curse, but Harry manages to resuscitate her and then hand her over to the paramedics.

We also get a little more insight into one of Harry’s flaws, which is his chivalric streak. I’ve seen disgruntled fans complain about it before, and it still pisses me off to this very day because it’s an intentional personality defect. Harry doesn’t dote on women and he doesn’t treat them like they’re incompetent, or weak, or beneath him. He admits that his chivalry is just an old habit and a bad habit, and I think that’s why I can accept it. He doesn’t assert that he’s right or anything. He can be honest and just say that violence against women pisses him off, and I don’t see that as something profoundly sexist and insulting, especially when you consider how many amazing female characters surround him, good and bad. It might also be a personal bias. I am 5’8’’, which is three inches taller than the average height for women, and for some irrational reason, I feel intensely protective of all women shorter than me. Even perfect strangers. If I see a guy messing with a girl, my first instinct is to do something about it, even if it would just end with me getting my ass kicked. I can’t explain it, and I know it makes no sense, but it’s how I feel, and some of my actions are dictated by this weird personality quirk. Same with Harry.

The production is shut down for a few hours while they clean up the mess the curse left the studio in, so Harry heads to his office, only to find an assassin waiting for him. Whoopee.

The good news is this assassin is Jared Kincaid, whom Harry actually called in to help him take on Mavra and the Black Court. Kincaid is suspicious by nature, so he makes Harry sit in a circle that binds his magic and holds him at gunpoint, since he knows Harry’s reputation for being dangerous. That, and to be sure that no one is posing as Harry to lure Kincaid into a trap of some sort. Unfortunately, Kincaid’s fee is insanely huge and so Harry now has the added stress of finding a way to pay it or Kincaid’s going to blow his head off after they take care of the vampires. Harry also suspects Kincaid isn’t 100% human, and that’s even scarier.

Harry goes to see Murphy at her office in the police department. Again, we get a moment so funny that I simply have to share it with you.

Murphy: I’ve been fighting this computer all day long. I swear, if you blow out my hard drive again, I’m taking it out of your ass.

Harry: Why would your hard drive be in my ass?

Hilarious quote aside, Murphy is actually upset and stressed out, which Harry notices due to the death glare and lack of jokes (read: flirting) and so he gets her to talk it out with him. Turns out there is tension between her and her mother, and she doesn’t know how to resolve it, especially with the family reunion right around the corner. Like the scene I mentioned in my review of Summer Knight, it’s downright heartfelt and adorable to see Murphy opening up to Harry, and Harry just being there for her even though he doesn’t have a family and can’t quite understand her hesitation. Their friendship is pretty much forged by fire and is tougher than steel, so it’s really great to read moments like this where they can share and grow.

Shipping? What shipping? I’m not shipping anything. Shut up.

Harry returns to the movie set and meets Inari, another gopher assistant like him, then goes to see Arturo. While there he meets the resident brat of the film feature, Trixie Vixen, and Lara Raith. Trixie is ex-wife number three of Arturo’s, and Lara is a beautiful former actress Arturo asked to step in since one of the other leading ladies was hurt by the curse. I have to admit I love reading Harry’s reaction to Lara, if only because it’s comforting to read about a hero whose love life is about as barren as my own.

However, because of his strong reaction to Lara, Harry figures out she’s a White Court vampire, which complicates things a ton. He calls Murphy to figure out what she’s found, and we’re treated to more adorable flirting (“You’re cute when you’re embarrassed.”) but then Harry senses something going wrong and narrowly avoids an assassination attempt via a poisoned dart.

The movie continues shooting and nothing happens until Harry sees a dark figure skulking around, so he pursues him only to find out it’s Thomas. Harry confronts him, suspicious that he’s up to something, but Lara interrupts him at gun point, revealing that she’s Thomas’ older half-sister, and Inari’s as well. Lara and Thomas argue about Thomas’ plan to overthrow their father, Lord Raith, the King of the White Court, and Lara determines that he cannot win, so she plans to mercy-kill him, and Harry, instead.

She shoots Thomas twice, but Harry makes her back off before she can kill him, and they bump into Inari, who panics, thinking Harry shot Thomas. She hits Harry on the head and Lara convinces her to run off and call the police. Just before she can finish them, three Black Court vampires show up and Harry feels the entropy curse winding up yet again. Oh joy!

They take out the Black Court vampires, but everyone’s hurt so they retreat to one of the White Court’s safe houses. Lara gives Harry and Thomas a 24-hour truce, which he cautiously accepts, but just as they arrive, they bump into Lord Raith. It’s tense, but Lara convinces Lord Raith to let Harry stay and they bring Thomas to Justine. Unfortunately, Thomas is so near death that to feed on Justine would mean killing her, and while Harry tries to convince her not to do it, she still agrees to let him feed because she loves him.

That sound you’re hearing is me gross sobbing. Get used to it.

Harry wakes the next morning and Thomas has come around, but is naturally devastated that he was forced to feed on Justine. Harry storms out, but realizes he needs to stay until sunrise so that Mavra’s goons can’t come after him. After he cleans up, Inari comes to him to thank him, only she tries to feed on him. However, since Harry is still in love with Susan, he can’t be fed on by White Court vampires, so it burns her and knocks her out of the trance. Thomas intervenes and Harry apologizes for his harsh anger about Justine’s fate, mostly because he realizes the situation is similar to what happened between him and Susan. Thomas also tells him Lord Raith juiced Inari up and sent him to Harry’s room to kill him, since it could be blamed on her for losing control.

And then Thomas drops a f**king atom bomb.

It turns out he’s Harry’s older brother.

Bert can see forever

Sometime prior, Thomas discovered Lord Raith had portraits made of all of the women who bore his children, and he leads Harry to the portrait of Margaret Dresden, his mother. He also has the same silver pentacle that she left Harry. It’s the reason why he’s been helping Harry the last few years. Harry of course goes straight into angry denial, assuming that it’s another con, but concedes that they’ll look at each other with The Soulgaze to determine the truth. The Soulgaze is basically when a wizard meets eyes with anyone or anything for more than a few seconds, and so they are locked into a trance where they see the true makeup of the person’s soul. It’s permanently imprinted into a wizard’s memory, and he sees every detail that is the core of said person.

And when he gazes at Thomas, Harry is able to see an imprint of his mother, Margaret Dresden.

That sound you’re hearing is me gross sobbing even louder. Get used to it.

His mother’s imprint leaves him with a small token of knowledge, and the Soulgaze ends. Now Harry knows the truth, that he’s not totally without family and has an older brother. It’s by far one of the most beautiful scenes in the series, honestly, and it can get you choked up if you’re not careful.

Harry returns home only to find Bob’s useless self spent the night visiting strip clubs instead of finding Mavra, so he sends him back out again to do it right this time. He heads over to see Murphy and pick her up to meet with Kincaid about the raid on Mavra’s lair.

Naturally, since Kincaid is an ass, he picks a fight with Murphy in order to vet her skills. It’s another one of those scenes that’s so brilliantly written that I always read it twice or thrice because the second Kincaid starts insulting her, Harry just takes one step back and watches Murphy kick his ass. I LOVE that Harry knew better than to stand up for her, and just quietly watches her put Kincaid in his place. I like to imagine him like this watching his not-girlfriend bring the smackdown, personally:

Kincaid is rightfully impressed after Murphy feeds him his own dick (metaphorically speaking) and they get down to discussing business. They set a time to go after her once Harry’s got a location and then Harry figures out that the entropy curse is actually set to a timer, meaning he might be able to stop the next time it strikes.

He and Jake draw chalk lines all around the building and then centered around a mirror that hopefully would bounce the curse back on whoever cast it. He finds out Genosa is in love yet again but just as he and Murphy are on the phone discussing it, he gets jumped by Trixie Vixen. She’s on the phone with one of the perpetrators and has been instructed to stall Harry so that he can’t prevent the curse. However, Trixie is both inexperienced and not very bright, so Harry manages to keep from getting killed, but the gun goes off and the curse manipulates it into killing Emma, one of the women working on the set. Naturally, Trixie starts screaming that Harry did it and he’s forced to go on the run.

He returns to his apartment and by then Bob has found Mavra’s lair along with an estimation of how many bad guys are inside. His wheelman and mentor Ebenezar McCoy shows up and drives Harry to Murphy’s family reunion picnic.

It’s here that we get one of the Mack Daddy of all the Harry/Murphy shippy moments, which is Harry seeing Murphy in the dress for the first time ever. It’s. So. Freaking. Cute.

Harry: [Murphy] dressed functionally—never scruffy, mind you, but almost always very subdued and practical—and never ever wore a dress. This one was long, full, and yellow. And it had flowers. It looked quite lovely and utterly…wrong. Just wrong. Murphy in a dress. My world felt askew.

I consider this scene to be remarkably similar to the end of Inside Out where that pre-teen boy bumps into Riley and his emotions all freak out screaming, “GIRL!” Anyway, Murphy introduces Harry to Marion, aka Mama Murphy, and her baby sister Lisa. And it turns out Lisa got engaged…to Murphy’s second ex-husband Rich.

Without telling her.

Those bitches

Understandably, Murphy goes nuclear at this news and the girls have to be separated before a fight breaks out. Harry actually gets a moment alone with Marion Murphy and finds out a little bit about the tension between her and her daughter. Murphy’s father died when she was eleven and he’d been a cop as well, but he killed himself and Murphy never got over it. Harry makes a case to her that she’s shutting Murphy out by being so judgmental about her lifestyle, but Mama Murphy asserts that there are things Murphy simply can’t tell her out of protection and that she knows Murphy is too much like her father. It’s actually a really touching scene. Harry doesn’t have any family and so it’s important to him that Murphy straightens things out, and it’s really sweet to see him stand up for her here.

What really seals the deal is the way the chapter ends, if you’ll pardon me for quoting one more time.

Marion: Will you take care of my daughter?

Harry: Yes ma’am. Of course I will.

They drive to the site where Mavra and her clan are holed up, and Ebenezar hangs back while they go find Kincaid. Murphy is still upset they can’t call in the police, and worried that they’re in over their heads, but Harry reassures her in probably the sweetest little oblique moment by saying, “You look good in the dress.” I’m not crying, there’s just an OTP in my eye…

However, when Ebenezar shows up, he and Kincaid pull a gun on each other. It turns out they have a history, and it’s the seriously bad kind. Harry has to talk them both down from shooting each other, and he realizes that there is something Ebenezar hasn’t told him based on Kincaid’s reaction.

They enter the lair and are quickly attacked. I’d like to mention here that Harry was using The Sight on one of the potential threats and it attacks him, but then he sees Murphy as a literal guardian angel coming to defend him. MORE OTP IN MY EYE HOLD ON A SECOND.

They move down to the basement to try and find the hostages, and discover that they aren’t just hostages—they’re child hostages. And they’re in a closet wired to a mine that will go off if anyone else enters the room.

Fortunately, Murphy is small enough to fit inside and disarm the bomb. Delightfully, though, Murphy’s bulky pants get in the way and so Kincaid has to take them off before she can get to work.

And the darling precious cinnamon bun Harry Dresden finally realizes something very significant.

Harry: Get a grip, Harry. It isn’t like you and Murphy are an item. She isn’t something you own. She’s her own person. She does what she wants with who she wants. You’re not even involved with her. You’ve got no say in it. I ran through those thoughts a couple of times, found them impeccably logical, morally unassailable, and still wanted to slug Kincaid. Which implied all kinds of things I didn’t have time to think about.

Oh, Harry. You delicate flower of a man. Six books and you just now realized that consciously.

Naturally, that’s when the next waves of baddies attacks, this time darkhounds followed by Mavra. Oh, and two vampires with frickin’ flamethrowers. Harry manages to get his shield up, but the shield is built for kinetic energy, not heat, and so it literally cooks his entire hand. I wish I could describe how traumatizing it is to read about my favorite character in pure agony sacrificing literally life and limb to save innocent lives. There is a reason I call Jim Butcher ‘Satan’ on a regular basis.

Through sheer perseverance, they beat Mavra’s goons back and roast the lot of them with the bomb she had intended for them. Just as they gather the kids together, Mavra gets her second wind and jumps them, but Harry lays the smackdown on her with a specially prepared vampire paintball gun and Kincaid lops the bitch’s head off. Go Team Dresden.

They return home and Harry starts to form a theory about Genosa’s gaggle of murderers invoking the entropy curse and that it’s being spearheaded by Lord Raith as a power struggle and show of force, since he can’t control Genosa since the man is in love yet again. He also tells her about Thomas being his half-brother. While they’re feeling honest, Murphy admits that Kincaid taking her pants off kind of rustled her jimmies while Harry quietly thinks about how she’s seeing straight through him while talking about her lack of love life and it basically just feels like this:

 

But I digress. Murphy heads out to gear up for their next move, and in the meantime Harry forces Ebenezar to tell him the truth.

I’ve been thinking of a list of things that are less painful to experience than the contents of Harry’s conversation with his mentor. I came up with:

-burning hot needles jammed under your fingernails

-waterboarding

-stepping on a Lego

-perforated ear drums

-paper cuts

-getting sawdust in your eye

-watching the second season of Sleepy Hollow

We learn that Ebenezar is “Blackstaff” McCoy, the unofficial hitman for the White Council. We also find out Kincaid is a changeling who used to work for Vlad Tepes. Yes, Kincaid used to work for freaking Dracula. No wonder he’s so cutthroat.

Worse still, Ebenezar reveals he wasn’t just supposed to be Harry’s guardian when he adopted him as a teenager. He was also supposed to kill him if Harry showed signs of turning to black magic after he escaped Justin DuMorne’s custody. That feeling in your chest of being impaled? Yeah, that’s about right. Straight through the freaking heart, man.

It doesn’t stop there. Ebenezar apprenticed Harry’s mother, Margaret, and he knew that Lord Raith used an entropy curse to kill her for abandoning him and his allies. She even used her death curse on him, but it didn’t stick because he is protecting by some kind of old power that the wizards have yet to identify.

Rightfully so, Harry is angry and Ebenezar leaves. Once he calms down a bit, he calls for Thomas but finds out Thomas is M.I.A. Harry talks Lara into helping him in exchange for defeating Lord Raith so that she can assume command of the White Court. She agrees. Murphy comes to pick Harry up on her motorcycle and takes him back to Castle Raith.

Lara meets up with them along with Inari, and then another bomb is dropped.

Justine is still alive.

Ben Wyatt Aside Glance

Granted, she’s almost completely without any mental faculties and her hair is all grey, but she is alive enough to help them find him thanks to their psychic bond. Just after they do, someone from the manor opens fire on them but Murphy takes him out. Lara attends to the wounded party while Harry and Murphy go after Thomas in a cave called the Deeps.

The baddies come after them and they play chicken, which Harry and Murphy win. Unfortunately, not long after they come to a stop, Lord Raith has Murphy at knifepoint. Harry works out that his mother’s death curse wasn’t to kill Raith; she made it so that he can never feed again. Raith reveals that he thinks a ceremony sacrificing the two remaining sons of Margaret LeFay might end her curse so he drags them down with him into the Deeps.

Gulp.

They arrive to the cave where they’re holding Thomas and we see the ladies who helped Raith with the curse, Trixie and Madge, but Lucille had been sacrificed for the last curse because she made a decision on her own that backfired. However, Trixie has finally outlived her usefulness too so Madge and Raith kill her as well.

However, the bad guys hear sirens and Lord Raith goes to see if they took Inari with them. Harry uses this time to distract the bodyguard holding a gun on him and Murphy takes her out with extreme prejudice, and I love that they two of them have such perfect chemistry that she caught onto his plan without him saying a word to her about it. Plus, there’s this:

Harry: Took you long enough. I was going to run out of actual sentences and just start screaming incoherently.

Murphy: That’s what happens when your vocabulary count is lower than your bowling average.

Harry: Me not like woman with smart mouth. Woman shut smart mouth and get me free or no wild monkey love for you.

I can’t. Just…get married. Right this second. You stupid perfect babies.

Raith returns and Harry and Murphy jump him. They manage to wound him, but he blows out the lights, and then Harry hears that Madge is going to sacrifice Thomas to summon He Who Walks Behind, who is the Mack Daddy of all the demons and monsters and it almost punched Harry’s ticket not long after he broke ties with Justin DuMorne. Murphy and Harry intervene enough to stop the ritual and the power kills Madge.

Harry and Raith have a showdown, and just before Raith can take Harry out, Lara appears, having watched most of the fight and decided who she’s going to back up in the end. She chooses Harry. Phew.

We have a bit of a long denoument where everything is wrapped up. Harry and Lara agree to a truce, and in exchange for saving his life, Thomas pays off the debt to Kincaid and decides to stay with Harry since House Raith can’t keep him around since Lara took over and basically turned Lord Raith into a puppet with her vampire powers. Harry decides to keep the puppy and names him Mouse because he’s small, quiet, and grey.

And then we get the ending line that is just golden as Thomas returns from the grocery store:

“Hey. Why did you get large breed Puppy Chow?”

Blood Rites is the ultimate experience in a Dresden Files novel, if you ask me. Everything great about this series and this character is represented in full. It’s got the action, the sexy intrigue, the gumshoe detective work, the brutal noir-style murders, and of course relentless punches to the feels over and over again. This is by far the biggest emotional rollercoaster of the first six books because it’s not about Harry’s love life, but rather his character as a man. He is put through trials that echo throughout the rest of the books in this particular story. Important decisions that affect his future are made here, and it’s so wonderful to be right with him in the muck, watching him go through it all and praying that our beloved wizard can come out the other side alive and well. That’s why I love him. Harry is a survivor, and what’s more is that even though he struggles and makes mistakes, it’s so clear that he is a good man through all of it. He’s the permanent underdog trying to find a little slice of happiness in the shit-storm that is his life.

Overall Grade: 5 out of 5 stars

I can’t give this book enough stars, honestly. A million. A billion. It’s easily one of my favorites, if not my all-time favorite book of The Dresden Files. Do yourself a favor and get reading.

Join me next time for Dead Beat, which, like Blood Rites, has a reputation in the fandom for ridiculous amounts of awesomeness. Don’t miss it.

The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Death Masks

Conjure at your own risk.

Conjure at your own risk.

Welcome back to the Dresden Files Reread and Review! This time we’re taking a crack at Book Five, Death Masks with everyone’s favorite gangly smartass wizard Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. As always, major spoilers for this book, and minor spoilers for other parts of the series.

When we last left off, I was a bit annoyed about having to read another book with Harry Dresden’s lover, Susan Rodriguez, in it. However, keep in mind that I read these books incredibly fast the first time around, and so all I remembered was that she was in it and that was enough to make me grouchy. I’m actually happy to say that you won’t see me constantly complaining like I did in my review of Grave Peril, mostly because Susan is actually only in about 1/3rd of the story rather than the whole novel. Score one for me.

We begin Death Masks with another delightfully weird opening scene where poor Harry has been roped into appearing on the Larry Fowler show, which is a spoof of the Jerry Springer show. Yes, you read that right. Fowler asked Harry and Mortimer Linquist, whom you might remember from Grave Peril as the fake psychic, and the only reason our dear wizard has showed up is for the paycheck he rather desperately needs. It’s been mentioned before but wizards and technology do NOT go together. Harry can actually only be around things powered mechanically or by steam. Any items powered by electricity tend to explode in his presence, so he’s got a suppressing spell running while the cameras are rolling. To quote Harry, “I’ve been in house fires I liked better than this.” Gotta love ‘im.

Shortly after the segment starts, it turns out Fowler invited two surprise guests: Father Vincent and Dr. Paolo Ortega. Important thing of note? Ortega is a Red Court vampire, as in the vampires whom all want Harry dead as a doornail for allegedly starting a war between them and the White Council.

Understandably, Harry is freaked the hell out and Ortega tells him he’s in town to challenge Harry to a duel. The duel is actually to serve as a small scale ceasefire between the wizards and the Red Court vampires. Regardless of Harry winning or losing, the duel will mean that both sides stop killing each other. The only downside is that it’s a freaking duel and Ortega is a Duke of the Red Court, meaning he is no one to be trifled with. What’s worse is that Ortega insists that if Harry doesn’t agree to the duel, he’ll have his minions hunt down and murder all of Harry’s friends. Harry doesn’t take kindly to threats, so he demands that the duel’s rules be put in writing and agrees.

Father Vincent, the other guest of honor, is also interested in Harry in order to hire him for a job, but they are attacked in the parking lot by professional hitters. Harry manages to drive them off and takes Father Vincent to his hotel. Vincent explains that the Shroud of Turin—yes, that shroud—has been stolen and the Church wants Harry to track it down. The suspects in question are called the Churchmice, a few very elusive thieves who have taken the Shroud to Chicago to auction it off to the supernatural community there.

Harry returns home to his apartment only to find Susan waiting for him. (Cue eyeroll.) I’ve had a continuing personal investigation as to why I dislike Susan so much, and I’ve uncovered yet another clue. Every time Susan is in the vicinity, physically or if Harry is thinking about her, my lovely wizard’s brain turns off and his dick starts talking. I highly dislike it. Sure, it’s accurate because I’m sure that some men really do get this way around women they are in love (or lust, but that’s a long discussion for another day) with, but it’s a really jarring feeling for him to ditch all sense of himself whenever Susan’s around. Harry’s boner starts calling the shots when Susan is in the picture, and it’s not a side of him that I enjoy reading. Not his sexuality in general, but just how he can’t think about anything else when she’s around and he gets so jealous and bitter with her rather than with how he is with other women later in the series. This is probably a good example of how hard it is to be objective during a reread, though, so keep that in mind. I guess the bottom line is I don’t like how Harry’s behavior changes in the presence of Susan. I don’t think she’s good for him. I don’t think she makes him a better man, and to me, that’s what love should do to both parties involved: make them better, not worse.

My personal feelings aside, Susan is back in town in order to quit her job at the Arcane, to officially break up with Harry, and to warn him about Ortega’s duel. They are interrupted a bit later by a vampire named Martin, who is apparently Susan’s escort. The above comments I had about Harry’s jealousy comes into effect here. It really cheeses me how he gets when he sees this little creep, and while it’s totally naturally for people to get jealous if their former lover shows up with someone else, it bugs me that Harry gets so petty and irrational over some guy he knows nothing about. Take a chill pill, dude. Seriously.

Mercifully, my queen, Karrin Murphy, head of the Special Investigations police department, calls and asks Harry to come in and look at a corpse. It’s here that the introductions to series-long characters begins, and delightfully so with Waldo Butters, MD. Butters is an M.E. at the Cook County morgue, and while his part here is small, it still makes me smile anyway knowing the person he becomes later on in the series. Like Thomas, Butters caught me off-guard with how much I came to like him, but since his role is pretty small here, I’ll press on.

Butters shows Harry a corpse that has two highly unusual factors to it: (1) it’s been decapitated and has been shredded from neck to toe with deep horizontal lines that look to be inflicted by some kind of razor, and (2) its insides show signs of almost every single kind of disease known to man manifested at once. (It bears noting that after Harry sees the body, his first comment is, “Gee. Wonder what killed him.” I was at work when I read this line and just about fell over laughing. Goddammit, Harry.) Harry finds a tattoo that might help him identify the victim, and then promises Murphy to find out more information.

As he leaves, Harry is attacked by a freakish monster resembling a bear and flees, but he doesn’t get far, and what’s worse is he accidentally gets into a Soul Gaze with it. A Soul Gaze is something that happens if a wizard meets eyes with someone or something for too long, giving him a permanent picture of the makeup of a person’s soul and personality. Sometimes it’s a good thing, like when he saw Murphy’s soul as a beautiful powerful guardian angel. This thing, however, is a monster with a former human soul trapped inside, now laughing mad from sin and evil. Sounds fun, right?

Just before it can squish him, a Japanese man and a black Russian guy spring into action and drive the bear-demon Ursiel off of Harry, revealing that they are Knights of the Cross, just like Harry’s friend Michael Carpenter. The Japanese man, Shiro, and the Russian, Sanya, get it to back off and Michael shows up to deliver the final blow. They explain that Ursiel was one of the Fallen, as in a fallen angel from heaven that manifested in one of the thirty silver coins paid to Judas. (Sound familiar? Heh.) They take Harry to the St. Mary of the Angels Cathedral to rest and heal, and Michael asks Harry to leave town or quit his search for the Shroud because the Denarians, those who are possessed by the demonic coins, want to recruit Harry as one of them.

Harry heads home to read the written rules of his duel with Ortega and orders Bob the air spirit to go find information about Ortega so he can prepare accordingly. He then summons Ulsharavas, a spirit of knowledge, who tells him that the Shroud is on a small boat at the harbor. She also warns him that there is a prophecy if he seeks the Shroud, he will die. Well, that’s nothing new. It’s Harry, after all.

Harry’s mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, also calls and offers Harry a chance to hide out on his farm instead of participating in the duel, but Harry declines because he knows that while it sounds like a nice idea, the Red Court would find him and make hell for Ebenezar in the meantime. Bob returns badly worn out from wards around where he was investigating, and then Harry’s alarm spell goes off as something incredibly powerful approaches.

Turns out to be a little girl.

Yeah, I know.

The Archive shows up as the emissary for the duel, and we discover that she is the living embodiment of knowledge. The Archive is also escorted by a mercenary-for-hire named Jared Kincaid. She comes to explain the terms and asks him to choose which methods to fight during the duel: will power, skill, energy, or flesh. Harry chooses energy. A smaller note is that Harry also gives The Archive her own name, Ivy (tee hee), and it’s kind of really adorable and endearing.

Harry updates Father Vincent about the case and finds out he has one of the threads from the Shroud to help him locate it. Harry also leaves a message with Charity Carpenter to have Michael contact him. Charity, who absolutely loathes Harry to the umpteenth degree. This will be important later.

Harry heads to the harbor and locates two thieves who have the Shroud: Anna Valmont and Francisca Garcia, who trick him with the old ‘naked lady about to take a shower’ ruse (*rolls eyes at Harry*) and handcuff him to a pipe. They’re about to either kill him or leave him in the lurch when a nightmarish Denarian crashes through the window. Instead of a freakish bear-demon, this one is a killer Medusa with razor-strips for hair who murders Francisca, but Harry manages to blast her out of the boat before she can kill him and Anna and get the Shroud.

Anna whacks Harry on the head and takes the Shroud, and Harry’s magic-protected coat, and bails. I fully admit that I screeched “BITCH!” at this scene, but to her credit, at least she regrets her decision and goes back to drag him out so he won’t drown.

Harry updates Father Vincent again and stumbles home. Not long afterward, Susan drops by (*groans*) but to her credit, while I absolutely hate the conversation they have about her not being involved with Martin, I do like that Susan reveals she’s been working to stop rogue vampires from wiping out villages in Central America ever since she left. That’s good. That gives Susan agency, which she has been missing since her introduction. It’s the first thing I’ve ever liked about her, to be honest. Believe me, it’s been much needed after all this time of her being basically nothing but a sexpot.

Harry drops by the Carpenter’s house to see if Michael is around and bumps into Molly, the eldest daughter, who is fourteen. Molly is another character who we see in cameo form this time who becomes important later, and I like her a lot, but I’m not quite in love with her. Yet, anyway. She has a long way to go as a character, and I’m quite interested to see how things end up for her. However, while I only like Molly, I LOVE Molly and Harry’s relationship. By our calculations, Harry is somewhere in his 30’s, and she’s 14, and so of course he feels like an old man around this rebellious teenager with piercings and ripped up clothing who is scarily aware of things like sex and rough roleplay and it’s quite the amusing scene of them in the treehouse waiting for the Carpenters to come home.

Charity and the Carpenter babies arrive, and Harry tries to explain what he’s doing there, but Charity ignores him and puts him to work bringing the groceries inside. Shiro and Sanya are with them this time as well. However, the important part is that there is a scene that honest to God made my heart feel like someone put a hot-water-bottle on it. Charity is clearly upset that Harry needs Michael’s help because hanging around Harry tends to get Michael in trouble, and she is fiercely protective of him. She’s in the kitchen chopping vegetables, and Harry notices how angry she is, and so he gets up and starts helping her and actually manages to get her to open up about it. That is so unbearably sweet, to me. Charity hates Harry with the fire of a thousand suns and she has been pretty much nothing but nasty to him since Day One, but he cares enough about her and her family to try and make her feel better. This is what makes Harry such a likable character. He gives a shit. He always gives a shit, even to his own detriment or even when it’s about someone who has no regard for him at all. Scenes like this are why I fell in love with Harry as a character so quickly.

Since Michael is unavailable, Shiro agrees to meet with him and Ortega instead later that night. Harry returns home to find Murphy waiting for him with more bad news. Someone reported seeing him leave the harbor and the police found the body of Francisca Garcia, meaning he’s their prime suspect. She’s also been booted off the case thanks to a snooty higher up and she warns him to keep out of the public light until they find the real killer.

We also get this tidbit: “I spent a moment indulging myself in a pleasant fantasy in which Murphy pounded Rudy’s head against the door of her office at SI’s home building until the cheap wood had a Ruldolph-shaped dent in it. I enjoyed the thought way too much.”

Nothing says OTP like picturing your S.O. bashing someone’s head into a door. Marry her, Dresden. Do it now.

Susan calls and finally has something useful to say: she’s located the auction where they suspect the Shroud will be sold. She invites herself along, again, but don’t worry, at least this time she’s a ridiculously strong vampire so it’s not half as annoying.

Harry takes the Shroud thread that Father Vincent sent him out for a spin and goes to pick up Shiro to head to McAnnally’s for a formal meeting with Ortega and his second before the duel. It turns out that Ortega’s second is in fact Thomas Raith, the White Court vampire, and my aforementioned third favorite character in the series. Kincaid, Thomas, and Shiro get the details down on paper while Ortega and Harry sit at the bar. Ortega actually offers to forgo the duel if Harry surrenders and agrees to let the Red Court turn him into a vampire. Harry takes a moment to think about it, considering the fact that he doesn’t want to get murdered in the duel, but then discovers that the Red Court feeds on children and shoots the offer down with extreme prejudice.

Thomas comes by to chat and reveals he was forced into becoming Ortega’s second because his father, the King of the White Court, finds him to be a dangerous annoyance and this duel would be a good excuse for him to get bumped off. He also implies that Ortega is going to cheat by either having Harry killed before the duel or doing something illegal during the duel before leaving.

Susan shows to pick Harry up and once again Harry’s boner starts narrating the story, to my epic annoyance. He changes into a tux in the limo and they head to the shindig where the Shroud is to be auctioned off.

To Harry’s horror, “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, the premiere Chicago crime boss, makes an appearance, which leads Harry to believe he’s gunning for the Shroud since he is not only aware of the supernatural but often involved with it during his criminal activity. Harry accuses Marcone of hiring the goon who tried to kill him at the Larry Fowler show, but Marcone is surprised, meaning Harry’s theory is wrong. Harry’s presence motivates Marcone to try and get him booted out of the party so he can’t interfere with the auction, so Harry and Susan use the thread to locate it. Harry finds Anna Valmont in a room with the Shroud, but they are interrupted by the Medusa Denarian and her even scarier partner, Nicodemus.

Boy, how do I even begin to talk about Nicodemus?

First of all, of all the baddies and villains Harry has faced before, Nicodemus is pretty damn singular. He’s just…evil. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic, nasty, shudder-inducing evil. He’s not just an adversary. He’s a force of nature. He’s by far one of the most disturbing villains I’ve seen in fiction, so kudos to Jim Butcher for thinking this sick bastard up.

Nicodemus demands the Shroud, and since he and the Snake Bitch are responsible for killing Anna’s friend Francisca, she unloads her entire pistol into his chest. Unfortunately, Nicodemus carries around the rope that hanged Judas Iscariot, and he’s a Denarian, so he’s 100% immortal.

Well, shit.

Harry manages to blast the them aside with a  fire spell and he and Anna haul ass back down through a vent to the laundry level of the hotel, but Snake Bitch—her name is actually Deidre, if that helps—pursues. It is then that Susan Rodriguez finally, finally, FINALLY pulls her goddamn weight in this series and does something relevant.

She kicks Deidre’s ass.

Oh, yes.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Grudge match between a Red Court vampire and a Denarian? Sign me the hell up for that. A++

However, a second snake Denarian attacks Susan with literal snakes that bite her, and she’s all but phobic of them, and Harry manages to knock them free and Martin takes the girls away in the limo before Nicodemus and Deidre catch up to Harry and knock him out.

And now, for another scene in this series that makes me want to curl up underneath a comforter and pray that the monsters won’t get me.

Harry wakes up tied upright under freezing cold running water in a basement somewhere. This is because wizards, or most supernatural folk, can’t conjure magic under running water because the element naturally cancels magic energy. Nicodemus enters and, I’m not kidding, sits down and eats a full course breakfast in front of Harry while explaining why he is interested in him. He offers him one of the coins in exchange for not killing him, because he knows of Harry’s reputation for destroying his opponents, and Nicodemus knows that somewhere down the line, they will have to face off, so he’d rather nip it in the bud. Harry, of course, says no (To quote my beloved soulmate, “Fuck off, Nick.” Why can’t I propose to a fictional character, that line was amazing.) and Nicodemus goes to slit his throat. Even though I’ve read all the books and stories, the scene where he comes at Harry with that knife STILL makes me squirm every time. It’s just horrifying.

And then Shiro shows up and kicks the living shit out of everyone.

While the delirious Harry sings the lyrics to the cartoon “Underdog” in celebration.

No, I am not kidding. Yes, you read that right.

Again, I freely admit that I bowled over laughing during this scene. Howling, in fact. My soulmate, ladies and gentlemen.

However, the laughter is short-lived because the only reason Shiro showed up is to trade himself for Harry for 24 hours. It is as heartbreaking as it sounds.

Nicodemus cuts Harry down and takes Shiro into custody, but of course orders Deidre to kill Harry before he can escape the basement. Harry hauls ass and meets Susan halfway out before eventually escaping back to his apartment. He sets up an emergency spell to keep the entropy curse Nicodemus sends after them at bay, but there’s a catch: it seals them inside his apartment for around eight hours, and Susan just so happens to need to feed.

If you have any sense, you know where this is going.

Have you ever liked someone but they have a boyfriend/girlfriend and you see them kiss and you’re just not having ANY of it? Yeah, that’s me reading the sex scene between Harry and Susan.

 

HOWEVER.

This one is different from the other scenes of Harry and Susan, because up until this point, they’ve only made luuuuuuuuuurve to each other. That has emotions and whatnot. This was pure sex.

It’s 100% certain that I don’t like Susan and I don’t like Harry with Susan.

That being said…the sex scene is pretty f@#king hot.

I hate to say it, but yeah. It rustled my jimmies a bit. I’m not proud of it, but damn it all, the set up was smoking hot and while I burned with envy, I begrudgingly admit it was well done. Let us never speak of this moment again.

So after bangin’, the spell lifts and Harry and Susan go to meet with Father Forthill to discuss the Denarians. They also visit the Carpenters, which is where they sent Anna Valmont to recover from her last fight. She agrees to help, after she’s had a shower, and of course she gives them the slip, while stealing Harry’s car in the meantime. Do you see what I meant about Harry’s boner? This is why he’s only allowed to have eyes for Murphy. It doesn’t screw him over half as much.

Harry also figures out that Father Vincent isn’t Father Vincent at all: he’s a shapeshifting Denarian named Cassius who replaced him in order to manipulate Harry into finding the Shroud for Nicodemus. What follows is a massively satisfying, dark, complicated scene where  Cassius fake-surrenders to Michael and Sanya and gives up his coin, meaning they cannot take violent action against him. Harry is infuriated by this, but realizes they are bound by their religion to follow certain rules, and that he is NOT bound by those rules.

So he gets a baseball bat and breaks the son of a bitch’s legs and ankles.

I. Love. This. Scene.

It’s such a fantastic example of the “He Who Fights Monsters” trope. Harry just goes off and whales on this evil, sick, demented freak and it’s an ugly thing to do, but sometimes smiting evil ain’t pretty. Sometimes good guys don’t do the right thing for the right reason. I love the grey area of it all, that Harry is torturing a bad guy for information in order to save Shiro and the rest of Chicago from whatever awful thing Nicodemus is about to do. It’s an amazing study of how Harry’s temper is a character flaw and how he is still a good man who can occasionally just snap when someone he cares about is threatened.

To seal the deal, Harry tosses the bleeding, barely conscious Denarian a quarter and says, “There’s a pay phone on the other side of the parking lot, past a patch of broken glass. You’d better get yourself an ambulance. If I ever see you again—ever—I’ll kill you.”

My body is ready

Also, Michael and Sanya later note that pay phones cost more than a quarter and Harry says, “I know” and they all crack up laughing because that was some cold blooded shit and it was really amazing to do to such an evil monster.

So Cassius spilled the beans that Nicodemus is going to use the Shroud to power a curse that will basically infect the entire city with terminal diseases as well as anyone coming to or leaving the city within the time frame of the curse, as it will be performed at the airport. It’s his version of the Great Flood, wiping out civilization to start anew. Harry tells Murph the news and then it’s time to head to the duel.

Ortega and Harry face off using will power to push a very scary little artifact called mordite, which immediately kills anything it touches, towards each other. It should be noted that Thomas shows up to the duel drunk off his ass and high as a cloud wearing a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt. Slow clap for Thomas, please. Thank you.

The duel begins and to Harry’s horror, it turns out Ortega does indeed cheat: he’s wearing a fake arm underneath his clothing to make it look like he’s still trying to will the mordite towards Harry, but instead pulls a gun on him. Just before he can kill Harry, Martin shoots the hell out of him from the stadium stands and all hell breaks loose. A bunch of Red Court vampires attack and the gang has to fight them all off. Susan is injured, but they all make it out alive, and Harry rushes off to the airport to help stop Nicodemus’ curse. He, Sanya, and Michael have Murphy call in a bomb threat to evacuate the innocent bystanders and then get to work. Unfortunately, they arrive too late. Shiro has been used as a sacrifice to power the curse.

Shiro’s death scene hits you like a ton of exploding bricks. It’s honestly hard to read in certain parts because of how guilty Harry feels at being unable to save him, and that the old man gladly gave his life for him without hesitation. The only thing I dislike about it is something we find out later about him, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

They chase after Nicodemus, who has boarded a train, with the help of Marcone and his helicopter. Harry tries to keep Marcone from coming with them, knowing he’ll find a way to betray them, but Marcone refuses to aid them unless he can assist, and Harry very amusingly says he “sucks diseased moose wang” and then they go after Nicodemus. They are fortunately able to thwart his plan and get the Shroud, but Harry passes out just as they get it and it’s nicked by Marcone in the end.

But it’s around here that we see one of the few things I actually dislike about this novel. After recovering, Harry gets a post-mortem letter from Shiro exposing that he has cancer. I really hate this trope, the trope where a secondary character we all like has to die for some reason, but they do it willingly since they have a terminal disease, so that makes it “okay.” It really is a last ditch effort to avail Harry of the guilt of being partially responsible for Shiro’s death, and I don’t like it at all. It’s surprising since Butcher sucker-punches our feels with no regard for how hard it makes us sob like infants. This feels borderline corny to me, considering how fresh and original his writing style is. Harry has a lot of bad choices to live with, and so it irks me that he felt the need to wipe the slate clean with this letter. Shiro’s sacrifice is weakened a lot by giving him cancer and making him a martyr. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, personally.

On the upside, Harry also gets his trenchcoat back from Anna Valmont as well as his car. We also find out that Ortega survived, but he was badly hurt so they had to return him to his homeland to recover.

There is also a detail I actually forgot about during my first read-through. Harry trails Marcone in order to find the Shroud, and it turns out that he wanted to use it on someone who could quite possibly be either his daughter or a relative who was comatose. I mean…wow. Like, wow. That’s damn good writing. I don’t care for Marcone. I find him to be too much of a Lex Luthor type character, since too many stories have the stereotypical gentleman mob boss, but this is a great angle of vulnerability for an otherwise uninteresting character. It also makes Harry realize that while he still demands that Marcone returns the Shroud in three days to the proper authorities, he does admit that he’d have done something like that to save someone he loves as well.

In our final scene, Harry sees little two year old Harry (the baby who almost died in Grave Peril, so they named him after Harry, which is precious) outside looking at something shiny. It’s one of the Denarian coins, and big Harry manages to snatch it up before the toddler touches it. Nicodemus, the slime, is in a car on the street, having dropped it as a way to get them back for spoiling his plan. See? SEE? DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN WITH THIS GUY?

Since Harry touched it, he now carries a latent amount of the demon’s imprint, but he buries the coin underneath his basement to keep it from falling into the wrong hands, including his own. He also keeps Shiro’s sword above the mantle and takes down the photos of Susan, closing the book on their relationship now that it’s over.

Overall, I ended up liking Death Masks far more than I expected to, especially considering it’s a book with Susan in it. It has a lot of really fantastic introductions to characters we come to know better later on, it has some chilling elements, some amazing moral quandaries for our hero, and an engrossing plot that makes you keep turning those pages. It doesn’t drag the way that Grave Peril or Fool Moon did at times, and it hits all the right spaces between humor, drama, and action.

Overall Grade: 4 out of 5

Join me next time for one of my absolute favorite books in the series, Blood Rites. Aka the one where our precious flower Harry Dresden finally starts to realize he has feelings for a certain short, blond, incredibly awesome lady cop. See ya then.

Kyoko

The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Summer Knight

Summer Knight cover

 

Welcome back to the Dresden Files Reread and Review! Today we’re tackling Book Four, Summer Knight. As always, major spoilers ahead for the book, as well as minor spoilers for later novels in the series.

When we last left our gangly smartass wizard, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden (conjure at your own risk), he had suffered a great loss: the love of his life, Susan Rodriguez, was captured by the Red Court and turned into a vampire. She left Chicago to try and figure out her new powers, and poor Harry was devastated (though I noticeably was not.) Meanwhile, the White Council of Wizards found out about the shitstorm that occurred at the Red Court masquerade ball and are coming to town to find out what is to be done.

Summer Knight picks up with Harry investigating an extremely strange occurrence at Lake Meadow Park. It’s raining frogs. Actual frogs. Like the audience, Harry is all kinds of confused.

Harry’s friend and ally, Billy the werewolf, is also with him, and is understandably worried that Harry has been cooped up in his lab for months, trying in vain to find a way to reverse vampirism so he can turn Susan back human. Because this idiot feels like it’s his fault (when, SERIOUSLY, it is 100% Susan’s fault for inviting her idiot self to the vampire ball), he’s torn up and distant to everyone in his life, and it’s scaring the hell out of them. Billy tries to smack some sense into him about his behavior, but just then, an assassin makes an attempt on their lives. They manage to drive her off, and Harry realizes there is evil afoot, and more than usual. More importantly, he also acknowledges that Billy is right and he’s being an ass to someone who is trying to help him.

Harry then heads to his office where Billy had set up an appointment with a client, since Harry hadn’t been seeing any lately and was inches away from being evicted. It’s there that we meet her, the source of many a shit-your-pants moments in this series: Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, aka Queen of the Winter Court of Fairies. Harry quickly figures out she’s not just some gorgeous lady in a suit and is horrified to discover that Mab in fact bought the debt he owes to his “godmother” Lea, so now Mab has literal control over him. However, Harry is at least able to set the terms of their new “relationship.” He owes her three tasks of his choosing and then the debt will be considered clear. Harry reluctantly agrees, mostly because he has no choice, and Mab tells him to investigate the murder of the Summer Knight, the champion for the Summer Court of Fairies.

Afterward, Harry is summoned by his mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, to attend the assembly of the White Council. The White Council is supposed to be a society of wizards who quietly protect the mortal world and dole out punishment to any wizards who break the laws of magic. Sadly, they are more like Congressmen: completely selfish, arrogant, and only interested in personal gain. And boy, do they have a mad on for Harry.

When Harry was just a teenager, he was raised by a wizard named Justin DuMorne, who seemed kind of alright when he took him in after losing his father and raised him alongside Elaine Mallory. Then Justin bespelled Elaine and tried to turn Harry into his mind-slave to perform black magic. The resulting fight for his life and will power ended with Harry killing Justin in self-defense and burning down the house, leading him to believe Elaine also vanished in the fire, as he was never able to find her after years of searching. Harry technically broke the First Law of Magic: thou shall not kill, but through the grace of some holy power, his mentor Ebenezar convinced the Council that it was self-defense and adopted him to teach him how to use his powers properly and to channel some of that rage into something productive.

His involvement with what happened to the Red Court vampires, namely starting an alleged war, has caught the council’s attention, and so Ebenezar organizes a small party to try to sway the vote and keep them from hacking off Harry’s head. After a teeth-grindingly frustrating meeting, the Council decides that Harry has to win over Mab and the Winter Court for the White Council’s side of the war or they’re going to hand him over to the Red Court on a silver platter. Oy.

Harry goes to see Murphy so that he can start investigating the Summer Knight’s murder, but it’s not that simple. If you recall in Grave Peril, Murphy was mind-raped by the malevolent spirit of Kravos, and Harry discovers that she’s been drinking and taking Valium in vain attempts to get to sleep. This is a result of the mind-rape, but also because she found out her first husband died, and he hadn’t even told her that he was sick. It is one of the most heart-breaking things in the series as Harry tries to figure out how to comfort his best friend, which he’s never really had to do before. I’m not gonna lie, I tried to hug the book. Several times. My poor Murphy.

They manage to hash things out a little and she gives him the filed report on the murder—which was posed to look like an accident—and then we get our first adorable Harry/Murphy moment where she bandages his injured hand (Mab stabbed him with a frickin’ letter opener, for God’s sake.)

And then there’s this:

Murphy: Have you found anything that will help [Susan] yet?

Harry: No, not yet. It’s like pounding my head against a wall.

Murphy: With your head, the wall breaks first. You’re the most stubborn man I’ve ever met.

Harry: You say the sweetest things.

Murphy: You’re a good man, Harry. If anyone can help her, it’s you.

Harry: (a bit choked up) Thanks, Murph. That means a lot to me. (notices that she’s dozed off and tucks her in with a blanket) Sleep well, Murph.

Bedazzled sensitive Elliot sunset

OTP FOR LIFE. I REGRET NOTHING.

Then Harry returns to his apartment to find Elaine there.

Yep. That Elaine.

Dean from the Iron Giant

 

Harry is speechless. Elaine quietly tells him that in order to lay low after DuMorne’s murder, she went to the Summer Court of Fairie and has been protected by the Summer Queen, Titania, until now, when her debt is finally up, which basically means she’s in the same boat as Harry: forced into being an emissary to find the cause of death for the Summer Knight. Harry wants to go to the White Council for help, but Elaine understandably rebels since she knows they’d want her head on a plate as well for what happened with Justin DuMorne. Then, speak of the devil, Donald Morgan shows up at the door insisting to be let in.

Morgan, in case you forgot, is Harry’s equivalent of a parole officer. He is also a massive tool the size of the gorram Titanic and wants nothing more than to lop Harry’s head off himself. It turns out Morgan’s game was to goad Harry into attacking him, and he almost succeeds until Harry remembers that Ebenezar said the Council would find a sneaky way to get him murdered since he’s a thorn in their side. He manages to reel the anger in and kicks Morgan out. Elaine hits the bricks to dig up some info while Harry consorts with Bob, the air spirit of knowledge. They come up with a list of suspects for the murder and Harry heads to the Summer Knight’s apartment to gather some evidence.

So, naturally, he runs into trouble. Harry bumps into an ogre and they have a fight, but Harry manages to slip away to attend the Summer Knight’s funeral. He stumbles across a few people he thinks work for the Summer Court, but they get skittish and run off after knocking him about. Billy swings by and they head to summon Toot Toot and his little army to ask where he can find the Winter Lady.

Billy and Harry travel to Undertown, which is the Winter Court’s realm in the human world beneath the streets of Chicago. It’s there that we meet possibly the craziest bitch in the entire series, Maeve, the Winter Lady. Like most fairies, she tries to bargain with Harry before giving him any info, and offers him a beautiful woman to bear his child. Harry proceeds to unzip his pants and dump a goblet of literal ice-cold water on his crotch to stay focused. I remember reading this scene the first time and falling backwards on the couch laughing hysterically for at least a minute. God, I love my stupid wizard.

While there, Harry also meets another one of the suspects on the list, Lloyd Slate, the Winter Knight, and he is a nasty drug addict on top of being just as bloodthirsty as Maeve. From their interactions, Harry concludes that they are both too sloppy to orchestrate the Summer Knight’s murder and they leave Undertown. They bump into the Summer Court gang from the funeral, and after a brief misunderstanding, Meryl, Fix, and Ace, ask for Harry’s help. They are all changelings, and Lily has gone missing, which is a problem because she was once Lloyd Slate’s favorite chewtoy. With the Summer Knight gone, they’re worried Slate has her. Harry reluctantly agrees to look into it.

Then he goes back to his car to find Elaine has been attacked and is covered in blood. Yay!

Harry rushes her over to where the Summer Lady, Aurora, and her fae are staying, and petitions for her help. While they negotiate, it’s here that we have another passage that really shows the unbearable talent of Jim Butcher’s writing. Harry has been suppressing a lot of anger and loss since Susan was turned, and Aurora gives him a few minutes of peace via her powers, and it’s such a lovely moment that I find myself envious that he could create something so beautiful in the midst of all the mayhem. Harry’s life is so chaotic that it’s honestly a relief to see him get just a few moments of honest to God peace.

Aurora offers to keep giving him this peace of mind if he backs down from being Mab’s emissary, but Harry knows it’d be his ass, so he refuses. Luckily, Aurora still takes care of Elaine and Harry goes off to see Murphy, leading to yet another really incredible scene. Harry and Murphy meet for late dinner and Harry just rants to her about the hell he’s going through, and she listens. That’s it. It’s so simple, but yet it’s another thing I absolutely love about this novel. As I mentioned in previous reviews, I honestly think the friendship between these two carries the series. They have so much love and trust between them, and this is before we even get to the slowly blossoming romance in later novels. I adore how they treat each other, how much they care, and how much they are just THERE for one another. It’s fantastic that they slay monsters, but the sheer fact that Murphy is basically the only person Harry can truly open up to without holding back and without being afraid of what she’ll say is my favorite thing about this series. Long live friendship!

So, naturally, in the midst of all this wonderful friendship-is-magic-ness, someone sends another couple of assassins after Harry and Murphy. Womp, womp.

They’re in a Walmart, by the way. And I admit this fight sequence is another one of my favorites in terms of creativity and wit. Harry and Murphy are pretty much gold when they’re together, especially when partnering against a supernatural nasty. This time it’s the female assassin creature from before, the ogre, and—and I shit you not—an actual plant monster, which Harry dubs “the Chlorofiend.” Do you see why I love this idiot? Chlorofiend. Harry, ya nerd.

Plus, there’s this:

Harry: Remember what I said yesterday. You’re hurt. But you’ll get through it. You’ll be okay.

Murphy: I’m scared. So scared I’m sick.

Harry: You’ll get through it.

Murphy: What if I don’t?

Harry: (squeezes her hands) Then I will personally make fun of you every day for the rest of your life. I will call you a sissy girl in front of everyone you know, tie frilly aprons on your car, and lurk in the parking lot at CPD and whistle and tell you to shake it, baby. Every. Single. Day.

Murphy: You do realize I’m holding a gun, right?

Aggressive Shipper

 

MARRIED. YOU SO MARRIED. PROPOSE TO HER ALREADY, HARRY, JESUS.

Anyway, they beat up the baddies, but Murphy gets hurt and after Billy and his werewolf posse show up to help, they scoot her off to the hospital for a knee injury. Afterward, Harry goes to summon Lea, his horrible “godmother” to take him to see the Queens, but she actually takes him to the Stone Table, which is a mystical artifact of terrible power that she thinks one of the Queens will try to use.

Harry seeks out Elaine for her help into the realm of the Mothers: Mother Winter and Mother Summer, the most powerful fae on the planet, pretty much. They refuse to interfere with the war, but they give him a parting gift that can undo any spell.

Then Harry leaves to find Aurora, Elaine, Slate, and their buddy Grum waiting for him.

Because Elaine is a frickin’ traitor.

Sigh.

I try to remain objective when I review these books, but I find myself really annoyed with Elaine at this juncture. My friend Maggie and I discussed this at length, and she is far more sympathetic to her, while I sort of want to hold her down and punch her in the tits a few hundred times. Look, it makes sense that Elaine didn’t fully trust Harry after things went to shit with DuMorne. It also didn’t help that Harry was chosen as the Winter emissary, and the Winter Court is basically filled to burst with crazy violent a-holes. However, Elaine grew up with Harry. She KNOWS him. And it really creases me that she just assumed things and led Harry to his own death instead of telling him that this was Aurora’s plan to incite the war by stealing the Summer Knight’s mantle and sacrificing Lily to gain ultimate power. It makes me so angry that she took that choice from him and manipulated his loyalty to her when I swear to God, Harry would have tried to help her if he knew the truth. I hate traitors. I always have. It gets my goat when someone ignores years of friendship for personal gain, and we learn that Elaine also agreed to this insane plan because Aurora was going to kill her if she said no. That means Elaine chose to save her own neck instead of refusing to help Aurora murder scores and scores of people. Selfish. Bitch.

I suppose what should help me forgive her is that Aurora and company leave Harry to die in a magic circle filling with water and mud, but Elaine casts the spell and leaves a sort of loophole for Harry to get out after they leave with Harry’s gift from the Mothers. It should, but it doesn’t. I still wanna slap her head backwards. Bitch.

Harry assembles Billy’s wolf pack and they go to face Aurora at the Stone Table. Shit goes down. All kinds of shit. Harry manages to convince Elaine to help him and he and Aurora fight, ending with him having to kill her. We lose Meryl (*sniff, sniff*) and Lily becomes the new Summer Lady after Aurora dies, as each mantle passes on to the next worthy person it sees when its wearer dies. Harry lightens up enough to join Billy’s pack for a game of D&D, and our novel ends on a high note, for once.

Overall, Summer Knight is a return to formula. Where Fool Moon had pacing issues, and Grave Peril had weak characterization for nearly all the female characters as well as some serious Plot Induced Stupidity on the part of Susan Rodriguez, Summer Knight is a breath of fresh air. It feels like Butcher noticed what was unsteady about the previous books, so he made sure to fix them and he took piling on the conflict to a whole new level. The plot is awesome, there’s plenty of action that is fun yet chilling, and the relationships Harry encounters here are very sincere and likable. While I still want to cold-cock Elaine, she is at least a complex character with her own motives and traumas that make sense. I would definitely rank Summer Knight high on the series rankings, easily in the Top 5. It’s just the right balance of all the things I love about the Dresden Files, and feels much more like the first book, Storm Front, which I absolutely adored.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Join me next time when we tackle Book Five, Death Masks. Only one problem.

Susan’s back.

darth_vader_nooo

*grabs a bottle of scotch* See you next time, folks.

Kyoko

The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Grave Peril

Conjure at your own risk.

Conjure at your own risk.

Welcome back to the Dresden Files read and review! Yes, this one is a bit late, but once you see my review, you’ll know why. As always, major spoilers for The Dresden Files’ Book Three, Grave Peril.

First, a warning: I consider Grave Peril’s alternate title to be “The Novel in which I Want to Punch Susan Rodriguez in the Throat.” Just a heads up.

But the good news is that Book Three opens with one of the better supporting characters in the series: Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross. The Knights are warriors entrusted with swords that draw their power from the nails of the Cross Jesus Christ was crucified on. They are stone cold badasses, and Michael is no exception, but the great thing about him is that he’s not what you’d expect from a warrior of God. He’s not only personable, but he’s so kind and wise and levelheaded that you almost wonder how he can balance slaying monsters and being a father and husband so well. He’s good people, and one of Harry’s closest friends. They are like night and day, and in a good way.

If you’ve been reading my reviews, or hell just the introduction to this review, then you know I’m not a fan of Susan Rodriguez. I don’t dislike her, per se, but I certainly don’t care for her all that much. Unfortunately, the book opens with Michael pressing Harry about admitting that he’s in love with Susan, and I admit this is one of my least favorite openings in the series because the foreshadowing is basically beating you over the head. I’m not talking about the series-long foreshadowing, either. Just for this book, it’s really too blatant that they are talking about Harry’s love life while rushing through the streets of Chicago to go beat up on a ghost. It doesn’t fit. It feels forced, and it’s strange because most of Butcher’s plot and character threads are more subtle. You rarely ever get a moment where it feels like he’s standing next to you shouting “THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT LATER” like in lazily written fiction. Not to mention this scene is rather exposition-y, and most of the Dresden Files don’t open that way either. Once I’m done with my full re-read and review, I intend to try to personally rank which books I liked the best, and I’m pretty sure this one will be in the bottom five.

That being said, Harry and Michael are in a hurry to protect a bushel of babies from a nasty ghost that is trying to feed on their life forces. It’s another one of those rare scenes where you feel creeped the hell out, and proof that Butcher can still write horror elements that make you want to burrow under the comforter just to be extra safe.

Side note: There is a fantastic little character nugget I want to address in this scene, which is the following narration by Harry: “But I’m a sucker for a lady in distress. I always have been. It’s a weak point in my character, a streak of chivalry a mile wide and twice as deep.” I’ve seen people on Tumblr bashing Harry Dresden for being sexist, and this makes me want to throat-punch them super hard. Yes, Harry does have sexism issues early in the books, but it’s fully acknowledged as a weakness, and he gets over it after a couple different villains exploit this quality in order to manipulate or destroy him. It’s on purpose, for God’s sake. Nothing makes me angrier than people flinging hate at something that is 100% intended as an issue for the character, and it’s not like Harry thinks he’s in the right. He knows the limitations of his personality and admits he’s at fault. What more do you want?

After resolving the mess with the first ghost, Harry meets a new client Lydia, a magic practitioner who’s looking for a talisman to protect her from a hostile spirit. He figures she’s trying to play him, but since he’s still a good person, he lends her the talisman he wears around his wrist. It’s actually a bit rare, too, that we get scenes out of chronological order, because Harry recaps how he got where they were. I suppose it’s because the opening scene had better momentum, but he could have started from that point, if you ask me. But again, keep in mind, this is Book Three and Jim Butcher was still a newbie author getting his feet wet, so he makes some mistakes like a human being.

We jump back to Nevernever, where Harry and Michael defeat the ghost, but don’t leave before Harry’s “faerie godmother” Lea catches up with them. She is a scary, scary lady, and that’s putting it mildly.

I do love the fact that after saving the babies in the nursery wing, Michael and Harry end up in jail. A lot of superheroes or characters in urban fantasy settings always seem to get away, but Harry’s been arrested more than once, and it’s realistic. For example, I used to hate the fact that Anita Blake used to murder indiscriminately and yet never set foot in a jail cell, so Michael and Harry ending up in jail is kind of great. Luckily, the boys are bailed out by Michael’s’wife, Charity, who is delightful because she’s eight months pregnant and hates Harry’s guts. Their relationship is just precious.

Susan bails Harry out and takes him home—after Harry deals with a stunning case of Cannot Spit It Out in terms of those three little words (Insert me rolling my eyes here)—and then they get jumped by vampires. Yep. Just another day in the life of Harry Dresden.

The vamps drop off an invitation to a promotion ceremony for Bianca, a vampire who really does not like Harry and would love the chance to eliminate him without getting herself killed in the process. It’s here that we enter one of my main problems with Susan, who insists that she should attend the ceremony with Harry. Look, I get it, she’s a reporter with Lois Lane levels of intensity, but it still pisses me off that she completely underestimates the monsters she’s willingly throwing herself to over a damn story. I know there are plenty of people who defend Susan’s actions, but to me, it’s just stupid and it ends up precisely the way you think it would. Susan is a Muggle. Sure, she’s smart, but she has zero skills in protecting herself against monsters, so her motivations are weak and it just irks me to no end that she endangered herself, and Harry, that way just for the scoop on a story no one will believe anyway.

The other thing that irks me is that this decision sticks Susan so firmly into the Damsel in Distress category, and it’s yet another sign of Butcher being a young writer at the time. Over the course of the Dresden Files, he goes on to write some of the absolute best, most three dimensional female characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I love the way Butcher writes women. Love it. Susan’s nagging nonsense in this book is his weakest writing by far, since we all know what’s going to happen on foreshadowing alone and not because this is my second read-through of the book. She’ll get herself in trouble and Harry will have to bail her out, and that’s why it’s such a struggle for me to get through this novel. It would be different if Susan had proficiency with magic, self-defense, or a mix between the two like Harry, but she has neither, so all she can do is roll her neck and give him attitude without being able to back any of it up. No me gusta.

Moving on, Michael and Harry visit the church of St. Mary of the Angels. They notice that the parking lot is a mess, evidence that a very dangerous apparition of some sort is indeed after Lydia. It tried to get into the church after her, but couldn’t, and so Harry moves elsewhere to consult with Mortimer Lindquist, a “psychic” who is actually just a con artist, but he has connections to Nevernever, so Harry bullies some answers out of him. It turns out he’s trying to skip town because he’s noticed that the barrier between the human world and Nevernever has started leaking and a walking nightmare came through the other night. He leaves Harry his notes and bounces out of Chicago.

Harry returns home to find two detectives from the S.I. (Special Investigations) division of the police department waiting to take him somewhere on orders from Lt. Karrin Murphy. (*insert me cheering here because Murphy is my Queen*) When he gets there he finds one of the recently retired cops who helped him out, Micky Malone, has been mind-raped into attacking his wife and is tied down to prevent him from hurting anyone else. He finds out it was done to him by the same entity who set the ghost Agatha on the newborns at the hospital in the opening scene. Harry manages to get it off of him, but he knows shit is about to get real, and soon.

Minor note: this is also the first time Harry looks at Murphy with The Sight, and he sees her as a powerful, beautiful guardian angel.

Aggressive Shipper

 

He returns home to consult with Bob about what they’re dealing with and then after getting some theories he sends him out to look for Lydia. Harry himself goes out searching for her via a trace on the talisman he lent her and finds her in the clutches of the douchebag vampires who “invited” him to Bianca’s soiree. He manages to stay alive (humorously noting how he always seem to destroy buildings during these fights) but is too hurt to save Lydia from being kidnapped by the vamp siblings. Doped up with vampire saliva (no, really), he gets home and passes out, only for the ghost baddie to try and eat him in his sleep. He manages to make it down to a summoning circle in his lab and Bob gives him the skinny.

It is here that we are introduced to one of my favorite original concepts of the series. It turns out the thing chasing Harry and killing things is actually a ghost demon. As in the ghost of a demon Harry, Murphy, Michael, and the cops killed in the past. Is that not a boss freaking villain? That’s why it’s so powerful and hard to stop. I’m giddy with this idea because I previously had never thought about a demon being able to permanently die instead of just ceasing to exist or going back to the spirit world.

Harry and Bob theorize that Bianca stirred up trouble in Nevernever and basically indirectly got the demon’s ghost to come for Harry as her oblique way to get rid of him. Once they figure out what it is, Harry puts together that since this is about revenge, it’s going to go after those who are responsible for its death, meaning MY QUEEN MURPHY IS IN DANGER.

Ghost in the Stalls Guy screaming

Harry gets there and manages to invoke a spell to put poor mind-tortured Murphy to sleep and then runs off to warn Michael, but unfortunately, the demon ghost—still pretending to be Harry—has kidnapped Michael’s wife, Charity.

Harry tries to fight it off, but it’s too powerful, so of course his “godmother” Lea shows up and offers to help in exchange for his cooperation. She doesn’t give him power, the bitch, just a clue, and luckily Michael shows up to help fight it off. Y’know, just as Charity goes into labor. *facepalm*

And oh, it gets better. Lea’s cheating ass wants Harry to come to her now even though she didn’t give him any help, and when Harry tries to ward her off with Michael’s sword, she takes the bloody thing and disappears. And Charity’s baby is born with complications, implying that he possibly won’t survive the next 36 hours.

Remind me again why I was born with feelings?

Seriously, why? I don’t want to feel things. Because this shit hurts.

So after this horrific emotional crucifixion, Harry performs a spell that binds the demon directly to him, meaning it physically cannot go after any of his friends or loved ones, which is essentially like putting a hit out on himself, but honestly, who can blame the guy? The demon ghost just tried to kill a pregnant woman in labor. Fuck him upside down with a chainsaw.

In order to locate the Big Bad, Harry and Michael go to Bianca’s party. I must also bounce up and down like a stupid fangirl because this is the book where we are introduced to the incomparable Thomas Raith, a White Court vampire. If you’re a fan of the series, you too are probably giggling madly at his first appearance since you know how important Thomas is further into the series. If you’re new to the series, let me just say that Thomas is going to provide so much heart and entertainment to the rest of the books he’s in that you will immediately understand why I love him so much. I’m not trying to oversell him, but for real, Thomas is my third favorite character in the entire series.

To that end, I must also inform you that Harry “Smartass” Dresden attends a vampire masquerade ball dressed as a motherf@^king vampire, cheap plastic fangs and all. God, marry me, Harry.

They later come to find that since Bianca can’t openly attack Harry, she’s slipped vampire venom into all the drinks, which Harry unknowingly downs. Now he has to find the culprit behind the demon ghost while drugged out of his mind. Oh, and predictably, Susan’s stupid ass weaseled her way to the party.

Stephen Colbert Epic Facepalm

So Lea pops back up and reveals another layer to her plan. Since Harry reneged on his deal with her three times in a row, he’s sent into a fit of pain and Susan stupidly bargains a year of her memories in order to spare him the pain. This means Lea chooses the year Harry met Susan, so she has zero recollection of him at all.

Dean from Iron Giant judging you face

See? SEE? Do you get why I want to bitchslap Susan straight to the f@*king moon? None of this shit would’ve happened if she had listened to Harry and stopped trying to muck around in things she absolutely knows nothing about and has no stake in. She has caused him all this pain just for her own curiosity and her own ego. I really wish I could express my teeth-clenching fury at Susan’s actions.

Rage aneurysm aside, Harry finally narrows down the Big Bad to Mavra, the leader of the Black Court of vampires. So he’s got a Red Court vampire and a Black Court vampire breathing down his neck and looking to sink their fangs into it together. Ah, to be popular.

I hope your feels are still nice and loose because it’s time for more gut-punching! Harry, Michael, and Thomas make it out alive, but Justine (Thomas’ girlfriend) and Susan didn’t and Harry had to set things on fire to get them out, meaning he doesn’t know who or what survived. Thomas shows up with Michael’s sword and asks for their help to get the girls back, but before they can mount up, Lydia gets possessed by the Nightmare and attacks them, but Thomas manages to distract her and they banish the demon ghost temporarily, which they later find out is actually the ghost of the sorcerer Kravos. Not as cool as the ghost demon idea, but cool enough.

They plan to infiltrate Bianca’s stronghold via Nevernever, but of course, like the cockroach she is, Lea shows up once again. However, our delightful team knew she was coming so Harry promptly poisons himself (no, really) to weasel his way out of the deal with her.

Sadly, though, Bianca had a trap laid for them when they leave Nevernever. Womp, womp, womp.

I’m sure you’re wondering how it gets worse, and it does, because Harry wakes up in a prison cell to find —DRUM ROLL—Susan has been turned into a vampire.

God, I f@*king hate Susan in this book.

Long story short, Harry manages to save his idiot lover and escape the baddies. The good guys win at a very, very steep price. Susan disappears to figure out how to be a vampire and a colossal f@$king idiot, Murphy and Harry attend Kravos’ funeral just to make sure the piece of shit is really dead this time, and I breathe a sigh of relief in finally finishing this whopper.

It’s really hard for me to rate this book. On the one hand, plot-wise, it’s better than Fool Moon, which had way too much damsel!Harry and it had pacing issues. This one is much more straight forward and throws sucker punches left and right that make you feel like your soul has been turned into jello. However, this is a weaker show of Butcher’s writing for the fairer sex. Almost all the girls in this particular book get stuck in the damsel role aside from the villains Bianca and Mavra, who are smart and terrifying and so they almost balance it out. All the girls on the side of good are either kidnapped or out of commission, and that doesn’t fly with me since I know Butcher can and has done better.

Plus, Susan. God. I just want to bash her head in with a rock. I don’t know what Harry sees in her besides tits because she hasn’t got a brain in this novel. Not a brain cell, for that matter, but I’ve ranted enough.

Overall, Grave Peril has some fantastic action, sob-worthy emotional moments, and some really creative elements that get my motor going, but the weak female characterization prevents me from liking it as much as the previous two books.

Overall Grade: 3 out of 5 stars

We catch up with our beloved gangly wizard next time in Book 4, Summer Knight. Be there or be square.