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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.