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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.



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.


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.

Things The Dresden Files Taught Me About Writing

No love potions, please.

No love potions, please.

If you are not reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, slap yourself in the face right now.

Then go buy the whole series and neglect your real life for the next 72 hours while you read them.

I’ve read a ton of books in my lifetime, but honestly, this series is by far the best thing I’ve read so far. And I’m not trying to blow smoke up Jim Butcher’s ass now that I’ve met him. I’m dead serious. For years, I only read a couple books here and there, and then my brother let me read Storm Front. I haven’t loved a book series that much since the Redwall series by the late great Brian Jacques. The Dresden Files have everything I love about fiction all rolled into one, but it’s also an excellent series to use as a teaching tool to newbie authors like me, and not just those who write urban fantasy. Allow me to explain how Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden has made me a better writer (I think).

Write honestly. So if you know nothing about Harry Dresden, then let me tell you that there’s a reason he’s a bestselling character. You know all those smooth-talking, handsome, sexy, absurdly powerful P.I. characters you read about or see in films? Yeah, that’s not Harry. He’s awkward. Like, seriously awkward. He’s absolutely terrible with women—as in talking to them about anything vaguely romantic or sexual, or noticing when they find him attractive. He’s completely dense about the fairer sex and it takes him ages to get over his instinctive ‘gentlemanly’ schtick as he starts to realize the bad guys are exploiting his nice guy nature. He is also underpaid, underfed, and an unrepentant dork of the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars variety. Harry Dresden is not the ideal man you’d think of when you think ‘bestselling urban fantasy main character.’

And that’s why he works.

Harry Dresden is the kind of guy you’d meet, aside from being a wizard. This is where the ‘write honestly’ part comes in. Harry, to me, is someone you could run into at some point in your life—someone who is modest and genuinely nice but also is a complete smartass to make up for his lack of self-confidence. He’s self-sacrificing to a fault, and he has real internal struggles that make him so very easy to understand and root for. He spends much of the series simply trying to survive in this world of nasty supernatural beasties, and the reason why he’s so popular is because he’s an atypical protagonist. Urban fantasy tends to have confident, sexy, alpha male characters, and while Harry has a small streak of alpha male in him, that’s not who he is. He is perfectly happy blending into the background and supporting his friends and family whenever possible. He doesn’t run around looking for trouble.

Authenticity can be one of the most powerful weapons for a writer. Sure, it’s nice to read about a badass character who is the kind of person we all wish we were, but I think the reason the Dresden Files series is so successful is because Jim Butcher chose another direction entirely. Harry feels genuine. He feels like an honest character, someone you could bump into at a bookstore or at a Burger King (which is far more likely). I think they will stand the test of time much longer than the sensationalized ones that hit mega-fame for just being attractive or brazen.

Support your main character with the best and brightest. If for some insane reason you don’t immediately fall in love with Harry like I did, there’s good news. Harry’s friends (and later family) are some of the best written characters out there. You can’t spit without hitting an awesome supporting character in the Dresden Files (who will consequently kick your ass for spitting on them). You’ve got Karrin Murphy, Harry’s best friend (and girlfriend-in-denial), a Chicago detective; Thomas Raith, a White Court vampire and Harry’s casual acquaintance who later becomes more (don’t wanna spoil it, it’s worth the reveal); Waldo Butters, a coroner and part-time unofficial physician when Harry’s dumb lanky ass gets hurt; Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross armed with an archangel’s sword; Molly Carpenter, Harry’s apprentice who is a Perky Goth with a bit of a crush on her mentor; and Bob the Skull, an air spirit of infinite knowledge who is British and also a total pervert. Those are just the main supporting protagonists. I’m not even naming other recurring characters and the long, long list of Harry’s enemies.

The thing that’s so great about these characters is that their lives don’t revolve around Harry, which is something that a lot of other authors make mistakes with on occasion. Harry usually tries to keep to himself, but he’s such a great and lovable guy that he attracts other people to him naturally. He’d rather stab himself in the groin than endanger his loved ones, but the good thing is, his friends all know he’s like that and ignore him and help him out anyway. They have their own set of personality traits and flaws and agendas, and they all work towards keeping Harry alive and kicking, but they also aren’t afraid to keep him in check. As the series progresses, Harry comes into his own and gathers quite a bit of power and abilities, and his friends are very aware that power corrupts. He’s a good man and always has been, but he’s also quite oblivious to things around him that change him unconsciously.

Writing great supporting characters is tough. One can tend to get laser-focused on the main lead and forget that other people have their own lives too, and the Dresden Files is one of those rare series that remembers that we are only seeing pieces of the tapestry. You have to step back to appreciate the whole thing, and each character is like a new color on that tapestry. If you just have white and black, you might not get that big of a crowd, but if you’ve chosen your colors well, then your chances of making it into a galleria are far better.

The main character is not Jesus. What I mean by ‘Jesus’ is that he or she is not going to be perfect, and if they are, you’d better knock them off that pedestal stat. As I mentioned in my first point, Harry is awkward and starts off with this archaic issue of always having to save or protect women he meets, but there are deeper issues inside him as well. It takes a bit to get him riled up, but Harry’s temper definitely gets him into a lot of trouble, and he is fiercely protective of women and children even after he gets over his chivalry problems. His enemies have noted how Harry can get if you push the right buttons, and he is far less pragmatic when he’s angry than when he’s calm.

Anyone who actually has read the Dresden Files knows what I’m getting at. The main reason I decided to write this blog post was to discuss the idea that your main character, at some point in your storyline, needs to screw up royally and ruin everything. And boy, does Harry do that in Changes, and then some.

I won’t reveal what Harry does, but let me just say that the ending to Changes was so traumatic that I (a) literally SLAPPED the book after I was done reading it (b) I was so affected by Harry’s choices that I couldn’t even pick up the next book and read it for two whole months (c) I tried to read the next book and couldn’t because I was still too upset and (d) I skipped to Cold Days just to alleviate my pain. While it was hell for me, this is exactly what should have happened.

I love Harry. I love him more than I loved a book character in my entire life. And he does something so stupid that I had to take a break from my beloved wizard to deal with it. I’ve never had such a strong reaction to a book before, and it took me a while to realize it wasn’t a bad thing. As an author, I want my readers to love my characters and want the best for them, but it’s also important to frustrate your readers and cause them to be at odds with the main character if you want to do more than simply entertain them. I think successful long-running series are the ones that get beneath your skin, and nothing does that better than seeing your favorite character do something that ruins their own life, especially if it’s because they had no choice. Harry didn’t have much of a choice for what he does in Changes, and that’s why it was a gamble. I’m sure a lot of readers couldn’t take that amount of pain and decided to quit. It was by far the most controversial ending in the series’ run. But, in my opinion, it was worth it for the pay off.

If you’ve read She Who Fights Monsters, you’ll see that I subscribe heartily to the ‘your character is not Jesus’ mentality. Jordan Amador is a flawed woman and she makes some seriously questionable decisions that will (and already have) piss off readers. The tricky part is making your readers have an emotion, even a negative one, but not pushing them to the point where they give up. Inevitably, some of them will, and that’s sad, but it’s also the risk you must take in order to grow. If you keep your character in a safe little bubble-wrapped box, they can’t grow. They will never grow unless you let all the bad stuff in to force them to toughen up and learn a lesson and become better. I think an author needs to be sadistic at least once in their series (and I literally told Jim Butcher as much when I met him, and he guffawed and gave me an evil smile and a facetious, “Oh, I’m sorry!”) in order to make a character to last through the ages.

I’ve gone on pretty long about this series, so let me simply say this: the Dresden Files is an incredible run with a character who is too lovable for words, but what one should take away from this is that it has a little bit of everything: laughter, heart-wrenching sorrow, action, adventure, mystery, and horror. For me, this series is the first that I’ve read that has an actual soul. It wasn’t written to make a quick buck. It was real and solid and you can feel it when you’re reading any one of the many books. I can’t recommend it hard enough, to be honest, because it’s what I consider to be a game-changer. If you want to learn more about good writing and taking risks, give it a read.

Parkour, bitch.