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The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Fool Moon

Fool Moon cover

We’re back with another in depth review and analysis of my favorite urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. This time we’re taking a look at Book #2, Fool Moon. Spoilers ahead, as always.

Once more, I am inspired to bow down to Jim Butcher right off the bat because of his stubborn refusal to use info-dump or exposition dumps for the first chapter of the book. I subscribe heartily to the idea of “in media res” and not boring any newcomers with the main character giving you their entire life’s story as soon as you flip to page one. I’ve always admired how he can open the book with Harry’s sharp wit and endearing self-deprecation while still introducing plot threads, new and old, and gently reminding us of the wizard’s role.

Now that I’m done being happy about Butcher’s writing style, I can concentrate on my gross sobbing because this is one of the books where Harry and Murphy are at odds with each other. They haven’t spoken in a month and there’s a great deal of tension between them—and not the good kind. Murphy calls Harry in on a grisly murder where all signs point to a werewolf. And then to make matters worse, the FBI butts in and starts causing hell for them, particularly the one crazy ass agent who tries to shoot Murphy while escorting her off the crime scene. Ah, a day in the life of Lieutenant Murphy. She never gets a break.

Sam You brave little soldier

Still, the good thing is that the conflict between Harry and Murphy throughout this book is grounded in realism. After Harry helped curbstomp the bad guy in the previous book, the ramifications for both of them is what caused the rift. Internal Affairs started looking really hard at Murphy, so she couldn’t call Harry in for the werewolf murders without I.A. shifting focus onto him, which could put him in jail. Plus, there’s Harry holding back information to keep Murphy from getting killed. It’s kind of delicious considering both of them are mad at each other for protecting one another. Do you see why I have trouble not shipping them? Stupid adorable babies.

As I mentioned in my review of Storm Front, Harry and Murphy’s friendship is really what has always helped set The Dresden Files apart from other series. For instance, after the heated confrontation with the FBI, Harry and Murphy get back in the car and Harry takes Murphy’s keys so she can’t just drive him home without saying anything. He confronts her about the rift between them and that’s very rare. A lot of characters would be passive aggressive about this sort of thing—which, to be fair, Harry does have a little moment right when they are reunited—but Harry is direct about the tension between them and it’s a really nice departure from the norm. He also promises to try and give her as much information as he can, though he notes that it’s still impossible to tell her everything at this point.

We get some wizarding and Harry finds the first batch of suspects—a group of young werewolves led by a woman who was following Harry and Murphy from the crime scene. Murphy manages to catch up to him and he tells her to wait before trying to investigate them, since his instincts tell him they aren’t to blame for the murders.

Harry gets some information from the air spirit Bob and heads to S.I. headquarters in the morning, where he happens to bump into Susan Rodriguez—the hotshot reporter he’s been casually seeing. I think with this interaction I started to figure out why I’ve never been hot on Susan. The relationship he has with her is purely based on attraction, whereas with Murphy (mind you, much later on) it’s all about mutual respect and friendship. Susan is beautiful and assertive with her sexuality, which is a weakness for Harry, but not for me, so all the heavy flirting she throws his way just slides right off me. I’m not a guy, and so Susan doesn’t offer anything to me because she’s all about being attractive. We’re told she’s smart and tenacious, but most of what we’ve seen of Susan has been off-screen, and so I think it lessens the impact of how important she is as a character. Like “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, Susan is a character who feels obligatory to me. She’s supposed to be there, rather than naturally occurring like 90% of the other supporting characters. Thus, this interaction does nothing for me other than reminding me Harry is a sucker for a hot lady who has a Type A personality.

Additionally, I had a startling realization that Susan is also a pretty big distraction, both literally and figuratively. Whenever Harry gets around her, he’s always flustered and can’t focus because he finds her so alluring. However, unless I’m mistaken, Susan hasn’t really been able to help Harry achieve a goal at this point in the narrative. Now, she does so later in this book and in the series, but Susan’s been more of a problem than a solution in Harry’s life. This is realistic, but it’s also kind of annoying to know that they aren’t going in the same direction and she blocks things for him in a way. But again, that’s just a personal bias. She has plenty more involvement in the story and maybe I’ll finally like her as we continue onward. (But don’t hold your breath.)

After nearly getting chomped by some werewolf suspects, Harry bumps into Marcone, who tries to bribe him into helping him investigate the murders that have been directed at some of his employees, so to speak. This interaction, I admit, is vastly interesting to me because this is one of those rare scenes where Harry and Marcone are completely at odds. Often, Harry has been forced to walk on eggshells around Marcone because he’s so dangerous, but this time he just candidly calls the guy an animal and tells him to take a hike. I like that. I like it a lot. It shows that Harry’s temper is most definitely a character flaw—trust me, it gets him into trouble plenty of times—but it also makes him even more endearing. Harry is not a perfect guy, but you really root for the way he goes after Marcone here. Harry hates corruption, but even more, he hates that Marcone tries to dress up the fact that he’s a criminal and a murderer with this air of false sophistication. He’s a thug in a nice suit, essentially, and Harry calls him out on it.

Once the showdown with Marcone ends, Harry does pursue the tidbit of relevant info Marcone gave him and then we get a really fantastic reveal that the demon he’s interrogating knows about his mother. Harry’s past has been revealed in small chunks since the first book, and if I’m not mistaken, this might be the first big piece we get about Margaret Dresden. We know she was a powerful magic practitioner, but she died during Harry’s birth, so the poor dear never got to know her. Harry’s backstory is shrouded in mystery and bucketloads of pain, and it’s yet another thing that makes us sympathize with him so much. Harry carries this quiet but powerful ache inside him because he has no surviving family members that he knows of, and it’s heartbreaking when you can tell he wants to bargain for the info about his mother with the demon, but he knows it would land him in a world of trouble if he did.

Annnnnd then we get to the scene that feels like Jim Butcher is playing Surgeon Simulator and I’m the unlucky bastard he’s “operating” on.

Murphy calls Harry up to another murder, but unfortunately, Harry discovers that Kim Delaney, a casual friend and acquaintance, has been murdered because he wouldn’t tell her how to finish a spell she was using. Murphy puts the pieces together and goes berserk, kicking Harry’s ass before finally arresting him. A lot of folks in the fandom aren’t fond of Murphy’s actions from this point onward, but I think it’s still within her character to have this kind of reaction. Harry specifically promised not to hold back information and he did so, and now someone else is dead. Add that in with Murphy already being stressed out over Internal Affairs being up her ass and their strained friendship and her reaction, to me, sounds about right. Plus, as I’ve said before, Butcher takes great pleasure in smearing our hearts into paste beneath his boots, so he made sure Harry is all but broken after this scene. I tried to hug my paperback, honestly. Poor baby.

To Harry’s luck and detriment, the spouse of the bad guy he’s hunting, Tera West, breaks him out of the back of the police car and they escape, though poor Harry is injured even further. Tera is definitely an interesting character among the many minor or one-book-only characters we’ve met throughout the series. She has such alien actions and dialogue that make her unique. I like that Harry is absolutely not having most of the nonsense she puts him through because he recognizes that she’s dangerous and there is something quite off about her.

This brings us to the confrontation of Harry and the potential killer, MacFinn, who is actually someone trying to control or get rid of the curse that turns him into a loup-garou. It’s one of the better mysteries in the series because you can feel the tension as Harry tries to figure out if MacFinn is on the up-and-up.

Susan reappears, as I assured you she would, as Harry’s ride since Murphy and the FBI are still hot on his trail. I’m happy she’s his support system and she did something plot-relevant instead of slinking around and flirting with him. But I still don’t find myself feeling fond of her. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go blaring Avril Lavigne or anything.

Sadly, though, shit hits the fan in a big way soon afterward. MacFinn was arrested by the Murphy and her cops trying to escape the forest and transforms while in the precinct. It is one of the most pants-shittingly scary moments in the series entire run. Butcher leans more for fantasy than horror later on, but this bit is strictly horror, and boy, does it send chills down your spine as you read. Worse still, among the casualties is Carmichael, Murphy’s partner, who dies saving her life. It’s as rough as it sounds, which kind of sets a tone for the series where you know Butcher’s not going to pull any punches.

Luckily, Harry and Murphy and a handful of others survive, and Susan swings in to take Harry home to recover. It’s here that we’re introduced to a very weird, but strangely cool concept. When Harry takes a beating to the point of unconsciousness, he finds himself talking to Id Harry. Id Harry is his instinctual side, who is a very abrupt, candid, borderline rude summation of Harry’s often neglected inhibitions and desires. He brings up a brilliant point that Harry’s desperate desire to protect Murphy is what could get her killed and even though it would put her in danger, he has to trust her with the truth finally. He brings up other good advice for Harry to consider before he has to exit stage left. I like Id Harry because he’s kind of like a cheat code. He provides a break in the action as well as some much needed plot fuel. It’s a risk, and I’m sure some people don’t like that it is a way to easily convey information and drop new plot points or foreshadowing, but I still find him interesting enough to excuse it. (P.S. Id Harry notes that Harry should ask Murphy out sometime, but regular Harry remains clueless. I just wanted to point it out. This will be important in later reviews.)

And then he, you know, throws himself out of a moving vehicle. Jesus Christ, Harry.

The passage leading up to that is nothing short of hilarious. I continue to turn Hulk-green with envy that Butcher can write such gut-bustingly funny scenes when Harry is in mortal danger. This time, the biker gang of wolves Harry was snooping around have come back for revenge. Things go from bad to worse when he’s too battered to beat them and gets himself kidnapped and finds out the FBI is in on the scheme, and so is Marcone.

Harry does get his butt saved a lot in this book, I admit. It’s both good and bad. It’s good because it shows how human and inexperienced he is, and how he’s capable of getting in over his head. It’s bad because, I’m not kidding, Harry gets rescued a TON of times in this novel, whereas in the other ones it’s a tie between him figuring a way out and coming up with a plan, and sheer dumb luck.

We also get a love scene between him and Susan, and again, I just am not feeling it. I have a theory, personally. I think Harry and Susan have passion, not quite love. Love is layered and multifaceted. To me, Harry and Susan are passionate, but not right for each other, and perhaps that’s why their romance leaves me cold. To his credit, though, I really love the passage of Harry showing some true vulnerability, and the scene where Susan dresses him. It’s a powerful, emotional scene, and even though I’m not crazy about Susan, I adore it.

Naturally, their plan to stop Denton and his goons go south and Harry gets captured again (are you seeing a theme here?) We do get a really tiny but sweet friendship building moment as Harry shelters Murphy with his coat while they’re trapped in the cold pit waiting for the bad guys to finish them. Luckily, they manage to cobble together a small plan, with some help from the betrayed Marcone, and skidaddle for the final big battle.

The great thing about the finale for this one is that it weaves back into the beginning with the Book Ends trope in a big way. It’s Harry and Murphy facing off with the loup-garou all while the two are in the middle of the biggest fight of their entire friendship. That, to me, is a huge hurdle, to save someone’s life when you’re so pissed off at them that you don’t even want to meet their gaze. It works. It really, really works.

Overall Grade: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Next up we have Grave Peril, which means diving into ghosts and the like, which is right up my alley. See you next time, darlings.

The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Storm Front

Harry Dresden--Wizard Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates. No love potions, endless purses, parties, or other entertainment.

Harry Dresden–Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates. No love potions, endless purses, parties, or other entertainment.

Hey, remember that New Year’s resolutions for 2015 list that I made? I’m finally ponying up on one of them. We’ve got 14 books to cover and I might as well get the candle burning. As expected, mild spoilers for The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. These are of course informal reviews that are both plot-recapping and my reactions to elements of the stories. Though I will give each book a star rating to make you happy because I love you. Yes, you.

The gangly smartass wizard known as Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden crashlanded into my life in 2013 thanks to my big brother. I began reading Storm Front on a whim since I remembered a friend had bought it for me and I lent it to my brother, and quickly discovered it was the best decision ever. Gleefully intrigued after finishing the first book, I grabbed the remaining paperback copies my brother had collected and smashed through the entire series in the span of one summer. I read them so quickly that I think I actually missed some of the subtle nuances, and that’s what has prompted me to do a reread and review of each in series.

I think what first caught my eye about Storm Front—aside from the handsome son of gun representing my beloved wizard on the cover—is the fact that the beginning is actually sort of quiet and subtle. We get some choice snarking from Harry and a quick, efficient set up for his world, for the plot of the series, and for the plot of this first novel. As you get further into the Dresden Files, many of the other books open with a bang—hell, Blood Rites and Changes are actually famous for having incredible opening scenes—but this one is surprisingly tame and yet interesting enough to get you to turn the pages. If you know anything about me, it’s that my first language is sarcasm. Give me a sarcastic little shit of a narrator and I am yours. Harry won me over from page one with his knack for being a surly snarker, but it helps that we’re immediately led right into a good murder case and missing person’s case as well.

Another thing that immediately warmed me to Storm Front is the established friendship between Harry and Lieutenant Karrin Murphy. It’s very common for supernatural P.I. characters or magic practitioners in urban fantasy or paranormal fiction to work with cops. It would be a thing that would happen for real if we lived in that world. However, Harry and Murphy are a departure from your average cop/consultant relationship because of the strength of that friendship. When you first start this series, you probably don’t figure Murphy will be much more than an ally or an occasional roadblock, but once things start going, you realize how awesome it is as part of the overall series. Harry and Murphy’s professional relationship could have been cliché or boring, but it’s not because they have maddening amounts of chemistry, and not just the romantic kind. It’s quite rare for such a grounded friendship. It works incredibly well against the grisly murder Harry is called in to consult on, and it’s also a really good set up for the evolution of their relationship.

I absolutely adore the fact that Harry and Murphy are good friends who occasionally engage in harmless flirting and think nothing of it. I adore it. It’s so rare that you have a platonic friendship of this magnitude in this particular genre because most of them like to give you pairings and sexual tension early on, and to be honest, Harry and Murphy don’t start showing signs of sexual attraction until a few books in. It’s a testament to Butcher’s excellent comprehension of character development and style that he wrote them this way. A lot of Harry’s actions work better because he isn’t strongly attracted to Murphy (or rather, doesn’t realize yet that he’s attracted to her) and so it says so much more about him as a person that he does things out of loyalty and friendship than out of love for her. Sure, he loves her to pieces already, but not romantically, and there is a sharp difference between those two kinds of love. It’s something you’ll see down the road when their relationship starts to develop into something more as the books progress.

If you can’t tell already, I ship the ever-loving crap out of Harry and Murphy. It’s extremely unhealthy. It’s a huge hindrance for rereading the series because I keep wanting these two oblivious idiots to snog each other senseless since I know what happens further down the line. It’s going to be the hardest part of my reread to not let my shipping needs interfere with my analysis of the books.

To be fair, my theory is that Butcher kept writing them and writing them and then one day reread his work and went, “… ‘allo, wot’s all this then?” In the early books, as mentioned above, they flirt a little just because it’s good fun, but I don’t think Butcher planned on them starting to develop feelings until a good ways into the series when he realized just how compatible they are and how much they respect and care for each other. Their relationship has so many layers that I think he just realized it and then went for it. It’s not spontaneous, but it is a delightful development that I think just snuck up on him one day.

Moving right along, we meet “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, Chicago’s premiere crime boss, in just a couple of chapters in. I don’t know how I feel about Marcone overall. I think since I’ve read all the books (except Ghost Story, shut up, stop judging me) and I know what direction they head in, it’s hard for me to like this guy as a character. To me, Marcone feels the most like a tool that Butcher used for the story than a naturally existing character. He’s not forced or anything, but compared to the other villains we meet along the way, he’s the least interesting to me. It’s not because he’s human, mind you, but because he’s just a common kind of bad guy. Eloquent, sophisticated, dangerous, and patient. He’s basically just a less maniacal Lex Luthor, and that might be why he’s never impressed me over the length of the series. He’s a means to an end. A good foil for Harry, but little else than that in my eyes.

After our encounter with Marcone, we get to see Harry in his professional environment of helping a client. One of the things to note about the first book is Harry is still an old-fashioned guy with no social life, so he tends to fixate on pretty women a lot, and it’s a general character flaw. I get so bent out of shape about people who complain about Harry’s sexism in the early books because it is fully intentional. Harry not only acknowledges that he’s old-fashioned, but he pokes fun at himself and knows it’s not something he needs to do but rather is just built into his personality. I don’t mind it so much because it’s an actual problem that gets exploited in the series more than once, and because Harry learns from it later on. Hell, one of the reasons I instantly liked him is because he so clearly has real flaws and quirks about him rather than being a cool guy 1940’s-style P.I. or an alpha male lead. Things scare him. Things worry him. I hadn’t seen much of that in my various readings, and certainly not in the urban fantasy genre.

Next, we’re introduced to McAnally’s pub—a neutral zone for the paranormal folk of Chicago—as well as Susan Rodriguez, a gorgeous, nosy reporter with a focus on the supernatural. Like Marcone, I’m not sure how I feel about Susan as a whole, though I hold her in much higher regard than him. She feels like she’s supposed to be here more than she really needs to be here. It’s tricky to explain why, and it’s even harder to do that without inviting massive series-wide spoilers into the mix. I feel about Susan the same way I felt about Rachel Dawes from The Dark Knight saga. Both are written adequately, both are important to the plot and the main characters, but for some reason, I never quite liked them. I don’t dislike either of them, but I never gravitated towards them. It could just be a personal taste and preference thing, though, so keep that in mind. As a writer, I tend to like people who are more similar to me, and while I couldn’t hope to be as cool and useful as Karrin Murphy, I like her because we’re still cut from the same cloth, whereas I am nothing like Susan Rodriguez. She’s smart and sexy and manipulative, and I can’t be any of those three things simultaneously. Hell, I can’t even be two of the three, which is probably why Harry and I get along so well.

Soon afterwards, we’re introduced to Harry’s home life, which I also happen to adore because it’s modest without being depressing. He has a cat named Mister who acts like a real cat—affectionate when he feels like it, but with plenty of attitude—and a piece-of-junk car called the Blue Beetle that is lovable (I had one just like it named Old Bruce in my youth) and an apartment with zero things that the average person has that would drive any non-wizard crazy. However, Harry takes it all in stride with humble appreciation and that’s pretty much what makes it work.

We also get both Harry working some magic in order to get some information from the fairie Toot, and an introduction to the colossal asshole Warden Morgan, a member of the White Council of wizards assigned to monitoring Harry. Both are recurring characters with distinctive quirks that make them easy to remember. The good news about Morgan is that he’s a relevant source of conflict with justified reasons for hating Harry’s guts. The bad news is he’s still a massive prick and you kind of want to curb-stomp him. The White Council is by far one of the most brilliant aspects to Harry’s universe because they’re supposed to righteously uphold the Laws of Magic, but they really are a bunch of pompous assholes, like a real form of government. That’s brilliant, if you ask me.

Next, we’re introduced to Bob—an air spirit of near-infinite knowledge who lives in a skull in Harry’s basement lab. Bob is a riot. That’s pretty much all I need to say about him.

Then zoom! We’re off to plot stuff. It’s gritty and paced quickly, getting one beyond the halfway point of the novel in practically no time flat. We’re also treated to a little cool down time in Chapter 12 with Murphy getting the injured Harry home and taking care of him so sweetly that it sent my inner shipper off on a pleasure cruise. Get used to it, folks. I’m sorry. I ship them so hard, and they’re not even romantically involved in this book. I need professional help after the way this chapter ends.

We also get to the scene that literally made me decide that I was going to not only read but love the rest of this series. A giant toad demon infiltrates Harry’s home while Susan is there, and while they’re in the basement hiding behind a temporary shield, Susan accidentally drinks a love potion and tries to have sex with Harry while he’s trying to kill the demon. Sweet mother of God, that is the most hilarious scenario anyone could ever come up with. I remember sitting on my brother’s couch cackling hysterically at that entire scene. Sheer brilliance.

And of course, we also get treated to a staple in the Dresden Files, which is scenes where it feels like someone tied you to the floor spread-eagle, taped butterfly knives to the front of their shoes, and started gleefully kicking you in the chest. Yes, Mr. Butcher is proficient at making you feel like shit warmed over by a toaster oven. This time it’s because Harry screws up and can’t tell Murphy what he knows because it could get her killed and they’re at odds with each other. I’d rather have hydrochloric acid dripped onto my tits than have to feel this all the time. These kinds of scenes have always been Butcher’s best work—making you love and care for these characters, and then drop-kicking them emotionally (and sometimes physically).

The climax of the novel is a big, ugly, crazy explosion, pretty much. It sets up a lot of great things for the future, as a good first-in-series should. It has just a slice of nearly everything that you will get to see in further detail for later books, with a few exceptions here and there.

This reread went amazingly fast, and that’s probably what got me so deeply into the series. I blasted through nearly 400 pages in one afternoon and you never feel the time when you’re hanging out with Mr. Dresden. I love the pacing. I love the diction and style. I love the careful world-building and the grounded characters. I love that Butcher knows when to joke and when to reach into your chest and squish your heart between his fingers. I love this series. Love, love, love.

5 out of 5 stars.

Next time, we’ll be diving into Fool Moon on my Dresden Files reread and review. Don’t stay out too late, kiddies. The monsters mostly come at night.