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The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Summer Knight

Summer Knight cover


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s this:

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

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

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

Harry: You say the sweetest things.

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

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

Bedazzled sensitive Elliot sunset


Then Harry returns to his apartment to find Elaine there.

Yep. That Elaine.

Dean from the Iron Giant


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, there’s this:

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

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

Harry: You’ll get through it.

Murphy: What if I don’t?

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

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

Aggressive Shipper



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

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

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

Because Elaine is a frickin’ traitor.


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

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

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

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

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

Susan’s back.


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