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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.

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.