Fantasy Round 22.2: More Dresden Files
Did I mention that the books just keep getting better?
For your entertainment today, books 4-6 of the series — Summer Knight, Death Masks, and Blood Rites. As ever, much spoiling follows.
What Happened to the Mouse?
One thing I love about Butcher’s work — he keeps bringing old characters back, and reintegrating them into the storyline. Even if you haven’t seen them for a while.
For instance, the Alphas, the group of friendly werewolves, who first show up in Fool Moon, come back in a big way in Summer Knight. The pixies that Dresden befriended earlier (by means of feeding them pizza) are actually critical in taking down the big bad in that novel. Susan Rodriguez, the girlfriend half-turned vampire in Grave Peril, returns in Death Masks with a new ally and a new agenda. Michael Carpenter, the Knight of the Cross from Grave Peril, pops back up in Death Masks as well, with his own associated friends and enemies. We meet the gangster Marcone again, and learn more about his background… and the reasons he tries to run a “clean” criminal business. This is one of the things that I like most about this series — elements from earlier books recur in a reasonable way, and are then elaborated upon.
On the other hand, I’m still waiting for a couple of minor characters from the earlier books (Chauncey the demon, and the dragon Ferrovax) to show up again in a big way. There’s plenty of books left for Jim Butcher to explore some of these more “background” characters who hint at greater depth to come. One of those is the puppy rescued in Blood Rites that stayed with Dresden… named Mouse. Who is a fun recurring character in the later novels.
As a final example, the White Court vampire, Thomas Raith, a secondary character of some importance in Grave Peril, proceeds to come back again as an ally in Death Masks, and then as a major character and generator of plot in Blood Rites. Speaking of plot generation…
No, Luke, I Am Your
As it turns out, Thomas Raith is actually Harry Dresden’s half-brother. They share their mother, Margaret called LeFay, in common. Margaret was a wizard of no mean skill and exceptional knowledge of the Nevernever in general and the Faye in particular, and got swept up into the White Court of vampires for a while, having a son with the rather evil King of the White Court, before escaping and later meeting Harry’s father.
This helps explain why Thomas risks his own life in Grave Peril to help his brother — he already knows, and feels obliged to help out his younger sibling. Once Dresden realizes he has family, he gets protective. Having spent many years after the death of his father as an orphan, having family is an appropriately big deal for him, and results in some fun character development.
What surprises me is that the secret actually gets kept. (As a matter of fact, the brotherly relationship is still kept secret through the most recently published book, as of this writing.) Seriously, I would think that this would come out. Especially when they have matching pentacles, and a certain similarity in their looks – although perhaps that is effectively masked by Thomas’ White Court inhuman prettiness.
This is often a problem in Fantasy Kitchen Sink type stories.
The epic villains… are, well, kind of boring. And often kind of stupid. The Dresden books do a bit better.
In Summer Knight, Aurora is a Summer faerie effectively trying to save the village by destroying it, which is pretty decent. Duke Ortega gets Harry into a duel, then cheats, and his partially “civilized” approach to conflict is kind of interesting. Lord Raith seriously underestimates Karrin Murphy, and we get to see him angrily dealing with the consequences.
The character that really annoys me, though? Nicodemus. He’s in it for the kicks. Why does he try to start the apocalypse? Because he can. Because it would annoy the Knights of the Cross, and give him a chance to kill one of them. And, of course, for the evulz. He’s intriguing in some ways — but he’s still dumb enough to offer Dresden a chance at joining up with the Denarians. That didn’t go quite as planned. So much stereotypical villainy.
John Marcone, on the other hand, is fascinating. He’s a mobster who runs most of the profitable crime in Chicago… and yet, he cracks down when it comes to people hurting children or when the world needs to be saved from fallen angels working on magical bioweapon delivery. That’s a nicely complex villain.
And speaking of doing the smart thing…
Brave Sir Robin
To quote an early point in Blood Rites: “Over the course of many encounters and many years, I have successfully developed a standard operating procedure for dealing with big, nasty monsters. Run away.”
This is a Good Plan.
Frankly? In real life, if you’re facing a fight, if you can run away, that’s likely to be the best option. Getting into fights is bad. People get hurt, and you don’t have control when the situation has gotten that far. Especially if you are outnumbered, or if the other guy is bigger than you, or has a weapon…
It’s a critical question in a lot of stories — why is the hero in a fight? Many times, the hero isn’t considering alternatives to powering up and smacking down. Dresden, on the other hand, is actually practical. When he’s in a fight, it’s generally because he couldn’t find any other way out of the situation. Even the duel he gets goaded into gives him an opportunity to make a safe-haven from the vampire war that couldn’t be obtained any other way. Plus, the unavoidable fight is often as a part of an escape attempt.
That, if it’s a flying demon monkey throwing flaming poo at you, you’ve got that much extra motivation to run fast.