Fantasy Round 22.4: Small Favor and Turncoat
As the Dresden Files books (and plots) get thicker, I’ll be covering fewer of them in each post. For this one, it’s Small Favor and Turncoat.
As always, spoilers follow…
Spooky Island Time
This is another case of a minor reference becoming a more significant plot point as time goes on, revealed in Small Favor. The island is eventually named Demonreach by Dresden. Just how appropriate the name is isn’t fully revealed until later in the series, but we do learn early on that it’s a genius loci, a kind of sentient location. Dresden makes friends with it, and uses its help to put the hurt on a group of serious nasties. One interesting capability this gives him is an automatic sense of everything that’s on the island, so long as he is also on the island. This is impressively useful (for things like spotting various bad guys chasing after him or setting up an ambush), but has reasonable limitations. For instance, it’s not always straightforward for him to identify a human he doesn’t know, since Demonreach also doesn’t know who they are.
Of course, this is another case where the Masquerade that hides the supernatural from prying eyes is a bit strained. We have a whole island out in Lake Michigan which is essentially unplottable in the Harry Potter sense, where it’s impossible to put it on a map… or find it with a satellite. Plus, all records of the island have been destroyed in order to prevent people from repeating the bad idea of trying to live there. And, for bonus points, most normal mortals just steer around the place without even realizing it’s there, because it’s spooky. Or something. Which is good, because otherwise they’d get shipwrecked on the rocks and shallows near the island.
This is… kind of impressive. And I’m still not sure how you’d actually fool the satellites that Google Maps uses. It takes a lot for there to be a lost island in this day and age – especially in a body of water as well-traveled and instrumented as Lake Michigan.
A Donut With Sprinkles
I love these.
Both the donuts and the characters that instigate them. Throughout Small Favor, Dresden is hounded by a group of fairies called Gruffs. That’s right, like the billy goats gruff. Dresden fights off one (or a few), and then they send in their older and tougher siblings.
The Eldest Gruff? Is dangerous in the wizened little old man sense. Dresden knows that he’s not going to be able to take this guy, and that this gruff has probably found him via a pin given to him by the Summer Queen. The pin grants him the ability to claim a favor from the Summer Court, but it also lets them track him down.
Once the Eldest Gruff shows up, he very politely states his intentions and his regret at having to kill Dresden. In turn, Dresden politely requests that the Eldest Gruff fetch him a cake donut, with icing and sprinkles. The Gruff protests slightly at the difficulty of this request, and how it will delay his current task, but eventually gives in.
And thus, Dresden avoids a fight. This is nicely done — an excellent example of Chekhov’s gun, where a relatively minor detail ends up being important later, and in this case, used to very good effect. This is excellent. That, and I love a clever character. (And the scene where Thomas is trying to figure out where the donut came from… priceless.)
Oh, the character development. Turncoat has a lot of it. Morgan is one of the most notable ones.
This guy is… well, a jerk. Dresden uses stronger language. Morgan is the Javert-like character who appears in the very first book, hounding Dresden. Dresden was recently convicted of using black magic but out on parole. Morgan was (and is) convinced that Dresden will eventually slip up and use black, forbidden magic. And hopes to then end Dresden’s parole by chopping off his head.
Morgan is a classic Well-Intentioned Extremist. He follows the laws of magic, strictly enforces them, and expects others to do the same. He has no patience or mercy for those who violate them, or who threaten the White Council. And he hates Dresden for “getting away with it.”
In Turncoat, he gets some poetic comeuppance — he is falsely accused of murdering another member of the White Council. He flees, after protesting his innocence… to the one man he knows will be sympathetic to his plight.
It’s a terrible pity that Morgan ends up dead after all is said and done. I would have liked to have seen what happened to him, after he realized the dangers of his extremely rigid values system and unwavering loyalty, and that Dresden wasn’t as much of a danger to the White Council as he thought. The character of Morgan actually makes an important point — people are complicated. Good and bad are mixed together. Reality itself is generally not black and white. Even people who seem to be complete monsters may love their pets or help little old ladies cross the street. Even people who seem entirely virtuous may fudge their taxes, kick a dog, or yell at their kids. Few people think of themselves as the “bad guy” in their own stories, and this is often overlooked in stories about epic battles — the bad guys are often pure evil. Morgan? Morgan thought he was the heroic good guy. Even when what he did to Dresden was abusive at best. His character is good, but I think we see the best of him in this book.
Mind Magic Comes Back For Another Round
Oh, man. I don’t usually sympathize with Morgan’s extremism, but this is one place where I come close.
Mind magic is fricking scary. Morgan’s reaction to Molly’s slight poking around people’s brains is extreme, but poking around people’s brains without their consent is a violation of the laws of magic.
Why was she doing it? Because she suspected somebody else had already been mucking with other people’s brains. She finds Dresden seems to be okay, but… otherwise, she was right. Notably, Captain Luccio, the head of the Wardens and Dresden’s current love interest, has been mind-whammied. Plus a bunch of the other younger Wardens, and some subtle manipulating of the Senior Council… yes, it’s that bad. And this was done primarily by a single wizard, taking advantage of all the mind magic he can use to lay low a very large number of wizards with a single code phrase. Smart bad guys make the plot interesting.
It also gets worse, since Luccio was only interested in Dresden due to the mental manipulation. (The bad guy wanted to keep an eye on Dresden, since he didn’t often get within mind-magic-manipulation range of the bad wizard in question.) That gets… understandably awkward. She’s essentially suffered physical date rape by proxy, or something to that effect. She doesn’t blame Dresden for it, since he thought she was willing; and he doesn’t blame her, since it wasn’t her fault, either, but they’re both significantly traumatized.
That exploration of mind magic I was considering? Well, this is a taste of how ugly it can get.