J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Jim Butcher: Worst to Best.

I had so much fun rating Joe Abercrombie’s books the other day, that I decided I’d go for broke and try something much harder. That being the works of Mr. Jim Butcher. Why is it harder? Well, to date he has 14 books in his main series alone, as opposed to the 6 that Joe Abercrombie has done.

And so, I’ll be doing 14, as a close reading friend of mine scared me off from his Codex Alera books for the time being. But I’ll get to those at some point.

I’m only going to be doing about 3 or 4 books in this entry, as my Abercrombie post was already getting super long with just 6 novels. But no worries… I’ll cover them all.

 

I first really became aware of Jim Butcher’s writing when I was having a slow day at work, and was browsing tvtropes.org* to pass some time. It seemed like with every trope I read through, no matter how random a topic it was, there was always a reference to The Dresden Files thrown in there. That might make you think “Wow, that series must be just brimming with cliches.” But there’s a difference between boring cliches, and interesting cliches that you change and make your own in writing. And the overwhelming majority of his tropes made me think “That actually sounds pretty cool.” So the next time I went to the bookstore and paced the aisles, I picked up a copy of Storm Front.

*Go to that site at your own risk. If you’re anything like me, it’s one of those sites that turns into a black hole for your time. You won’t come back out for hours. It’s right up there with wikipedia.

And the rest is a blur. I blew through the rest of the 11 books in the series (I got started late, I know) within the span of a couple of months. There’s not an awful lot I don’t like about the books. Harry Dresden is a guy I’d take a ride with anywhere, from Burger King to the gates of fairie. But there are so many other strong recurring characters that make this a truly memorable series. And the action walks a fun line between “utterly ridiculous” and “utterly awesome”, especially in some of the climaxes. This is as good as urban fantasy gets, in my opinion. His writing has inspired a lot of my own, and one of my goals is to get him to sign my favorite book he’s written at a Con someday.

 

#14. Fool Moon

Logline: Could a werewolf be loose in Chicago? Common sense says no. The grisly evidence says yes. So does Harry Dresden. And with his weird connections, he should know.

What I like: This book does a great job making the supernatural into a quasi sort of murder mystery. Jim is good at that in general, but it really shows here. You have a plot that twists and turns, with FBI agents, biker gangs of werewolves, and the classic “I’m a badass werewolf, but I chain myself up at night to protect everyone” wealthy millionaire guy. Lieutenant Murphy is still very much the clueless Inspector Lestrade to Dresden’s Holmes here, rather than the trusted ally she becomes later, but that dynamic really helps the flow of this book.

(SPOILER) I also like how one of the major characters in the first book, Detective Carmichael, meets his end at the hands of the werewolf while protecting her. You meet him in the first book and think “Oh, he’s going to be the token skeptic cop that Harry deals with in all the rest of the books, kind of like how Anita Blake has Zerbrowski.” But no. He gets brutally killed, just to show how badass and dangerous the lupe garou really is. (SPOILERS)

The character of Terra is interesting, too. I like how she’s made to be a wolf that turns into a human, rather than a human that can turn into a wolf.

What I don’t like: The main reason this book is at the bottom, despite being quite good in its own right, is pretty simple. Almost nothing that happens here has any real lasting effect or repercussions on the events that happen in the rest of the series. You get a overarching suggestion by Dresden that “Whoever did this has a bigger plan, but hasn’t been found out yet”, but that’s not anything that you don’t have reinforced by other books in the series. It can pretty much be read as a stand alone, almost as easily as Storm Front can. Which isn’t a bad thing, per se. But considering the continuity is one of my favorite aspects of the series, this makes it come in last. It’s still very much a good book, though.

Favorite moment: When Harry uses an “invisibility potion” to sneak into the police department to talk to a suspect when there’s a warrant out for his arrest. When the werewolf shows up, and everyone is in danger, he suddenly doesn’t want to be invisible anymore, but he has a tough time getting rid of the effect. Even when he’s waving his hands and yelling in a cop’s face. Classic stuff.

Original rating: ***. If I gave out 3.5s, this would earn one, since it was more than enough to make me keep reading the series.

#13. Proven Guilty

Logline: The White Council of Wizards has drafted Harry Dresden as a Warden and assigned him to look into rumors of black magic in Chicago. Malevolent entities that feed on fear are loose in the Windy City, but it’s all in a day’s work for a wizard, his faithful dog, and a talking skull named Bob.

What I like: This book introduces Molly Carpenter as a full blown character of note, rather than the supporting side character that we see a few times in previous books. That’s really the whole point to this book. She gives Harry a Robin to his Batman, or a Luke Skywalker to his Obi Wan. Their dynamic is really interesting, as both of them see and want something different in the other, but they stick together anyway. Their relationship grows and becomes something unique and beautiful in the series.

I also really enjoy the settings in this novel. A convention terrorized by horror monsters (I’d pay good money to see Hammerhands, honestly), to a fortress of the Queen of Winter. You also learn more about the rest of the Carpenter family, which are some of my favorite characters.

What I don’t like: The plot of this book is awfully lean compared to others in this series. It basically goes like this:  Someone evil is using black magic to do bad things > Harry finds the person using black magic > Harry rescues and then protects that person from the council, to keep them from being executed. It’s all just really linear. There’s not really much of a B plot, other than Murphy getting in trouble for going and helping Harry rather than doing what her superiors want her to do.

Favorite moment: When all hell breaks loose at the convention, and Harry has to battle a bunch of horror movie monsters come to life. Also, a very nice Aliens reference is thrown in. You know, just to be sure.

Original rating: ***

#12 Blood Rites

Logline: Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, takes on a case as a favor to his friend Thomas-a vampire of dubious integrity-only to become the prime suspect in a series of ghastly murders.

What I like: After the crazy pandemonium that happened in the previous book, this one dials it back a bit, and brings Harry back to a “whodunit” kind of adventure. But in true Dresden fashion, it’s not anywhere normal. It’s the set of a porn film. You meet the White Court of vampires, who have their own interesting slant on the vampire legend. It’s quite creative. I especially love their explanation of why the Black Court is so weakened in comparison. Also, much like Proven Guilty is a coming out party for Molly, this one is a coming out party for Thomas. He goes from being the foppish rich dude idiot to a legitimate and respectable ally for Dresden over the course of the book, and I like it.

I also really, really like the subplot of Harry bringing together a crack team of his trusted friends and adversaries to take out a den of Black Court vampires and save a bunch of hostage children, but (SPOILERS) almost gets his hand burned off by a trap. All too often books like these have the characters go through terrible, dangerous situations unscathed. It’s nice when they win, but pay a price in the process sometimes. (SPOILERS)

What I don’t like: While the White Court is interesting, I don’t really find them as interesting as some of Harry’s other adversaries. Maybe they just act too… normal? Lara is an interesting character concept, but she comes off kind of one-dimensional to me in most of her appearances.

Favorite moment: When Kincaid, supernatural assassin for hire, runs into Ebenezar McCoy, Harry’s father figure, just before they agree to help Harry take down the vampire nest. They almost trade blows then and there, because of past run ins. It tells you a lot about both characters without really giving anything away. So good.

Original rating: ***

 

Well, that’s all the time I have to cover them today. It’s already a long post anyway. I’ll come back to this next week, and hopefully finish it the week after that.

Man, just doing this makes me want to read through them yet again.

 

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2 comments on “Jim Butcher: Worst to Best.

  1. Pp
    February 13, 2015

    It funny you mention how you liked that Murphy’s partner died. It was unexpected and a cool turn, letting the reader know anything can happen… Until the next book where he is replaced by another cop with the same archetype… Making the death a meaningless gimmick

    • jagarrett
      February 15, 2015

      That is true that he was replaced in the next book. But his replacement wasn’t given nearly as much time to develop a character, and he makes another appearance in Ghost Story, which was a nice touch. That being said, there was a reason I consider Fool Moon to be the weakest Dresden book. Even the aspects I like about it have some downsides.

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