J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Jim Butcher: Worst to Best, part 4.

And now, for the final part of my series where I rank The Dresden Files books, just because I am just that big of a fan of them. This was just as hard as I thought it was going to be, and finishing it will be a relief, of sorts.

 

#4. Grave Peril

 

 

Logline: In all his years of supernatural sleuthing, Harry Dresden has never faced anything like this: the spirit world’s gone postal. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone-or something-is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? If Harry doesn’t figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself.

What I like: After a somewhat weak sequel to the debut novel, The Dresden Files roars forward with this book, takes off, and never really looks back. What’s so good about it?

1) It suddenly widens the cast of characters considerably. You get Michael Carpenter debuting in this book, one of my favorite characters in the series thus far. You randomly learn that Harry has a (somewhat psychotic) fairy godmother. Oh yeah, and Thomas debuts in this one too. These are three major, major characters that are suddenly introduced out of thin air. And of the characters we already knew, well, Butcher makes it pretty clear that no one is safe by the end of it.

2) It expands the books to handle more than one plot point at a time. The logline and start of the book lead you to believe that you already know what the major threat is, but by the end of the book, Harry is fighting against something far more dangerous, and something that has far more long term implications than a monster of the week. As a nice bonus, it references Storm Front as the first real instance of building continuity. I love continuity.

3) It sets up more plot point than it resolves. If you’re reading a series for the long haul, this is especially important for both the writer and reader. More questions need to be raised than are answered, so there’s plenty of material already set up and ready to go. That way, it also doesn’t look like the author made it up out of thin air, and makes the world they create seem more alive.

What I don’t like: Not much to dislike here, but on my first read I did get thrown off a little by such major characters being introduced into the story without so much as a mention of who they are anytime previously. It almost felt like a sitcom, where a younger brother or crazy uncle gets introduced later in the series, and everyone knows them and acts like they have history, despite never having been so much as mentioned in passing any time previously. That being said, they’re all good characters, so that’s just nitpicking.

Favorite moment: Harry showing up to a vampire masquerade ball dressed up as Bela Lugosi era Dracula. That scene still makes me laugh to this day.

Original rating: *****

#3. Death Masks

Logline: Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practising professional wizard, should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he’s getting more than he bargained for: A duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, who must kill Harry to end the war between vampires and wizards …Professional hit men using Harry for target practice …The missing Shroud of Turin …A handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified …Not to mention the return of Harry’s ex-girlfriend Susan, who’s still struggling with her semi-vampiric nature. And who seems to have a new man in her life. Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.

What I liked: This book introduces yet another great character in Harry’s group of friends: Waldo Butters, the morgue guy. It also introduces one of my favorite villains in Nicodemus, and his group called the Denarians. This book is really high octane, and has so many awesome moments. It has knights battling evil beings. It has wizards summoning satellites from the sky on top of their enemies. It has a James Bond-esque plot with a plague, that ends with a race on a train and in an airport. Oh yeah, and it also sets up the plot for one of the best books in the series that comes later.

What I didn’t like: Nothing, really, except I wish we got to see more of Shiro. I really like him as a character.

Favorite moment: The sacrifice one of the knights makes to rescue Harry. Willingly handing yourself over to demon torturers to save another takes brass ones. But it really cemented what kind of characters the Knights of the Cross are supposed to be, which is important later on.

Original rating: *****

#2. Changes

 

Logline: Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden’s lover-until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it-against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry’s not fighting to save the world…

He’s fighting to save his child.

What I liked: This book… is incredibly brave. It takes all of the elements that readers loved about the series up until then, and basically trashes them. Butcher could easily have just kept the same settings, and written twelve more books like the previous ones, and I would have still gobbled them up. But he didn’t. He took a bold step, in everything. It’s even in the title, for god’s sake. It’s a very deliberate, symbolic story about how the series is shifting gears, and manages to weave a very personal story into the narrative. I really like stories where the hero steps back from saving the world, and does something purely for themselves. It’s kind of like that cliche phrase from cop movies: “This time, it’s personal.”

What I didn’t like: It was very poignant, having to say goodbye to so many settings I loved up until this book. It’s not really a flaw, it’s just fanboy sadness.

Favorite moment: The whole climax was just perfectly done, and it could all go here, but Murphy was the best part of it. Easily. I won’t spoil it. She just had her crowning moment of awesome, and I only hope she does it again sometime.

Original rating: *****

 

#1. Dead Beat

Logline: When a killer vampire threatens to destroy head of Special Investigations Karrin Murphy’s reputation unless Harry delivers the powerful Word of Kemmler to her, he has no choice. Now Harry is in a race against time to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead.

What I liked: This book has a great plot (ancient evil necromancer leaves an item of great power, and every bad guy wants it? Sign me up), introduces one of the best villains of the series in Cowl, and has such a tremendous sense of fun while it does it. There’s tons of references to earlier books, and character backstory on so many characters, even Bob! It also has a lot of wizard battles with tons of property damage. Harry flipping cars will never get old. This book is just a giant piece of why The Dresden Files is the best there is in Urban fantasy when it’s on. I’m not the only one who thinks so, either… Jim Butcher himself frequently has stated this is also his favorite book in the series.

What I didn’t like: No Murphy in this one. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like she adds much, but when she’s gone, it’s hard not to notice. This book taught me how much I liked her as a character.

Favorite moment: The climax. Zombie T-rex. Enough said.

Original rating: *****

 

Well, that’s it. That’s all of the Dresden Files books… so far. It’s my favorite Urban Fantasy series, hands down. Maybe I interested you in trying it out yourself. Maybe I bored you. Regardless, this was a fun, if challenging, exercise for me, and I’m glad I did it. I better pace myself, though, or I’ll run out of victims. Who should be next on this series? George R.R. Martin, maybe?

Yes. Yes, I think so.

 

 

 

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