Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files has become one of my favorite speculative fiction series on the market today. Urban fantasy it may be, yet it is as good and convoluted as can be! Yes, I'm quite late to this party, I know. But better late than never, right? With the last couple of installments all topping the New York Times bestseller list, there is no denying that this series is now one of the most popular out there.
The author has seriously upped his game in the last three volumes, making it impossible for me not to read the next book as soon as I reached the last page of Blood Rites. And the same thing happened when I reached the end of this book! Which means that I've read Blood Rites, Dead Beat, and Proven Guilty back-to-back, and it's the most fun I've had reading since I went through the first six Malazan novels back in 2006. With a significantly larger, more convoluted, and more ambitious overall story arc, Jim Butcher has shown us that urban fantasy can be as awesome and multilayered as any other subgenre.
Here's the blurb:
There's an entire world that exists alongside the everyday life of mankind. There are powers, nations, monsters, wars, feuds, alliances - everything. Wizards are part of it. So are a lot of other things you've heard about in stories, and even more you've never heard of...Vampires. Werewolves. Faeries. Demons. Monsters. It's all real. Harry Dresden knows full well that such creatures exist. Paranormal investigations are his stock-in-trade, and Chicago is his beat as he tries to bring law and order to a world that exists on the edges of imagination. Luckily Harry's not alone in this struggle. And though most inhabitants of the Windy City don't believe in magic, there's a department that's been set up within the Chicago PD to deal with "strange" cases: the Special Investigations department. Karrin Murphy is the head of SI and a good friend of Harry's. So when a deadly vampire threatens to destroy Murphy's reputation unless Harry helps her, he has no choice. The vampire wants the Word of Kemmler and all the power that comes with it - but first Harry has to determine what the Word of Kemmler is. Now Harry is in a race against time - and six necromancers - to find the Word before Chicago experiences a Halloween night to wake the dead.
As always, the first-person hardboiled narrative of the engaging, if frequently inept, wizard Harry Dresden remains a highlight of this series. Not always the sharpest tool in the shed, Harry's heart is unfailingly in the right place, and his flawed nature makes him one of the most likeable SFF protagonists out there. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Witnessing events occurring through Harry Dresden's eyes is never dull.
As the only POV character, Dresden takes centre stage throughout the book. But as it has often been the case in this series, it's the supporting cast which helps make this installment the best one yet. When the vampire-sorceress Mavra threatens to blackmail Murphy and possibly end her career, Harry has no choice but to go along with her request. But he'll soon find out that he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Surprisingly enough, neither Mavra nor Murphy play much of a role in this novel. Murphy is almost totally absent, what with her flying to Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation. Her absence changed the dynamics of this book, especially given how the relationship between her and Harry has evolved in the last few installments. We are introduced to a number of powerful necromancers like Grevane, Cowl, and Kumori, all of them searching for Word of Kemmler. And when the White Council of Wizards is called upon to help, we are also introduced to a number of never-seen-before Wardens, such as Ramirez, Captain Luccio, and Listens-to-Wind. Add a dangerous Faerie figure known as the Erlking to the mix, and the only wizard in the Chicago phone book soon finds himself in a harrowing ordeal he might not survive. With few allies other than Thomas and Mouse, who is no longer a cute puppy, Harry truly has his hands full in this one. We also learn more about Bob the skull's past, which was nice. Polka-loving medical examiner Waldo Butters is another nice and often hilarious addition to the ever-growing cast of the Dresden Files. Hence, even with Murphy's absence, there are more than enough people to keep things interesting.
In my review of Blood Rites I opined that in the last three volumes, the introduction of new concepts, the addition of new characters, and developments hinted at the fact that this was a series that resounded with a lot more depth than meets the eye. But it's in Dead Beat that the more ambitious and complex overall story arc I've allued to in the past really begins to unfold. Plot threads from previous installments come to the fore and we get a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes. Storylines such as the war between the White Council and the Red Court, Dresden's debts owed to the Faerie courts, his strange bond with the fallen angel Lasciel, his relationship with Thomas; they all start to come together in this book. New revelations about a possible traitor within the Senior Council could throw everything in jeopardy. Indeed, it does appear that the proverbial shit has truly hit the fan in this seventh volume, which bodes well for the future!
Dead Beat is definitely the point where the Dresden Files shifts into high gear. Far from losing steam, this series continues to grow in size, scope, and inventiveness. So much so that it appears that the sky's the limit for the subsequent installments. Jim Butcher keeps growing as a writer, just has Harry Dresden keeps growing as a wizard. And with so many plot threads now coming together to form an impressive tapestry, the potential for what comes next is enormous.
With lots of new developments, further complications, and heart to boot, Dead Beat is impossible to put down!