Small Favor

After a Dresden Files marathon during which I read and reviewed Blood Rites, Dead Beat, and Proven Guilty over the course of about two weeks last year, it took a lot of self-control to forgo continuing reading subsequent installments. This series has definitely become one of my favorite SFF reads.

If Dead Beat turned out to be the point where the Dresden Files shifted into high gear, for its part Proven Guilty did build on the storylines introduced in basically every other volume and pushed the envelope even further. Far from losing steam like so many other speculative fiction series, the Dresden Files continued to grow in size, scope, and inventiveness. Having matured as an author with each new book, Jim Butcher has definitely hit his stride and he definitely became more confident, more ambitious. And with so many plot threads coming together to form an impressive tapestry, the potential for what came next was indeed enormous. But with the bar being raised with each new volume, the possibility that Butcher would somehow lose control of his tale, or allow himself to lose focus and simply milk his popularity for all it's worth, remained risks that could become all too real if he did not avoid certain pitfalls that had plagued some of his peers also writing bestselling urban fantasy sequences.

Understandably, White Night had lofty expectations to live up to. But even if it was a fun and entertaining read in its own right, it was not as good as its last few predecessors. Don't get me wrong. White Night raised the stakes yet again and the odds are now stacked even higher against Harry Dresden and his allies. The novel was not as intricately plotted and satisfying as Dead Beat and Proven Guilty turned out to be, yet it nonetheless set the stage for another chapter in the Dresden Files. One that would undoubtedly raise the series to another, deeper and more complex, level.

And I'm glad to report that Small Favor is definitely a return to form for Jim Butcher. Indeed, the book elevates the series to an even higher level, with several hints of an even bigger and more ambitious story arc that is gradually becoming more and more discernible.

Here's the blurb:

Harry Dresden's life finally seems to be calming down -- until a shadow from the past returns. Mab, monarch of the Sidhe Winter Court, calls in an old favor from Harry -- one small favor that will trap him between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally, and that will strain his skills -- and loyalties -- to their very limits.

Snow came early that year in Chicago, and harsh winter conditions will plague Harry's existence as he tries to repay one of the favors he owes the faerie Winter Queen and somehow survive this endeavor. The wintertime backdrop was apropos and gave this latest Dresden Files installment its unique vibe. Not sure if Butcher has ever lived in Chicago or anywhere where heavy snowfalls and subzero temperatures are a reality for three or four months a year, but at times his depiction of the blizzard and its repercussions on people did not always ring true. But hey, that's just nitpicking and it doesn't take anything away from the story.

As always, the book features the first person narrative of the only wizard in Chicago's phonebook, Harry Dresden. Harry's voice as the only POV remains witty and irreverent, filled with dark humor that makes you chuckle every couple of pages or so. And yet, as has been the case with the majority of the last few Dresden Files volumes, it's the supporting cast which helps make this one another unforgettable read. The usual suspects are there for the ride; Murphy, Thomas, and Molly Carpenter. The rest of the Carpenter family plays a major role in this novel, one that is quite emotional at times. As Knights of the Cross, Michael Carpenter and Sanya got Harry's back when things take a turn for the worse and go down the crapper. But with Nicodemus and the Denarians, both the Summer and Winter faeries, members of the White Council, Marcone and his entourage, as well as Kincaid and the Archive all involved in a multitude of ways, you know that poor Harry is in over his head and may not survive to see the end of this conflict and go on a dinner date with Anastasia Luccio.

Small Favor was hands down the most convoluted installment yet. One of the principal themes explored would have to be promises. Made and broken, both. What begins as a relatively simple rescue operation quickly turns into an extremely complicated and intricately plotted ensemble of storylines that links this one with plotlines from past volumes. Like its predecessors, Small Favor is an elaborate and interesting self-contained story. And yet, in my humble opinion, no other book in the series was this complex and unveiled so many secrets that keep readers begging for more.

In terms of pace, Small Favor is a fast-moving page-turner. There is never a dull moment and you get through this book before you know it. Although all Dresden Files are more or less stand-alone tales, Small Favor doesn't offer as much in terms of resolution. One of the main characters' fate ends with a cliffhanger, and a number of wider issues aren't wrapped up as neatly as I expected them to be. It doesn't rob the ending of its poignant impact, but it closes the show with the readers feeling that something is missing.

Be that as it may, it made it impossible for me not to immediately jump into the sequel, Turn Coat. Which, hard as it is to believe, is even better! Time will tell if I have enough self-control not to scrap my reading schedule for the rest of the year and just continue reading the next few volumes of the Dresden Files.

Jim Butcher is awesome and he keeps getting better! If only reading could always be this fun. . .

The final verdict: 8.5/10

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