When I re-read a book I've already reviewed, I tend to write a new review to reflect how my opinion of the boo...moreSecond review, read from June 7-8, 2010.
When I re-read a book I've already reviewed, I tend to write a new review to reflect how my opinion of the book has changed with a second reading. In this case, my opinion hasn't changed much. If anything, my admiration of Small Favor has increased. I stand by my original review, and I recommend you read that for my full thoughts on this book.
Some addenda though.
Reading the series in near succession like this gives me a new appreciation of how Small Favor brings back some of the light-hearted "fun" Harry Dresden. We haven't seen much of him since Proven Guilty. It seems like Harry has more wisecracks this time around, more insolence—although that may be, as Nicodemus observes, merely a function of the insanity of the situations Harry has to face in this book.
Seriously, though. Asking a gruff for a doughnut? Wow.
It occurs to me that my original review did not have a spoiler alert attached. This hasn't happened since Summer Knight, but I suppose I won't break with tradition now. The specific plot of Small Favor is of little importance. What matters is its sheer awesomeness.
Jim Butcher combines so many elements of the Dresdenverse—the Denarians, the Archive, Marcone, Murphy, Thomas, the Wardens, the Knights of the Cross, Summer and Winter courts—and yet the story is still simple and focused. There's plenty of snappy dialogue, wonderful descriptions of battle scenes and magic-working, and new dimensions on old relationships.
On top of that, the Black Council story arc continues. Someone has been manipulating the Denarians, and one of them was involved in the attack on Arctis Tor—the one that left the gates wide open for Harry's little incursion. It looks like the Black Council set up Arctis Tor, and contributed to the developments in this book as well.
I loved Harry's encounter with Uriel and the corresponding development with his powers. Butcher excels at improving Harry as a character and as a wizard without turning him into a Marty Stu. Sure, Harry gets a power boost in this book—but as Bob says, "And [Uriel:] did you a favor. . . . You just know that can't be good!" Nothing comes without a price, and it seems like the more Harry gets involved in these matters, the worse his situation gets.
I love the Dresden Files, and Small Favor is an example of why.
First review, finished on June 22, 2008.
This may be the best Dresden Files book yet.
At this point in the series, there is so much backstory and established "facts" that it can feel confusing to navigate it all, yet somehow Jim Butcher makes it feel easy. The pacing of the narrative, the division of characters' actions and duties, all of it comes together to make the book readable and enjoyable. Butcher has an excellent handle on how to set up a scene, create tension, and leave you in suspense at just the right moment.
It's a shame that Sci-Fi chose to create an "alternate" Dresden Files universe when they adapted these books. Had they stuck with the original storyline, they would have enough material for several seasons, and the show might actually have not sucked. But that's neither here nor there. The book.
I had trouble putting Small Favor down. As I said before, the pacing just makes it so exciting that I needed to know what happened next. The conflicts in this story are also heartbreaking (with what happens to the Archive and, later, to Michael) and compelling--how is Harry going to get out of this one.
Some people may find Harry's wisecracking attitude camp or annoying, but I love it. Okay, "Hell's bells" annoys me a bit. However, I've figured out why I like it so much--it reminds me of John Crichton from Farscape. Anyone who has seen that series knows that Crichton is the only human being in that section of the galaxy. Whenever he is in imminent peril, he makes a cultural allusion (be it pop culture, literature, or just some proverb) that no one--particularly the arrogant, gloating enemy--understands. This forms a bond between him and us, the audience. Butcher does the same thing with Harry, and the first person perspective only amplifies this feeling.
The plot was rich and interesting. After ten books, one may worry that an author is running out of ideas, but Butcher still looks like he has plenty left. He has managed to hew enough detail out of this universe that there are plenty of antagonists to square off against Harry and the good guys--but the moral ambiguity (gotta love moral ambiguity) means that these antagonists almost always try to foil each others' plans.
The blending of mystery with urban fantasy is tangible and potent. Few can do it so well. This novel is great in that respect, because urban fantasy lovers can read it and get exposed to a little mystery they might otherwise ignore; mystery lovers likewise get some urban fantasy. Yet Butcher remembers the golden rule of genre writing: the genre is a setting, not a story. This book is not about faeries, or wizards, or magic, or solving a crime. It is an action adventure with motifs of temptation, redemption, suffering, and all that makes us human. It's a story, set in a world of faerie, magic, and crime. What's not to like?
The word for Lisa Shearin's new fantasy series is "delightful."
Raine Benares' characterization presents a magical world through the eyes of a down-to-...moreThe word for Lisa Shearin's new fantasy series is "delightful."
Raine Benares' characterization presents a magical world through the eyes of a down-to-earth, capable woman. The passing way in which she remarks, "Oh, by the way ... I've got an amulet that links me to a stone known as the 'Soul Thief' and want it gone" is a typical example of the tongue-in-cheek tone of Shearin's writing--a tone that suits this story.
The way the action progresses, it is hard to imagine that so much can happen in so short a time (a couple of days). I am used to epic fantasy stories that take months, years, generations to complete. Neither approach is necessarily bad; they are just different, and each has its advantages. Shearin handles her pacing well. She packs quite a bit of action into the book, but somehow manages to squeeze enough exposition in there so as to inform us about numerous aspects of her magical world without completely drowning us in an infodump. As someone who also enjoys continent (or world) spanning adventures (*cough* Mr. Raymond E. Feist anyone? *cough*)
Fantasy is as susceptible as any genre to its clichés, and magical stones of power are one of those. However, Lisa Shearin cleverly doesn't tackle this particular stone head-on. Instead, she uses it to give us plenty of time with her main character, who is a delightful, spunky heroine. In that respect, I would think that women can fully appreciate Raine and enjoy her, more so than many books dominated by heavily masculine heroes. That said, I'm male and enjoyed it thoroughly.
The only criticism I could offer is that parts of it seemed rushed or forced. The ending comes very fast after what seems like a very long time, and there are certain scenes where I remember going, "Hmm ... is this really necessary? Couldn't this have been cut?" There are a couple of times where there is a large build-up to danger and tension, only for it to dissipate (such as just after the climax of the book, during the last flight from The Ruins). It doesn't ruin the book, but it makes me feel fidgety while I'm reading it.
That's the great thing about books though. If you get fidgety, you can just put it down, go do something, and come back later.
I started Armed & Magical immediately after finishing Magic Lost, Trouble Found, and it was a good decision. Armed & Magical picks up right wh...moreI started Armed & Magical immediately after finishing Magic Lost, Trouble Found, and it was a good decision. Armed & Magical picks up right where the first book ends. Raine is still burdened with the Saghred, which continually flexes its psychic muscle. Sarad Nukpana lurks on the edge of her awareness. There's elves and goblins after her, not to mention any number of mages who might want her power for their own.
I love how Raine explains the Saghred, calling it her "psychic roommate." Lisa Shearin's easygoing, matter-of-fact characterization of Raine makes the book extremely fun. If you enjoyed Magic Lost, Trouble Found, then you will enjoy this book. If you didn't, then I don't see why you'd be reading the second one just to see if it "gets better." The plot certainly thickens, but it follows the same general formula that the first book did, incorporating some new twists to keep it interesting.
If you haven't read Magic Lost, Trouble Found first, don't even think about skipping it and reading this one. You probably won't get lost. Shearin does a good job adding exposition that catches readers up to Raine's life, some of which is targeted at people who may not have read the first book (or read the first book long enough ago to forget it). Actually, this is something with which I have an issue: reading the books back to back, I noticed that some of those snippets were reused verbatim from the first book. While I suppose that it's hard to improve on nice, tight prose, what's the harm in trying?
I liked the ending to this book much better than the first one. The climax was paced better, wasn't too drawn out, and the ending wrapped up enough loose ends while still leaving me hungry for book 3.
I guess the highest praise I could give this book would be: I read it as quickly as possible because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next, so quickly that sometimes I had to go back to double check something.
I read The Hobbit back in grade six, after reading The Lord of the Rings. My first impression of Tolkien was simply how good he was at writing high f...moreI read The Hobbit back in grade six, after reading The Lord of the Rings. My first impression of Tolkien was simply how good he was at writing high fantasy and not making it sound pretentious. It helps that he was one of the fathers of the modern fantasy genre.(less)
**spoiler alert** As a voracious reader, I'm always pleased to find another fantasy author. This is the first book by Sharon Shinn that I've read, and...more**spoiler alert** As a voracious reader, I'm always pleased to find another fantasy author. This is the first book by Sharon Shinn that I've read, and it has not let me down.
Shinn weaves an interesting story that is so rich in detail and emotion that it feels cinematic. Her tone provides a humorous evaluation of each scene and allows me to imagine myself there, experiencing the events. This is not something that every author can do, and do well. By the time I was halfway through, I was cheering when the protagonists succeeded and booing when an antagonist gained the upper hand. And of course, I yelled at Cammon for falling in love with Amalie when that love was still forbidden--I tend to have a very energetic relationship with my books. I just couldn't put it down.
There are some aspects of the story that are campy. It lacks an element of true tragedy; I don't know if this is true of all of Shinn's books in this series, or just this book in particular. I enjoy it when things work out for the protagonists, but I just don't feel complete unless there is a single last note of sadness to go along with all the triumph. It can't be "happily ever after." There has to be some price paid (Senneth possibly losing her magic doesn't really compare, in my mind). Yeah, I'm a cruel, sadistic reader. :D But an ending with any hint of tragedy undermines the emotional importance of victory. It feels more hollow.
That being said, I'm extremely glad that I chose to read this book. I'm certainly going to be reading more Sharon Shinn books in the near future.(less)
As a neophyte of Salman Rushdie's work, I was not fully prepared for The Enchantress of Florence, although I should have been. Rushdie possesses an un...moreAs a neophyte of Salman Rushdie's work, I was not fully prepared for The Enchantress of Florence, although I should have been. Rushdie possesses an uncanny ability to manipulate perspective. In his stories, the flow of time is always questionable, and subject to change--if it flows at all. And his characters are larger-than-life, capricious archetypes that embody the virtues and flaws of humanity.
In this novel, Rushdie runs two stories parallel to each other: that of Emperor Akbar's court, the emperor's life and philosophy; and the story of a man's heritage, of a lost Mughal princess who travels from Asia to Florence to the New World, then beyond. The boundaries between these two stories--the latter of which takes place in the first one's past--are flimsy, permeable. If you were expecting a linear narrative that reads like a movie novelization, then you a) have not read Salman Rushdie before and b) will not get that.
I might even characterize this story as a fable, for it carries that particular brand of enchantment about it. Romance, yes, that too: the main characters all mediate on the nature of love at one point or another. Cloaked in sixteenth-century philosophical ideas, these ruminations may seem pompous or boring, but I found them intriguing. Akbar struggles with the existence of God, the divine right to rule, whether might truly is the only arbiter of power. We also see a fictionalized Machiavelli, disenchanted with his wife, and like so many men in this story, drawn into the web of enchantment that the eponymous princess weaves.
Descend deeper through these layers, and Rushdie focuses on the nature of power for women in a world dominated by men. How do women exert their influence? Is their beauty, their sexuality, the only way they can ever gain power? In this book, two female characters are essentially imaginary, constructed from the mind of Akbar. What does this say about the nature of gender, a man creating his feminine opposites because he cannot find them in life?
Rushdie uses this story as a vehicle to explore a woman's life--told largely through the perspectives of men, ironically--in this period of history. However, I wouldn't necessarily call this a work of historical fiction, in the sense that it does not concern itself too much with the details of history except when they serve a purpose. The story is not about the Mughal empire so much as it is set, for a part, in that empire.
While "epic" or "sword and sorcery" fantasy has its place, its success of late has typecasted the genre. In those stories, magic is almost a science, subjected to laws the way we have restricted gravity. We often forget that the definition of fantasy is broader. In this respect, The Enchantress of Florence reminds me of Jonathan Strange Mr. Norrell. It is truly a fantastic adventure and romance just steeped in unrestrained magic, a world in which anything is possible--but not everything is permitted.(less)
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy. If you have read all of the authors whose stories appear here, then not only are you well rea...moreI would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy. If you have read all of the authors whose stories appear here, then not only are you well read, but you will enjoy the stories in this book. If you haven't read some of these authors, then like me, you'll find a few new names to explore.
I love Neil Gaiman's work, and "The Witch's Headstone," part of his upcoming new book The Graveyard Book, is no exception. It was fun, with that undercurrent of whimsical exploration.
Many of the other stories were fascinating, or at least had fascinating parts. A couple, such as "Slipping Sideways Through Eternity" were just weird. I enjoyed "The Stranger's Hands" and "The Magic Animal," the latter of which puts a clever twist on Arthurian legend.
The last story, however, is definitely the best. I knew Orson Scott Card as a science fiction writer. This is the first time I've really read any fantasy by him, but I was absolutely blown away. "Stonefather" is a compelling story about a boy discovering who he is. It may seem like an unlikely plot, fairly derivative, but it's told in a way that leaves me yearning for more.
Wizards is an excellent collection. The fact that I didn't like some of the stories does not detract from the book's worthiness--it simply means that it has some stories that cater to people with different interests than me, which is fine. In fact, it's great: it makes the book have a wider appeal.
I'm going to look into some of these authors next time I'm at the library--I've some more reading to do!(less)
I respect Ursula K. Le Guin greatly, for although she tackles many difficult and controversial topics, she never beats you over the head with her opin...moreI respect Ursula K. Le Guin greatly, for although she tackles many difficult and controversial topics, she never beats you over the head with her opinions. Works like her The Left Hand of Darkness allow you to read an intriguing story while at the same time, if you want, open yourself to new ideas.
Le Guin brings a feminist voice to the eponymous Lavinia, a character from Vergil's Aeneid. She tells Lavinia's story from her point of view, wrapping it within the meta story of Lavinia encountering the poet Vergil through a series of dream sequences. I found that a bit hard to follow, but it didn't really ruin my enjoyment of the book.
It isn't just Lavinia's story, though, which is truly what makes the book work. Le Guin uses Lavinia to bring us a glimpse of a period of history often overlooked in contemporary literature. Many authors write about ancient Rome and Greece, but until now I've never encountered a book set just prior to the founding of Rome. Le Guin shows us what life might have been like for those Latin villagers, what a noblewoman like Lavinia could have expected in terms of being married off, the rituals and beliefs in their pre-Olympian, pre-Christian cultures. I found it fascinating.
So why only two stars? Well, frankly, it is not as good as most of Le Guin's work. "Okay" is not good enough--I expect better! Plus, in places the narrative was somewhat dry, so while the setting and characters were interesting, the story was not always so. Some people might not like the narrative style either--there is very little dialogue, except in Lavinia's conversations with Vergil. Instead, it is told in an almost stream-of-consciousness perspective, with Lavinia relaying back her interpretation of the other characters' thoughts and actions.
If you don't read this book, you're not missing out on anything big and impressive. If you like Le Guin, Lavinia, or pre-Roman Italy, you'll probably enjoy this.(less)
My first fantasy experience, and what sparked my love of fantasy, was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Since I've matured (that was in grade seven), I'...moreMy first fantasy experience, and what sparked my love of fantasy, was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Since I've matured (that was in grade seven), I've come to realize that much of epic fantasy is, in fact, fairly formula-dry stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Most of Wizard's First Rule is predictable if you are familiar with the genre. In the first part of the book, combined with a terrible amount of dialogue exposition, this is almost unbearable. It gets better toward the end though. By that time, the exposition decreases, replaced by rather clumsy foreshadowing.
Much of the story is fairly enjoyable, if you do recognize that it is ploddingly predictable and instead focus on having fun. The main character, Richard Cypher, is an idiot. I love it when the main character is a victim of Plot Induced Stupidity; this seems to happen to Richard every second chapter in one form or another. I love this, almost as much as I love a main character who is competent. His powers as a the Seeker, this series' "Chosen One" champion, are inimical to his own psyche and even limit themselves based on his convictions. This seems to be part of Goodkind's message throughout the novel, which is that tools (i.e., magic) are neither inherently good nor bad. People use them for good or bad ends.
Once again, the gods who created this poor, forsaken universe had the sheer malevolence to create an artifact (in this case, the three boxes of Orden) that could do one of three things to the person who opened them: a) Give them power over everything in the universe b) Kill them or c) Destroy the entire universe. When will gods learn that leaving these sorts of things around is incredibly stupid?
I read up on Goodkind before I started reading this book--my coworker has been rereading them over the summer, and she convinced me to try them, even though I'm sure I had passed them up for some reason or another. The later books, apparently, are merely thinly-veiled treatises on Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Inklings of such viewpoints are present in this book. They don't interfere too much with the plot--they certainly guide Richard's actions, but overall his actions are pretty much consistent with the "save the world" mentality that seems to come over those determined to save the world. The worst manifestation of philosophical dogma comes with much of the dialogue, especially in the first part of the novel.
Goodkind claims not to be a fantasy author, that he just uses fantasy to tell tales of humanity. Well guess what? That makes you a frelling fantasy author! And most fantasy authors manage to cloak their philosophical viewpoints better--they show, not tell through lots of dialogue.
I may seem harsh toward the end of this review. Honestly, Wizard's First Rule is a good book. If you like fantasy, you would probably enjoy it. If you like fantasy that acts as a vehicle for more profound themes, then you'd probably read into this book as much as Goodkinds wants--whether you disagree with his viewpoint or not is totally up to you. It won't change the fact that this is not an excellent book--excellent books are good regardless of whether or not you agree with their philosophy.(less)
This book was bad. I found parts of it way better than the first book, Wizard's First Rule, and parts of it abysmal. The only saving grace was the fac...moreThis book was bad. I found parts of it way better than the first book, Wizard's First Rule, and parts of it abysmal. The only saving grace was the fact that I'm a sucker for crowning moments of awesome, and this book has quite a few.
Richard seems to be turning into a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu, if you have it that way). Don't get me wrong--I love to torture a character, rip away his world, and do bad things to him in general. But you need to make them stick. When you send someone through this pain and they emerge completely whole and happy, what's the point? So far Richard seems to be a rather static character. Yes, he's learning more magic, but he's still a headstrong idiot.
And what's with Kahlan being raped nearly every second chapter? Seriously, I could do without that. Rape is a very potent device, which is why it shouldn't be used too often, especially not on the main character.
Weighing in at 979 pages, this book is a doorstopper that could have been edited down to a respectable 500-600. Parts of it were unnecessary, adversely affecting the pacing of the entire story. By the end, I just--well, I wanted it to end.
The story has merit. The characters are likable (not loveable). With some effort, I find the books enjoyable. But they could be better.(less)
The only part of this book that truly aggravated me was the end. Once again (and I can say this without spoiling it, because I won't reveal any detail...moreThe only part of this book that truly aggravated me was the end. Once again (and I can say this without spoiling it, because I won't reveal any details), Richard manages to avoid the consequences of the tragedy introduced during the rising action. Maybe I'm just sick. Maybe it's wrong of me to want characters to suffer. But this guy's luck is incredible.
The redeeming aspect of the end is that there are sort of consequences (the chimes), but they won't make an appearance until the next book. I guess that's okay. But this reveals Goodkind's heavyhanded writing style that mars the previous books.
I must say that from a philosophical standpoint, the books are actually getting easier to stomach, not worse. Almost everything I read about them told me to expect the opposite. Instead, the amount of exposition is now tolerable. Maybe it's because Richard's character has evolved to the point that the philosophical arguments Goodkind is trying to espouse actually make sense from Richard's perspective. He has the whole "burdened hero" motif. Or perhaps I'm just too naive (or maybe too jaded) to actually pay attention enough to pick out the philosophy Goodkind is apparently attempting to impress upon his readers.
Compared to the last book, however, this book is rather slow. It reminds me of The Stone of Tears, although I'll admit that this one has more action in it.
Goodkind struggles with portraying all of his characters and putting them in interesting situations. Some authors pull this off well (i.e., George R.R. Martin). Others, like Goodkind, are very good at creating a lot of characters and giving them important roles in certain parts of the story, but then later they fade into the background. This is also noticeable in the next book when it comes to Verna and Warren. This is a shame, because many of those characters are interesting. Some of them get less page time than the villains. The books are already rather long, but maybe a different editing approach would have allowed our favourite recurring characters some more time to shine.(less)
**spoiler alert** This was better than the previous book, The Stone of Tears, but not necessarily great. My major problem with The Stone of Tears was...more**spoiler alert** This was better than the previous book, The Stone of Tears, but not necessarily great. My major problem with The Stone of Tears was that the majority of the book was a slowly-paced journey across the land from the Mud People to the Palace of the Prophets. It only picked up toward the end. In this book, because time and space are relative, the journey from Aydindril to the Palace of Prophets occurs over the space of a couple of chapters, and we don't actually experience it. Yay!
The action in this book is faster-paced. One of the primary antagonists, Tobias Brogan, is truly insane and you'll enjoy seeing the "logical" conclusions he reaches during his literal witch-hunt. Richard, on the other hand, continues displaying monumental feats of idiotic passion (which turns out to be the Wizard's Third Rule). I know we're supposed to love characters who put passion before reason and turn into unstoppable dreadnoughts when the person they love is threatened. But you can only do that so many times before you need to learn that your enemies are smarter than you. By that I mean, Richard is not initiated into the history of the Midlands. Jagang has the advantage of a knowledge of history on his side. Richard recognizes this, which is why he's an idiot and retrieves a journal from the Keep in the first place--he knows he has to learn and seek knowledge (he is the Seeker after all).
But I digress. Richard's choices aside, this book may be the first one whose themes I rather like. Brogan's failed witch-hunt reveals that any operation to route a conspiracy is vulnerable to turning into a conspiracy. Richard learns about the Wizard's Third Rule--passion is a very powerful, unpredictable element, and it is perhaps what makes humanity so persistent in this world and in his. But it must be tempered with reason, because passion is irrational and prone to jumping to conclusions that may ultimately be harmful. The very beginning, in which Jagang captures the Sisters of the Dark who fled the Palace at the end of the last book, shows us that evil people really don't get a break.
The main purpose of this book is to hand off the story arc from "Richard vs. the Keeper" to "Richard vs. Jagang the Dream Walker." I'm not sure why Goodkind does this, other than the fact that he neutralized the Keeper's threat at the end of book two and wanted to write nine more books. He could have used the escaped Sisters of the Dark to cook up a new plan to free the Keeper. Instead he's segued into a fight over the balance and the evolution of man. I must admit I like this better; one of the issues unique to fantasy that I enjoy dealing with is the nature of magic in humanity's evolution. At what point does magic die out and science replace it?(less)
In the fifth book of the Sword of Truth series, Goodkind introduces another magical threat from the underworld ready to tear the veil and end life as...moreIn the fifth book of the Sword of Truth series, Goodkind introduces another magical threat from the underworld ready to tear the veil and end life as we know it: the chimes. Of course, only Richard has the brains and the guts to stop them. The catch: he doesn't have the Sword of Truth, nor does he have the time to retrieve it from Aydindril. With half his magic virtually useless, without the sword, he travels to the country of Anderith in hopes of finding answers.
The subplot involving Fitch, one of the oppressed majority Hakens in Anderith, is actually rather neat. I felt very sorry for him as Dalton led Fitch astray and used Fitch for his own purposes. Dalton's actions at the end, however, show that he realizes how blind he was all along.
This may be my favourite book of the series so far. My only complaint is that Richard is largely useless. He spends the first third of the book debating whether or not he should go to Aydindril or Anderith. In the second third, he tries to find a way to stop the chimes in Anderith. In the last portion of the book, he concocts a "creative" magical solution. Without his potent Sword of Truth, Richard does not get to do much killing in this book, or much of anything. The most interesting parts are the scenes with Dalton and Fitch. Ann's experience in the camp of the Imperial Order comes in second. While I do not like how she and Zedd, in a moment of plot-induced stupidity, kept the truth from Richard, I sympathize with the predicament she encounters when trying to free her fellow Sisters of the Light.
Unlike the last book, where some of the antagonists were just annoying, the Ander antagonists in this novel were fun. I loved Bertrand Chanboor and his wife. Dalton is a sympathetic antagonist who realizes how much of a mistake he has made. Jajang and the Imperial Order are still present, they are a major concern, but the plot is not necessarily about them. This is a sensible move on Goodkind's part, since it avoids forcing an inevitable (and thus final) confrontation between Richard and Jajang.
Aside from Richard's ambivalent travel plans, Soul of Fire proceeds at a quicker pace than the other books, skipping time quite readily in order to advance the plot. I approve.(less)
Perhaps the best book in the series so far. Once again, Goodkind deprives Richard of the Sword of Truth so that he can take him on a philosophical jou...morePerhaps the best book in the series so far. Once again, Goodkind deprives Richard of the Sword of Truth so that he can take him on a philosophical journey that avoids bloodshed and uber-powerful moments of rage. In fact, Richard is rather laid back in this entire book. This is justified by what he experienced in the last book and his disillusionment with his own methods of trying to beat the Imperial Order.
Faith of the Fallen takes a sharp left turn (no pun intended) at communism and doesn't look back. While the Order has obviously been a symbol for communism from the beginning, Goodkind intends to browbeat you with it if you hadn't already realized or if you had, until this point, thought he was just joking. He throws Richard into the heart of the Imperial Order in order to show us how incredibly absurd the Order's society is. For instance, Richard gets in trouble because he was working too hard, thus taking work from other people. Very selfish of him. I must say that after reading this book, I almost, almost wanted to become a capitalist. The only thing that saved me is remembering that I already knew communism is flawed when put into practice.
As a villain, Nicci is delicious, for she is truly insane. She has spent her entire life growing into a warped, twisted person whose moral compass is so far off the beaten path that you need GPS to locate it. I can't say that I agree with everything that she does, but I certainly empathize with what she is trying to do. Her fate at the end of the book is justified, especially by her reaction to what Richard does.
The elapsed time in Faith of the Fallen is greater than many of the other books. If you are not a fan of politics or military tactics, you may find it slow, because Goodkind devotes most of it to demonstrating the absurdity of the Order and spends the rest of the book showing Kahlan's military prowess (which is fine). I found the ending rather rushed. Once again, travel to the Old World seems to happen at the Speed of the Plot. Kahlan manages to get to the Old World--to the heart of the Imperial Order, in fact--rather quickly: just in time for the climax.
This book rewards you for actually reading the first five. I would have been content if this had been the second book in a series of maybe four.(less)
After reading Faith of the Fallen, The Pillars of Creation let me down.
It seems like a great big detour away from the plot. I actually don't mind that...moreAfter reading Faith of the Fallen, The Pillars of Creation let me down.
It seems like a great big detour away from the plot. I actually don't mind that Richard and Kahlan aren't present until the end, nor do I mind the plot of this book itself. Those factors alone would have made the book fine. The book itself, however, is just poorly written.
The protagonist, Jennsen Rahl, is half-sister to Richard and a "hole in the world"--ungifted, no gifted person can detect her with the gift. Coincidentally, this gives her the potential to destroy all magic in the world. Oops.
I found Jennsen an annoying character. I don't object to having antagonists manipulate the protagonist into doing their bidding--that is fair and also fun. Jennsen is just not that likable, at least in my opinion. The way that she resolves certain predicaments was improbable. She manages to avoid a snake in a swamp--one that apparently eats everyone else who tries to get past it--and arrive on the doorstep of an expository sorceress. I'm willing to accept that her heritage bequeaths her certain abilities, but it's all very convenient.
Oba Rahl, another of Richard's half-siblings, seems entirely unnecessary to the entire plot of the book. He overlaps with Jennsen at certain points, but Goodkind shunts him off to the side during the climax (which I thought was supposed to be the most important part of the book, so I'm very glad that Mr. Goodkind has corrected me on that). Oba shares traits with Darken Rahl: he is ruthless and has a taste for cruelty. Unlike his father, however, Oba is not cunning. And he hears voices, which can often be bad for your health.
It's a shame that this book wasn't better. I enjoy it when a series takes the time to portray the main characters from the point of view of secondary ones. But at the end, the story was just not very satisfying.(less)
It's always delightful discovering another author in one's favourite genre whose entire oeuvre you want to read after finishing just one book.
Blood an...moreIt's always delightful discovering another author in one's favourite genre whose entire oeuvre you want to read after finishing just one book.
Blood and Iron begins in media res, with an agent of Faerie--the Seeker of the Daoine Sidhe--and an agent of humanity--the Promethean Club's Matthew Szczegielniak--chasing the same quarry: a faerie changeling. After introducing us to these two main characters, the book pulls back in scope and reveals the centuries-old conflict between Faerie and the Promethean Club over the fate of the mortal world.
I say "main characters" because it's hard to tell who the "good guys" are in this book. There are times when I hated Matthew and times when I hated the Seeker. I praise Elizabeth Bear for her ability to establish such moral ambiguity. Although she addresses rather tired motifs for fantasy, such as the decline of "old gods" and their replacement with a "new era" (i.e., the death of Faerie and the rise of the mortal world), Bear employs the motif effectively and turns it into a compelling theme.
In addition to her ability to create complex characters, Bear's got a nice ear for dialogue. None of it feels stilted, even the formal tones of the faeries. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue feels like filler, and there are times when I don't entirely understand what's going on. And that brings me to...
...the mythology of Blood and Iron. Bear draws from a global coffer of sources, notably Arthurian legend and faerie tales. She integrates them well, for the most part, but it can become a cacophony of mythology at times. It isn't the synthesis of these myths that irks me so much as how Bear uses it, however.
Just when I thought I had the rules of Blood and Iron figured out, Bear would introduce another element that caused my understanding to vanish. This was not a pleasant feeling. For example, take the antagonist, the Dragon. The Dragon is shrouded in mysticism, and the main characters bow to a complex set of rules and requirements involving her. Any time a character speaks about these rules, the reasoning is cryptic and never straightforward. Even with some human (or at least part human) characters sharing their thoughts with me, I never achieved the same level of comfort I felt with, say, the rules of the Faerie Court in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series.
The ending of the story was anticlimactic. I won't reveal too much, other than that the climax occurs during an epic battle, but this doesn't affect the main characters all that much. The Merlin, who is an important figure in the middle third of the book, is marginalized and shunted off to the side.
While I'm very critical of the book in this review, I did enjoy its premise, if not the execution. That's why I'll read more of Bear's work, particularly this series. Bear's a talented writer with extremely creative ideas--I'm intrigued by what I've read about subsequent books in this series (such as Ink and Steel), but I want to read them in order. Hopefully her use of mythology (or at least my comprehension of that use) will improve, allowing me fully immerse myself in the world of her Promethean Age rather than simply being a spectator.(less)
Significantly better than the first book in this series, Whiskey and Water picks up the loose ends from Blood and Iron and sustains them through half...moreSignificantly better than the first book in this series, Whiskey and Water picks up the loose ends from Blood and Iron and sustains them through half the book, building to a much more satisfying climax consisting of multiple battles and tense magical standoffs. My gripe: why did I have to wait for book 2 for all that heavy worldbuilding to pay off?!
As with its predecessor, Whiskey and Water suffers from a surfeit of mythology and mythological characters, particularly when it comes to Devils. The complex, and apparently ineffable, rules of magic and Fae once again serve as the cornerstone for the major plots. This time around, I simply gave up trying to make sense of the magical guidelines and tried to enjoy the story. It worked. Sort of.
Several familiar characters return in this sequel, including Matthew Szczegielniak, Jane Andraste, Carel the Merlin, Morgan le Fey, Elaine (now Queen of the Daoine Sidhe), and the eponymous Kelpie, Whiskey. Joining them are some new faces: Kit Marlowe (the one and only); Devils Lucifer, Satan, and Christian (an unconvincing antagonist at best); archangel Michael; and several mortals who may or may not die over the course of the book. And again, it's difficult to tell who the "good guys" are.
Nominally, Matthew and his cohorts are supposed to be the protagonists. Jane Andraste serves as an antagonist, for her attempts to rebuild the Promethean Club may result in another war with Faerie. Meanwhile, Lucifer has his own agenda, as does the charming Christian, who poses as an apprentice to Jane. I found this aspect of the plot entirely unfulfiling. I never understood Christian's motivations--sheer malevolence, or was he working toward a greater plan?
There were few characters I could just sit back and enjoy. Donall Smith was one, because he seemed like a genuinely honest and good person. Like the other mortal characters, he suddenly becomes involved in an epic, centuries-old conflict. Unlike the other mortals, however, Donall actually has the guts to stand and fight. Aside from him, the best parts of Whiskey and Water happened around the climax of the book, when every petty conflict comes to a head simultaneously.
The rules that govern the Promethean Age seem too mutable. I'll again compare this series to the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. The Dresdenverse has a complex set of rules, but I seldom feel burdened or confused by them. However, that may be due to the excellent writing and characterization in the Dresden Files books. The Promethean Age series' complex ruleset may be its single worst feature, but it's the characters and conflicts upon which the success of these books rests. And for me at least, there's just too much magic, too many beings who are, at least from a human's very limited perspective, apparently omnipotent.
The preponderance of powerful beings presents a problem: when unstoppable force meets immovable object, something's got to give. When Dragon faces off against Prometheans, when Hell and Heaven duel, and when one Fae queen plots against the other, the battlefield quickly gets complicated, and the plot can become hard to follow. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Bear's problem is that she tries to do too much and is forced to try to balance too many characters and too many conflicts. As a result, while I enjoyed the book--particularly the ending--I'm still somewhat confused, and not entirely certain of exactly who won or even for whom I should have cheered. While I'm all for moral ambiguity, I like to at least have a hero.(less)
Why, why did Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water precede this book?! Ink and Steel possesses the best qualities of its predecessors and few of their...moreWhy, why did Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water precede this book?! Ink and Steel possesses the best qualities of its predecessors and few of their flaws. Elizabeth Bear's skill flourishes in an alternate Elizabethan England where Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare are agents for the Queen and have dealings with Fae.
By far, my reviews of the previous books singled out an overly-complicated mythology as the Promethean Age's major flaw. Ink and Steel retains much of the mythological basis present in the first two books, but it seems much less preoccupied about dancing around complicated rules. Only the teind, Faerie's seven-year tithe to Hell, plays a large role in this book, and that situation is easy enough to follow. There is no mention of the Dragon (yay) or Dragon Prince, and the concept of a Merlin appears only in passing.
Indeed, Ink and Steel benefits from a narrower focus and tighter, crisper storytelling. Now with fewer annoying human characters! Yes, I can actually like our two human protagonists, Marlowe and Shakespeare, something I had trouble doing with the human characters in the first two books. I credit much of this to the juxtaposition of Bear's fictitious Marlowe and Shakespeare with my own expectations for the characters based on what I know of their historical versions. Similarly, I quite enjoyed seeing Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (and the true author of Shakespeare's plays according to some) and Ben Jonson.
The conflicts in Ink and Steel are superior to the first two books in this series. As mentioned above, they are easier to understand, and on a level, far more personal. On one level, Ink and Steel is a love story; on another level, it's a political drama where words and songs, poetry and plays, are the weapons of choice. In leveraging the poignant verse of Shakespeare and Marlowe, Bear skilfully reinforces the latter theme.
Ink and Steel makes an important distinction between mortals and the creatures of Faerie and Hell, beyond the obvious differences in strengths and weaknesses. Marlowe and Shakespeare--who are as much legend to us as Morgan and Arthur are to them--are portrayed as brilliant, passionated, and flawed human beings. Yet at the same time, they possess qualities that the Fae envy. I feel like Bear was attempting to draw these conclusions in the first books, particularly with changeling characters, like Elaine the Seeker. However, it took her three tries to perfect the message.
So far I've only compared Ink and Steel to its two predecessors. How does it stand on its own merits?
As noted, Bear makes masterful use of the Elizabethan setting and characters. While your mileage may vary, I personally I have a weakness for historical fiction set in the Elizabethan era--particularly historical fiction done well. There are too many epistolary sections for my taste.
The narrative perspective of Ink and Steel is somewhat more detached than I'd like. That's not to say that we're devoid of glimpses into the hearts of our characters. But each "scene" is related in a very cursory way, with emphasis placed more on dialogue than description. However, I suppose it's necessary in order to preserve the pacing of the story, which takes place over several mortal years, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bear chose to do this to further emulate the structure of a play. Not that such reasons make it any better....
But I mean ... come on. William Shakespeare. Christopher Marlowe. Faerie. Hell. What's not to like? It's 400 pages of quality fantasy, none of which is set in New York, and none of which involves an amoral Dragon manipulating matters behind the scenes. Ink and Steel, owing to its setting, was the book that attracted me to the Promethean Age series; I chose to start at book 1 because I worried I'd like back story. Hopefully, this review will convince anyone similarly interested solely in The Stratford Man duology (this book and Hell and Earth) to skip right to Ink and Steel. You won't miss anything.(less)
So this appears to be the last book, at least for now, of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. The series is actually two loose duologies: Blood an...moreSo this appears to be the last book, at least for now, of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. The series is actually two loose duologies: Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water are set in the modern day; Ink and Steel and this book are part of the Stratford Man duology, set in a Faerie-infested Elizabethan England. As my previous reviews of books in this series make clear, I am incredibly ambivalent. Bear’s commitment to detail is obvious, but the sheer intricacy and convoluted nature of her plots make these novels somewhat of a chore. Ink and Steel alleviated that by way of setting: I was just utterly fascinated by the way Bear took familiar historical figures, like Shakespeare and Marlowe, and weaved them into her complex tapestry of war and intrigue among Faerie, England, and Hell.
Hell and Earth concludes the story of Kit Marlowe, dead poet and spy now living in Faerie, and William Shakespeare, master playwright and sorcerer loyal to England and to Elizabeth. Marlowe and Shakespeare square off against members of their own Promethean Club, which has fractured into various factions who are all vying for power and prestige. Bear mixes fact with fantasy quite liberally—the end of the book includes an Author’s Note outlining where she altered the historical record or embellished it, which was quite a bit. Marlowe, of course, is very much alive, albeit somewhat worse for wear. The King James Bible becomes a poetic masterpiece of magic. And Shakespeare becomes instrumental in defeating the Gunpowder Plot. (From my own reading on the subject—i.e., an intense ten-second session of Googling—it seems like Shakespeare was connected to many of the conspirators, which makes sense, but did not play so large a role in defusing the conspiracy.)
It has been over two years since I read the previous book in this series, so I am somewhat foggy on the details! That didn’t work to my advantage as I read Hell and Earth, which is intimately connected to Ink and Steel—they are very close to being a single book. Of course, this didn’t do much for my opinion of the story or the plot, both of which are hard to follow. In particular, Bear’s idea of exposition is somewhat loquacious but unhelpful: the characters say a lot, but I don’t comprehend much of it. This did not become problematic until the climax, where understanding the actions of Lucifer is central to understanding the events. (I still don’t know what was really going on there, and if you feel you can explain it to me, please comment!) So there were parts of this book that I didn’t skim but I felt as if I had skimmed. I think this is how I felt like much of the first two Promethean Age books (except I distinctly remember disliking those books as well, which isn’t quite the case here). I hope that I have established enough “street cred” as a reviewer to make these complaints meaningful and more than just idle whining. There is a plot to Hell and Earth, but its complexities escape me.
In fact, reading this book was kind of like dunking my head underwater and holding my breath while I travelled back in time four hundred years. Bear portrays the setting in a very interesting way: her visual descriptions are sparse, but her use of language and description of the relationships between characters more than make up for this. In the end, what we get is a very conceptual and emotional grasp of England at the beginning of the seventeenth century: Elizabeth’s power is waning, and after she dies, a Scottish king assumes the throne. There’s a great deal of uncertainty, particularly when it comes to religious freedom and the growing influence of the Puritans. Oh, and don’t forget the plague. Nasty stuff, that.
If, like me, you are partial to this period of English history, and especially interested in fantastic portrayals of Shakespeare and his literary contemporaries, then these two books hold something for you. Bear has done her research, even though she often deviates from history for her own purposes. Whatever background knowledge one brings to the book will only serve to augment the experience; for those with little knowledge, it might seem heavy on the name soup, but it will still be an interesting glimpse into a history that never was.
I wish I could provide a more pertinent review of Hell and Earth. It deserves one. There are some great themes here: Marlowe’s love for and loyalty to Will are tested; Will himself must choose between Elizabeth or England; and we glimpse the burdens of ruling Faerie or Hell. There are some deep moments to this book, the kind of weighty moments that only happen when there is an extensive, enchanting mythology to rely upon. All these details are excellent, but they also create a lot of noise, and that’s where my memories of this book begin and end.
Returning to the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is like returning to a favourite vacation spot—one of those cozy ones that are well-...moreReturning to the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is like returning to a favourite vacation spot—one of those cozy ones that are well-known and well-regarded but never very busy for reasons you can't quite figure out. The temperature is just right, the weather is just like you remembered, and you have all the time in the world . . . to watch Harry get his ass kicked.
Harry Dresden. Those are the only two words you need to know. He is one of the best protagonists I've ever encountered. A combination of private investigator, wizard, and thick-headed gallant man, Harry is often clever but always getting into some sort of trouble. He has a powerful instinct to do what's right, but it doesn't always fire at the most appropriate times. When in doubt Harry follows a simple set of steps: make a wisecrack, think on his feet, and duck (not always in that order).
I haven't read Storm Front in years, and reading it again was such a pleasure. And the series improves so much with subsequent books: as good as Storm Front is, it cannot match the quality that comes with a more developed, more mature Dresdenverse. In this book, we have Harry and the mystery; as the series develops, we get Harry, the mystery, and the world itself, with all of its various characters. Storm Front is the genesis of this powerful series, introducing us to Karrin Murphy, Johnnie Marcone, Morgan and the White Council, etc. But standing alone, just how good is this book?
Well, it was good enough to get me to order the rest of the series as it existed at the time.
Whether you're a fan of urban fantasy, of mystery, or of both, Storm Front is the perfect storm of magic and mystery. The way Butcher describes magic is captivating and representative of his overall ability at writing action scenes. He feeds us exposition at appropriate times, never breaking up the unity of the scene but always augmenting it with pertinent information. In this way, we learn about wizards, the magical world, and Harry's own past. Meanwhile, Harry becomes involved in a case that soon has very personal stakes for him.
Butcher packs in enough characters and plot twists that it almost feels like too much. For a small book, Storm Front is remarkably full. It works, however, because Harry Dresden is a great narrator. Butcher gives him a clear voice, and through him we experience the entire story. We feel his elation when things go right (not often enough) and the pain and frustration when everything goes pear-shaped (business as usual). Because of the quality of its narration and storytelling, Storm Front is more than a simple pulp mystery: it's a great ride.
**spoiler alert** Time for another confession: I am unfairly prejudiced against werewolves. Maybe it's because I have an irrational fear of dogs, or m...more**spoiler alert** Time for another confession: I am unfairly prejudiced against werewolves. Maybe it's because I have an irrational fear of dogs, or maybe it's just the whole icky shapeshifting aspect, but I've never liked werewolf-oriented fantasy. When my favourite supernatural series has a book or episode featuring werewolves, I just don't enjoy it as much. For that reason alone, while my re-reading of Storm Frontpersuaded me to give it a fourth star, I was biased against Fool Moon from the start. If, on the other hand, you like werewolves, you might be predisposed the other way.
But my disclaimer digresses! Werewolf plot elements aside, Fool Moon seems to have less magic and exposition about the magical world of the Dresdenverse that I find so appealing. Aside from a couple of potions, a demon summoning, and a whole lot of combat evocation, Harry doesn't perform much magic, and we don't learn anything more about the White Council, the Nevernever, etc. While this book introduces the Alphas and changes the dynamic between Harry and Murphy (again), it's one of the most stand-alone novels in the Dresden Files. Hence why one's enjoyment rests so much on one's disposition toward werewolves.
When I first read the series, I didn't pay much attention to Harry and Susan's relationship, mostly because I was strictly a Team Murphy kind of guy. Yet the entire reason I'm re-reading the Dresden Files series is in preparation for reading Changes, in which Harry and Susan's relationship plays a major role. Furthermore, by neglecting this part of Harry's life, I've neglected a major part of his character.
Harry's reliance on Susan testifies to the veracity of their bond and his feelings for her. Harry allows himself to be vulnerable around Susan. This runs counter to his code of chauvinistic chivalry, and it may be a byproduct of necessity rather than design—but we all need to be vulnerable at times; we all need someone on whom we can rely.
This theme echoes throughout the book. Carmichael, Murphy's partner, dies while defending Murphy from the loup-garou loose in the precinct. Of course, Carmichael is the resident Dresden-doubter at SI, so we're not supposed to like him, no matter how much Harry goes on about him being a "decent guy." It's clear from Murphy's reaction, however, that she was close to Carmichael—professionally—and his loss is all the more significant for that reason. The Alphas rely first on Tera and then on Harry; MacFinn also relies on Tera. In this light, Harry's lack of trust in Murphy at the end of the book seems particularly unfortunate, especially after the events in Storm Front damaged their friendship. Harry feels responsible for Kim Delaney's death, because he denied her knowledge that might have saved her life, believing it was protecting her from retribution from the White Council. Now Kim is dead, forcing Harry to reexamine how much he withholds from Murphy. Often it takes tragedy to force us to confront our convictions.
Regardless of whether werewolves whet one's fiction palate, the plot of Fool Moon takes a backseat to its characterization. This isn't epic fantasy, where an orphan farm boy discovers he's the Chosen One and saves the kingdom (that would be Butcher's Codex Alera series). Fool Moon embodies the dark and gritty nature of the mystery and urban fantasy genres, which dictate that magic is serious business and somebody always gets hurt. Usually Harry. Because he always tries to do the right thing, and bad guys, for some reason, don't like that.
**spoiler alert** So I don't like werewolves but do like vampires. Some of you will never forgive me, I know. Others will be happy I've taken a side....more**spoiler alert** So I don't like werewolves but do like vampires. Some of you will never forgive me, I know. Others will be happy I've taken a side. But if you hold up Fool Moon against Grave Peril, there's no contest. Dresden Files #3 is where it the magic happens. (You may groan.)
With another in media res opening, Jim Butcher plunges us back into the Dresdenverse while simultaneously expanding it even further: Knights of the Cross, ghosts and more spirits, and a look at the fabled Nevernever, complete with a faerie godmother. It sounds like too much, but Butcher makes it work.
There's a trademark cadence to every Dresden Files book that becomes clear if you read enough of them (especially in quick succession). The story takes place over a few days (although the plot extends backward several months to a demon-summoning sorcerer). Harry starts off stressed, gets more so, gets beaten down by every bad guy in sight, then figures out a way to save the day. While the pacing is predictable, the books are far from formulaic, because of the characters. With each new character, Butcher introduces an unknown element, something that changes the way Harry reacts and alters the playing field.
Murphy's role in Grave Peril is as an offscreen damsel in distress. This is one of my complaints about the book, because Murphy is one of my favourite characters, and there is zero Murphy-Dresden banter here. It irks me. Instead, Harry's stand-in sidekick is Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross and wielder of Amoracchius, a kick-ass holy sword. I have nothing against Michael; he's a nice guy. But he's not Murphy.
Nevertheless, Michael and his family complicate things for Harry just as Murphy's distress complicates things. Grave Peril is a perfect example of why superheroes don't reveal their secret identities to their loved ones: good villains punch the heroes in the loved ones. Harry lacks a secret identity, so the first dominoes to fall will always be his friends. But because Harry has a darker side to his powers, he can't just isolate himself from friends and family, for that way lies madness. Plus, there's another obstacle: he can't stop caring. When you get down to it, Harry will always do the right thing, even if it's not the smart thing.
Bianca, Red Court vampire with a grudge against Harry the size of a small state, makes this very clear in her gift to Harry at her ball. Oh yes, there's a vampire ball. A masquerade, even. And a dragon shows up. It's pretty awesome, it contains some of the pivotal events in the book. Most importantly, Butcher weaves character conflict and plot conflict together in the form of Harry's faerie godmother, Lea. Not only does Lea take Susan's memories of Harry from her, but the faerie also gives Michael's sword to the vampires for unmaking. The first is a tragedy that seems like a permanent, lasting one (this is not to be, but Butcher doesn't let us down on that count). The second prompts Harry to Do the Right Thing, even when it looks like it will get him and his friends killed.
Even though we know Harry will succeed (this is the Dresden Files after all), we never know the cost of each victory. In the case of Grave Peril, it is surprisingly high. Not only does This Mean War, on a personal level Harry and Susan's relationship has changed forever. I'm not talking about Susan's memory loss; no, just when you think you've figured out the tragedy Butcher plans to exact, he introduces a twist that turns the knife and makes it even more painful.
Harry emerges from this book physically whole but psychically battered. He can no longer be with the woman he loves. He's precipitated a war between the White Council and the Red Court vampires. And all because he dared to take out one sorcerer and do the right thing. Being a hero is tough. Not quitting is even tougher. Since I've read this series before, I know it's only going to get worse. And that just makes the books better and better.
Faeries are even better than vampires. Firstly, you can actually make a deal with faeries and compel them to honour the deal. Secondly, that makes the...moreFaeries are even better than vampires. Firstly, you can actually make a deal with faeries and compel them to honour the deal. Secondly, that makes them even more deadly, because they're usually clever enough to twist the deal so it ends up harming you anyway. Just as Jim Butcher can't claim credit for vampires, he can't claim credit for faeries, but he sure can claim credit for the characters he creates to personify each species.
I hadn't noticed it before, but the antagonists from both the vampires and the faeries are female. Bianca and Mavra; Titania, Aurora; Mab, Maeve. On one hand, the overabundance of femmes fatales might be worrying. Then again, for the forces of good we have Karrin Murphy. While she's not as powerful as a vampire and certainly can't take on a faerie queen, she still kicks chlorofiend ass. Harry's lucky to have the help he does.
Summer Knight is the debut of another major theme in the Dresden Files. Harry isolates himself from his friends in an attempt to find a cure for Susan's condition. It's obvious that he can't continue in such a state for much longer; withdrawing from society is seldom a solution (unless you're Salinger). Indeed, Butcher ramps up the conflict in this book to remind us just how much Harry needs friends and allies. In Grave Peril, Harry shoulders a lot of the legwork, and the climax is his alone. The conflict in Summer Knight is on another level altogether: this time, instead of war between the Red Court and the White Council, we're talking a war between seasons, between the Faerie Courts. No matter who wins, humanity loses. Harry can't stop that alone.
Although he seems to dodge a bullet here, this isn't the end of Harry's journey. That's most evident in Harry's conversations with the faerie queens: both Mab and Aurora judge Harry by the scars they perceive on his psyche; the two Mothers were equally creepy in their evaluation. The burden of power—and the accompanying responsibility—will continue to weigh heavily upon Harry.
Are mortals meant ever to confront such power? The fates of both the Summer and the Winter Knights seem to suggest not. Easily overlooked are the changelings, the human-fae hybrids who must choose to become one or the other. Meryl chooses to troll up, preferring to sacrifice her humanity and her life to aid the cause. Lily and Fix take a different path.
I know that Harry gets more powerful as the series goes on. His encounters with various non-mortal agencies leave lasting marks on him, and he receives many mantles or grants of magic that prove a serious temptation. I don't think Harry could ever be a Lloyd Slate no matter how much power he has. Yet his weakness is his protective streak, especially for women. As we saw in Grave Peril, there is nothing Harry will not do to try to save someone for whom he cares, right up to instigating bloody war.
Butcher combines faeries with a murder mystery and Harry's own increasing desperation and destitution. It has some of my favourite parts of the Dresdenverse in it: more mythology on the faeries, a very close look at the power structure of the White Council, and great scenes between Harry and Murphy. Summer Knight does what's very difficult, and manages to keep lots of material balanced and use it to deliver lots of story. That makes it exemplary, both as a stand alone novel and as a part of the overall arc of the series.
**spoiler alert** I'm discovering that it's almost impossible to review a Dresden Files book without resorting to spoilers. So many awesome things hap...more**spoiler alert** I'm discovering that it's almost impossible to review a Dresden Files book without resorting to spoilers. So many awesome things happen that trying to discuss the book without mentioning them would be a severe handicap to any review. Death Masks is no different in that respect. After Summer Knightput the fate of the world on Harry's shoulders, Death Masks returns to the personal conflicts that embodied the first three books of the series. Once again, Harry's life is on the line—as are the lives of his loved ones—and he's forced to make many choices that he might even live to regret.
Right, so enough with the generalities. Here come the spoilers.
Susan's back! Even as Harry prepares to face off in a duel against Duke Paolo Ortega, a Red Court vampire, Susan waltzes into town ostensibly to "gather her things" before disappearing back to South America forever. Her appearance mitigates the dearth of Murphy in this book. She makes a couple of appearances, but they're far from the chlorofiend-chainsawing Valkyrie we saw in Summer Knight. I have a soft spot for Murphy that Susan can't quite fill, but Susan does make an able female sidekick for Harry (in more ways than one!).
Also making a reappearance after a lengthy absence is Gentleman Johnnie Marcone. We learn what his big secret is—after he helps Harry take on a Fallen Denarian, of course—in a twist that, as Harry puts it, means we can no longer hate him. Which is important, because even though he's a crook, Marcone is still human. He isn't a monster, and although he's not an upstanding citizen, he's an example of what makes humans different from monsters. Monsters do bad things because that's what they do; it's their nature, and they can't help but be monstrous. Humans, on the other hand, choose to do bad things. They usually have reasons for those choices—and like Marcone, they can often be very precious reasons.
Harry knows all about making choices. In Storm Front, he chooses to take the high road even when it alienates him from Murphy and casts suspicion on him in the eyes of the Warden Morgan. In Fool Moon, the lure of the hexenwulf talisman is almost too much for him to bear. In Grave Peril, of course, he chooses to save Susan at the cost of war between the White Council and the Red Court. And in Summer Knight, Harry refuses the mantle of the Winter Knight.
But now Harry is faced with the temptation of the Denarians. In return for picking up a coin and letting a Fallen angel in, the human host gets near-immortality and immense power. As many characters observe throughout Death Masks, Harry casts himself as the hero because he doesn't trust himself to stay away from black magic. By putting himself in danger and forcing himself to do the "right thing," Harry ensures he stays on the straight and narrow. So while the Harry we know wouldn't be tempted by a Blackened Denarius, there is a Harry who would. Alas, because Jim Butcher loves to make life complicated for Harry Dresden, a throwaway scene at the end of the book makes it clear that Harry will have Denarian problems for a long time to come.
The Denarians are, of course, an interesting paradox. Are they monsters or are they humans? The Knights of the Cross exist to offer them salvation, even those who collaborate willingly with their Fallen angel pals. Harry doesn't think collaborators deserve salvation, much less survival. The former see the Denarian hosts as victims, sinners led astray; Harry sees them both the Fallen angel and the human host as a monster.
Therein lies the question: what does it mean to be human? Everyone has a different answer. In a world seemingly non-supernatural, we can't even decide who qualifies as human (much to my chagrin), so imagine the quandaries in fantasy worlds like the Dresdenverse.
Take the Archive, for instance. On one hand, she is the embodiment of all human knowledge. Demonstrating that knowledge is power, the Archive takes out several vampires in record time. Oh, did I mention she's a seven-year-old girl? That's the other hand: for all her knowledge and the responsibilities that accompany it, the Archive occasionally acts the age of the body she inhabits. She exhibits a fondness for Harry's cat, Mister. She likes cookies and believes children should have a strict bedtime.
And then Harry goes and gives her a name. It seems like a typical, offhand Dresden whim. But to me, it's the most important scene in the book. With a single action, Harry humanizes the Archive into Ivy. I'm not suggesting this was an intentional act either. Rather, it's just second nature for Harry to treat humans like humans, regardless of how much magic they're packing. As long as Harry retains this innate respect for life, he won't be like Ortega, and he will be a good guy, and he will be our hero.