Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Skin Game

91WhO9pwfPLI read Skin Game in early September, wrapping it up whilst out of state on personal entertainments, only to find myself firmly entrenched in the emptying, cleaning, and packing of my house ever since I got back. Well, and sometimes work. (Also, I’ve watched a handful of basically terrible movies on streaming television that I shouldn’t ought to have watched and will not be bothering to review.[1])

The upshot of this is that while I know what happened in the book and can say that I liked it and still want to read more (once they exist), I do not have the sense of immediacy that I’m used to having when writing these reviews. Or maybe it’s being diluted by the incredible stresses of selling and moving house. And eventually buying, one expects. So instead of that, I’m going to talk about the series.

Specifically, I’m going to talk about having read 15 books, a short story collection, and a graphic novel. (Pete tells me there’s maybe three more graphic novels and/or ongoing comics with material I’ve not read.) Because here’s the thing about the Dresden Files. They are a bunch of entertaining, largely standalone books, as I’ve probably conveyed extensively since 2007. But they are also telling a long-form, overarching story about this man and his place in his world, and that story is perhaps beginning to buckle under its weight. Everything that happened in Skin Game was predicated on events from previous stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that! ….except the part where I’m almost certainly missing more and more nuances because of not remembering enough details to know, for example, how important this or that player is.

And this isn’t even a problem with the story not being complete. If I were reading all of these in a row, I’m pretty sure I’d be losing details by now regardless. And there are something like ten books left? It’s… it’s a daunting undertaking, is I guess all I’m saying. But they are good. I honestly can’t even tell if I’m complaining or not? All I know is either my memory is not up to this task, or my willingness to immerse myself in long, long stories deeply enough to not miss things has waned sharply over the course of my thirties[2]. Or, you know, some combination of those. In this case, clearly, I’ll just have to get used to missing things or being a little confused by them. Because I have no intention of stopping, or even of waiting until the series is finished before I resume.

[1] “The world’s first NC-17 found footage movie.” Sorry, guys, but I’m pretty sure if it had been actual porn it would’ve had more of a plot than that. ….and that was the good movie of the two.
[2] Which, notably, encompasses the lifespan of this site in fairly close parallel.

Cold Days

5146UKREBPLSee? I said screw it, I’m catching up, and that’s what’s happening! You can measure in months instead of years since I read Ghost Story, and yet here we are, right back to Harry Dresden. Downside of Cold Days: every single thing I could say to set the stage is a massive, massive spoiler for previous books, and it’s only going to get worse.

The Dresden Files have definitely reached a tipping point. This is the book where Butcher has set the stakes and the stage. Lots of small books could still be written if he wants, but damned if Changes doesn’t continue to prove the accuracy of its title time and time again. Example: I dropped the noir tag from this book, because Harry Dresden isn’t really a detective anymore. I think he might still act as one sometimes, but his roles in the world have definitely changed. It would be weird if that aspect was the one that pushed you away from the series, but it’s definitely worth noting that it’s not the same series anymore.

Buckle up, I think it’s only going to get bumpier from here. Also, an oblique spoiler: the title continued to amuse me, start to finish. Very, very cleverly done.

Ghost Story

51PeXmFimqLThis has been a long time coming. Sure, I’m not yet caught up on the Dresden Files, but I no longer feel spoiled for them. So, hooray! That said, I have to figure out how to write this review without spoiling anyone else[1], which I’ll admit is easier said than done.

Ghost Story picks up after the perfectly named Changes, which I understand to be the midpoint of the series, and it focuses on one of the changes that occurred in Harry Dresden’s life over the course of that book. Arguably, the most minor change, certainly next to last. But still, it was a pretty big change, right? So, spoilers follow this paragraph / reside below the cut.

[1] Ha ha, joke’s on me, everyone has already read this book. Who am I fooling?

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Side Jobs

Side-jobs-by-jim-butcherIn awesometimes news, I’m a mere two books behind in the Dresden Files series now. In less awesometimes news, that will change in less than sixty days when another book comes out. Plus also, Side Jobs, being a collection of short stories across the course of Harry’s story so far, did not actually advance the story more than a smidgeon beyond the massive cliffhanger ending of the prior book. Which I read a year ago?? And I wonder why I can’t get caught up.

I don’t think it particularly has a unifying theme, but since the stories were written over the course of eight years or more, there’s no reason why it particularly should have one, is there? Still, my mind craves this kind of thing, and found (or more likely was handed by the author, since he introduces each of these stories in a page or so) this: in contravention of all available evidence, not everything that happens to Harry Dresden and his friends has world-shattering impact. Sometimes there’s just a lost girl or a stolen batch of mead or a… okay, it’s honestly a lost girl a lot of the time. Which is maybe a bit of a bummer, because it’s a lot easier to accept the sexism from Harry than it is from Butcher. But then again, noir as a genre is Women-in-Danger-heavy. So I will handwave this for now, since at least Harry keeps growing as a character. But man do I wish my mind didn’t crave this kind of thing.[1]

In any event, all of the stories were diverting, most of them were pretty darn good, and my favorite of the bunch, The Warrior, even got me in the emotions at one point near the end. I will say that the two narrators who were not Harry[2], while distinct in voice from him, were not really distinct enough; not for my tastes, and certainly not to sustain a story much longer than what he wrote. But then, I’ve always kind of assumed that Harry’s voice is much closer to Butcher’s than not. As complaints go, the fridge thing bothers me quite a bit more.

[1] In all sincerity, I had not noticed the trend yet when I started that paragraph.
[2] Thomas Raith once and Karrin Murphy once, if you wanted to know, and if you don’t know who each of them is, I really can’t imagine why you wanted to know in the first place.


71nTPAQkoHL._SL1062_If you were looking for the book with the most understated title, I would definitely offer into contention Changes, the Dresden Files book that puts me only two behind (I think). I received a spoiler for this book in the first sentence of someone’s review of its sequel, before I had quite realized what was happening. And so (after the annoyance faded), I stroked my chin and nodded wisely and said, “Ah, Changes. Indeed.” The spoiler I received, you see, was… no, wait, come back. Of course I’m not going to actually spoil it myself! Who am I here? I am only identifying its placement in the text, for the benefit of folks who have already read it. You know the last thing that happens? That one.

The point, my friends who have not read these books, is that everyone else is now snickering at me for thinking I understood what was going on in advance, and also for being quite so put out as I had been. In retrospect, considering a book whose first major change occurs in the opening paragraph[1] and who does not let up on Harry Dresden either being confronted with or choosing for himself one major change in the way his life works (worked, I should say, because boy howdy are things fundamentally different now) after another, I can even almost understand how said reviewer of the sequel could have tossed out that one spoiler so casually. As huge as it seemed to me at the time, it feels pretty small potatoes now. I, uh, think I’ll probably read the last few of these soon now. Not to avoid spoilers, that’s a fringe benefit, but because I really need to know where this is going.

[1] And that change is arguably bigger than the one I was spoiled for!

Turn Coat

Usually when I go camping, I bring a trashy post-apocalypse book because they are quick easy reads and I won’t be horrified if my copy falls in the mud or something, I guess? This time, I brought the Kindle, though. Which makes no sense given my prior criterion, but I think I figured what with the case it’s in and the non-delicacy of the electronics in general, probably it would be fine. Plus also, in case I had read a lot, there would be more books present without having had to carry them in my already significant pile of stuff.

That said, I did not read a lot, but since what I read was Turn Coat, the next book in the recently horrible-in-paperback Dresden Files, it’s just as well I had it in a format that did not cause me to hurl it in the mud in disgust. (Technically, I have not cracked open my physical copy of the book, and maybe it was only Small Favor that was done poorly, and all subsequent entries in the series, despite their similarity in construction, look like normally proportioned books inside. But I doubt I’ll find out.)

So, right, Harry Dresden. This weekend, he must face a traitor at the heart of the Wizard’s Council, his oldest enemy, the White Court of Vampires (as, okay, happens every book or three), and a Native American nightmare. Also, he has to acquire a little more power, juggle his sporadically successful love life, and continue to have two awesome pets and an awesome apprentice who could at any moment spell his own death. So, you know, it’s pretty much a book in the Dresden Files, and after a dozen or so, I suppose you know if you like them. I know if I do, and the answer is yes.

I wonder if I will make a more solid attempt to to review these when I am reading the current one? I’d like to think so, but I would have the same problem with bloat in the ongoing storyline (not a pejorative; it’s just that after multiple years and multiple books, if an author is trying for continuity, there will be a kind of a lot of it) and spoiler avoidance whether everyone else had read the book yet or not. Possibly, these problems would even be amplified.

Small Favor

If one almost-enemy asks you to go rescue another almost-enemy, I’m not sure how the personal math on that works out. Do they add up to more than one enemy total and you shouldn’t do it? Is it a multiplier effect, and in fact you will have less enemy than ever? Of course, if you’re Harry Dresden, the kind of people who are asking for a Small Favor of this type are unlikely to be the kind of people you get to ignore, so it’s not like you have much of a choice. But I still wonder.

This particular book had the fairies and the Knights with their special magical swords and the mob again, and the last one had vampires, so I’m assuming the next one will be mostly wizard-related. (I’m not saying there is a definite pattern, I’m just saying there might be.) Beyond that, I don’t want to say a lot about the plot, partly because it’s still a mystery series and anything I tell you is something the author doesn’t get to present just so, and partly because I am spoiler-shy about these particular books right now. That said, the massive spoiler I have for two books from now did allow me to take note of a lot of pretty heavy foreshadowing, which mostly leaves me impressed that Butcher knows what’s coming so far in advance. I mean, it’s one thing to know he has a long term plan for the story and another to realize he knows years in advance what steps he will take along the way. So: cool.

Another thing I like about this book (and I think the series in general) is how Harry is basically playing high stakes poker without ever getting a chance to look at his hole cards. From one moment to the next, as each new horrible and/or death-defying event occurs, his move is to raise, faster than the bad guys can call. Sometimes it feels like, to slightly muddle my metaphor, the only reason the house of cards doesn’t fall is that he’s building it too fast for gravity to catch on that something isn’t quite right. The cool thing about this method of plotting is that it doesn’t give you a lot of time to think, which is fair since Harry never seems to have much either, and also any time the cards do start to fall, you feel it. A lot. And yet, it seems mostly to work. At the end of any given tale, Harry has won a little or held his ground, only rarely slipping back any. And he certainly never loses really big. Well, y’know, yet anyway.

Meanwhile, though, the book? I don’t know what Roc is thinking with their new paperback design, but I want to go on record as finding them to be godawful. It’s the wrong size for shelves and the wrong shape for the words on the page. My eyes hurt before I finished the first chapter. Too tall, too thin, the angles were wrong in the same way that an eldritch Lovecraftian horror is. The upshot of this is that I am a bigger fan than ever of the problem-solving capabilities of my Kindle and also I’m still not sure how I feel about reading paper books now that the new world has opened up to me. But the next book I read, definitely. Definitely. So I’ll let you know.

Also, apropos of nothing else I’ve written here besides the part with the Dresden Files tag, but I’m an ever bigger fan of Karrin Murphy. Best normal person in a supernatural series? Possibly!

White Night

I’ve reached a crisis point in my reading of the Dresden Files. See, there’s always (by which I mean starting in the third book or so) been a long-term story being told, and I know this. Plus, there’s always been continuity, and I know this too. But until White Night, I’ve been able to pick up each new book and just read it, and remember enough about the previous continuity and the long-term story to do just fine. Now, though…

Don’t get me wrong, I remembered enough to keep up with Harry Dresden’s rampage through the spirit world in response to the recent murders of magic-sensitive women, that took him through several trips down memory lane and culminated in, as usual, mostly everybody but Harry winning big[1], but there was at least one world-shaking revelation that lacked the punch I think it should have had. And I know it’s only going to get worse. So now what?

If there were a lot of books left, obviously I’d just read them. But the truth of the matter is, I’m only a few behind now, and there are (I believe) quite a few to come, as yet unwritten. So if I were to rush it now, I’d just have the same problem in October. So I guess I’ll just stick with what I’m doing? (I do kind of wish I could do online research without fear of massive spoilers, though.)

Oh, anyway, I did want to say that I continue to be intrigued by Harry’s emotional ups and downs. Struggle with sexism? Sort of. Really, he embraces it, but I have the impression that the more he talks about it, the more he is trying to figure out a better way. Anger issues? Big time. Too much paranoia (or justified fear) to work well with others? Oh, my, yes. But he’s still unquestionably a good guy, and that’s what I like best about him. The nuances. He’s an interesting, interesting person.

[1] At least he continues to win small.

Proven Guilty

The only problem I have with the Dresden Files series, at least for right now, is the pretense that there is a broader world beyond the bounds of Chicago in which things are happening over which our wizarding hero Harry (no, not that one; the cool one, Harry Dresden) has no influence and can only react to when odds and ends of it affect his city and the lives of his nearest and dearest. I mean, that’s factually true, which I suppose makes some kind of case for it not being a pretense at all and me just filling a paragraph with lies for the sake of volume. But the thing is, we all know that sooner or later these world-shaking events will drop onto Harry’s doorstep and he’ll be forced to deal with them[1], and while that will make for an exciting plotline, it’s still somewhat disappointing that the depth of world will be proven a bit of a pretense after all and it really was all about Harry Dresden, start to finish.

On the bright side, Proven Guilty is yet another entry in a long and seemingly unstoppable series of books designed solely to justify making it all about Harry by presenting a cool, funny hero who is always clawing his way out of the hole with equal parts style, honor, and romantic frustration.[2] In this case, much to my delight, he’s doing all of that at a horror convention that is being stalked by exactly the kinds of horror icons the fans are there to see, more or less. Stir in a new practitioner of the dark arts on the loose and Harry’s new duties to take care of that kind of problem, plus all the usual suspects (good and bad), and you have, well, a book of the Dresden Files, which alone is enough to pretty much guarantee a good time.

[1] In fact, this has already happened at least once.
[2] The many, many series of urban fantasy with female protagonists seem to have as a common thread how irresistible said protagonists are and how much sex they either could or do have, depending on whether they’re co-filed into the paranormal romance section of the bookstore. The Dresden Files, in addition to being just about the only one with a male protagonist in the first place, also seems to be about the only one without any supernatural powers of sexiness for the protagonist. This leads me to no particular conclusion, but what with my psychology hobbyism, I can’t help forming questions.

The Dresden Files: Welcome to the Jungle

If you had never heard of Harry Dresden before and didn’t want to sink much time or effort into deciding how you felt about the idea of reading his series, Welcome to the Jungle would be an excellent jumping-off point. For one thing, it is a prequel to the first book, so it’s not like spoilers are really possible. For another, the short format-limits of a reasonably sized graphic novel make it a pretty small time investment, and the high ratio of art to dialogue (even counting Harry’s omnipresent first-person monologue) makes that investment even smaller. In point of fact, I read the majority of the story around listening to a friend’s disco cover band playing at an area strip club. There were distractions galore, is all I’m saying, and yet it went by with surprising quickness.

For the as-yet uninitiated, Harry Dresden is Chicago’s only freelance wizard. In practice, this means that he sometimes helps people with minor tasks that could usually be done non-magically just as well, but mostly he assists the Chicago PD when weird things happen that nobody can explain. Like a zoo groundskeeper being violently killed, purportedly by a gorilla who obviously couldn’t have done it except that people like that answer better than some kind of magic bugaboo as culprit. Mix in a hellhound, a damsel in distress, and a power-hungry mastermind and you’ve got the makings of a quick and dirty mystery that does a fine job of introducing our Harry to my hypothetical too-busy-to-read populace. Enjoy!