Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Grave Peril, by Jim Butcher

This week I'm taking another look at the Dresden Files series with the third book: Grave Peril. And I will say at this point I'm starting to have some second thoughts about the series and how it's been going so far. I'm reminded especially of my concern with the Hollows series which is very similar but where I was frustrated because Rachel, the main character, wasn't terribly good at her job. And there are points where Dresden is starting to seem not very good at his job either. But more on that later.

Plot-wise, in Grave Peril Dresden and a new character Michael Carpenter, one of the Knights of the Sword, are investigating an increase in ghostly activity in Chicago. Something has gotten the ghosts riled up more than usual and it's starting to bleed into the mortal world. They soon discover that the increase in activity is only part of a larger plot, involving a demon cultist that they defeated some time ago, and some of the less savory parts of Chicago's magical community. The book also ends with Dresden starting a war between the White Council of wizards and the Red Court of vampires, which promises to be a major, multiple book-spanning, story arc.

So, before I get into the things that I didn't like, let me talk about the things I liked. First of all, I liked Michael. And this is probably no surprise to anyone because Michael's basically a paladin, complete with a holy sword forged with one of the three nails from the crucifixion of Christ himself and Michael's holy powers being based entirely on his faith in god. And it's a little neat how things seem to always work out through divine providence for him. True, I found Michael a little too sanctimonious at times and giving the holy knight the last name of Carpenter was a bit on the nose, but he's a paladin with a holy sword and actually goes around dressed in armor and with a crusader cloak. I'm totally on board with this and I hope to see more of him and the other Knights of the Sword in later books.

Since this is an audio book version, I also really enjoyed the voice work of James Marsters because he actually accomplishes a very good range while reading the book. He does a very convincing emotionally distraught ghost, and also does a very good voice for a dessicated, centuries-old vampire. Plus the way that Marsters does Bob, Dresden's magical assistant, is making Bob by far my favorite character in the series. There's just something that Marsters manages to bring to the table and it makes listening to the books a much more enjoyable experience.

As for the things I didn't enjoy, I was honestly kind of annoyed with the way both Michael and another new character Lea, Dresden's fairy godmother. This is something I noticed in the last book as well, where elements of Dresden's backstory are introduced piecemeal into the series with each new novel, without necessarily answering questions raised by what we learned about Dresden in previous stories. Now, how Dresden and Michael met may have been covered in a short story or a tie-in novel that I simply haven't been exposed to, which makes sense. But Dresden's fairy godmother is introduced without much fanfare and there are references made to a bargain made between the two in the past which Lea keeps trying to collect on in the novel. What exactly this bargain entails, why Dresden made it, and so on are only referenced partially and I really wish it had been explained better in this book. I get the feeling we'll run into her again, but I really just want Harry's backstory fully explained by now, rather than adding more bits to it.

I was also kind of disappointed with Dresden and the fact that he made a further deal with Lea to get himself out of a sticky situation, rather than thinking his way out. The kicker is she actually gave him a cryptic clue before he reaffirmed his bargain with her, and using that I was able to figure out the correct solution anyway. And once he made the bargain, Dresden only got another cryptic clue. Granted, Dresden was pretty damn beaten up at the time and probably had some trouble thinking, but I just want my main characters to be smart enough not to make deals with magical entities where the relationship is entirely one-sided. Dresden also is apparently absolutely indestructible because I saw him nearly die several times over the course of this book, and that doesn't count the amount of physical punishment he's taken in previous books. And somehow, he manages to still fight fairies, vampires, demons, and nightmares. It's a little ridiculous.

Overall, the book's okay. I'm a little concerned because each new book seems to bring more elements of Harry's backstory into play without fully explaining what the heck actually happened in Harry's backstory which seems to be a REALLY BIG DEAL. I honestly want to find out what the big deal is and why it's so important. I also kind of go back and forth on Harry because when he has time to prepare and plan, he's actually a really good wizard. But when he rushes into things or ends up on the defensive he actually does rather poorly. But as long as I can get audio books from the library I'll probably keep listening.

- Kalpar

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