Published by ROC, a Penguin Publisher, January 2001
Note: Book 3 of the Dresden Files Series
This is a tough one.
Harry has his hands full with evil baddies this time, but that in and of itself is not unusual, what is unusual is the amount of damage done, and how wrenching the whole story is. Of the series, this one is probably the dark point. This is the one where our wizard friend, Harry Dresden, is most powerless, and Jim Butcher does an excellent job of conveying that helplessness. I find myself wondering what terrible whiskey soaked nightmare Mr. Butcher slipped into to facilitate this story, because there are sections of this book that are Lovecraftian in their horror. There is also more of a romantic storyline that plays through this story than any of the books to date.
While this story is definitely one of the best of the stories in many respects (plot, detective work, humor, horror, romance), and even though this is the book where Mr. Butchers ability as a writer begins to take to realize it’s potential, it has one great flaw: it feels like it is missing the first 5 chapters. Allow me to explain: the story begins with Harry screaming through traffic with Michael to stop an evil ghost. Wait, who is Michael? Don’t worry, you will be introduced to Michael (one of the most likeable and thoroughly engaging characters in all of the books) in the seventh chapter, after the flashback. There is absolutely a cinematic feel to this opening, and while it can be appreciated from a entertainment standpoint, it is massively frustrating. What is more irritating is the lack of opportunity to guess who is behind it. There is a whole other story that is vital to the central plot that is only alluded to, without knowledge of that other story, a major part of this mystery is not really solvable by the reader, which destroys the gum-shoe feel of the book. Unlike a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poroit story, the reader is kept in the dark of details that are necessary to piece together whodunit. It is as if the ‘Butler did it!’, when the Butler doesn’t appear in the story at all! Furthermore, the fact that three of the most important characters to the overall story, Michael, Thomas and Leanandsidhe (Lea), are introduced in this book with what feels like little to no backstory, Harry kinda nonchalantly interacts with them as if they had known each other all along, without any kind of introduction for the reader.
The horror factor is high in this story, and it is impossible to continue on in the series without reading this book. What happens in this book will have a direct effect on the next nine books, and the climax is spectacular enough as to not be missed. If this novel had more of an exposition in the beginning, it could easily be the best of the series. As it is, this book is the point where Harry becomes the fully three dimensional character who will carry the next ten books. In the first book, the reader meets Harry and shakes his hand, in the second book the reader meets Harry with a group of friends over wings and beer; in this book, Harry and the reader go on a combat tour together, by the end of which, Harry and the reader are comrades, who trust each other completely.
I’d Say: Required Dresden reading
Note: This review was originally published on Oct 17, 2011 on my now defunct book review site, Readerway.