Death Masks by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Although this book loosely follows the formula of the preceding Dresden Files stories, this instalment packs a political punch and is a worthy follow-up to the drama of Summer Knight. This time, we’re introduced to a darker side of magic that makes the sidhe we encountered previously look like childsplay.
Fortunately, we’re also introduced to a host of new characters and its the relationship Dresden builds with these (and the old favourites, naturally!) that really makes this book work. This gives Dresden’s personality the time to shine and really brings more to his character other than the self-pitying, misogynistic smart-ass side we’ve seen too many times at this point. Though a lot of that still exists, the well-needed added depth to Dresden is enough to keep the reader hooked as we follow him through his barmy world of wizarding adventures.
Death Masks takes quite a while to really get going thanks to a lengthy intro about the White Council which initially put me off the book despite Dresden’s cringey comic relief comments. Still, the book more than makes up for this with its crazy action scenes that build a prepackaged action movie into your imagination. Although by this point these are cliché to the point of cringeworthy, they’re still a worthwhile guilty pleasure that seamlessly works with the plot.
All in all, the Dresden Files has came along way by this point from the cheesy first three instalments and is now turning out to be a pretty exciting, light-hearted series with enough dollops of suspense and darkness to hold interest.
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Summer Knight by Jim Butcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Finally an instalment in the Dresden Files series that I can confidently give a 5 star rating to!
Throughout my progress on the series so far I’ve met many reviewers saying ‘it gets good around book 3/4/5/6’ (the number varies massively depending on who you ask), and at long last I’ve found where in the series that moment happens for me and it’s here, right with this book which fortunately for me, is almost unrecognisable from the confusion and incoherence that was Grave Peril.
So why such a big turnaround?
First of all, Harry Dresden gets some long-awaited character development beyond the overly done funny-underdog-saves-the-day-by-a-hair’s-breadth-and-is-at-the-brink-of-death-two-dozen-times (phew!) formula that Jim Butcher keeps on winging out for him. Now we’re treated to only a little of self-pitying instead of being swamped by it and this alone does great things for Dresden’s likeability. We’re also introduced to much stronger and more interesting characters than Butcher has ever given us in the past and seeing Harry’s reactions to these gives a solid plus in his direction. It’s nice as well to see some old faces in the book – their personalities really took on a realistic shape thanks to the intricacy of the plot (more on that later).
Secondly, the humour in the books is either improving greatly or I’ve finally became used to it! It took some time to see it as anything other than cliché and cheesy action-hero lines but in Summer Knight Butcher finally takes the humour a little further and pulls it off to great effect.
Thirdly, the plot! Wow did this book get intricate! A far-cry away from the previously simplistic plots of figuring out the bad guy and taking said bad-guy down via several drawn out action scenes (view spoiler), Summer Knight’s plot takes on a much more ambitious storyline and manages to make it work throughout the entire book. I must admit, I was a little lost-off around 200 pages towards the end but I soon managed to pick up on what was going on thanks to brilliant pacing and plot development.
Last but not least…
How much more incredible does the magical world get in this book? You need to read it to believe it. I didn’t think the series would ever go beyond anything more than ‘whodunit’ with a pinch of magic thrown in for variety but instead, it becomes much much more.
Finally this series is starting to live up to the hype that surrounds it by giving us a glimpse of where Jim Butcher’s world-building talent lies. I can’t wait to move onto to Death Masks and see what more adventures Harry Dresden has in store for us!
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Grave Peril by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Finally we’re starting to see some plot appearing in the Dresden Files series!
Though I preferred the previous book as the story was more interesting and coherent (more on that later!), the characters in Grave Peril help keep the plot interesting and build it up nicely to make the foundations of a more intriguing series.
For me, the best bit of the entire book was the first encounter we have with a ghost in the beginning chapters. After that (which is to say most of the book), the story is really let down because it just doesn’t make an awful lot of sense. It feels like the series has skipped a few books and has just landed us with this to compensate, so much so that I checked several times to make sure I hadn’t picked up the 4th/5th instalment of the series instead. I’m assuming this is done to make the plot a little meatier and add more weight to the characters we encounter but it just doesn’t work well. It feels far too ambitious and it casts a shadow on the best bits of this book: the characters and the development of a much larger, more interesting plot.
A definite boost for the outlook of the series is that Dresden is almost a likeable character now! Yes, he still spends too much page-time brooding in self-pity and moral dilemmas, but now he has back-up from the comedy relief that is Bob and the loyalty of our newly-introduced character Michael, we can see him in a much more forgiving light.
Unfortunately, this is still let down somewhat by the female characters – why do they all suck so much? It’s like the author has decided he doesn’t understand women therefore he’ll write them as one dimensional as possible and hope that everyone nods along in agreement. The only female characters that are vaguely interesting barely get any attention in this book and it’s a noticeable gap that frankly, tired me out. It’s a letdown, especially after the male characters were such a huge positive in this book and female characters were finally starting to gain some substance in Fool Moon.
Give this a read if you plan on continuing with the Dresden Files – I get the impression that it’d be hard to make sense of the series if you didn’t have this book as a stepping stone but that’s all it is, a stepping stone and an intriguing, albeit slow and irritating, one at that.
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Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Brilliantly witty and entertaining, Fool Moon was an excellent step-up in the Dresden Files series from its anti-climactic first book, Storm Front.
The Dresden Files series was recommended to me by a history lecturer I have the utmost respect and admiration for so when I ploughed through the first book in the series, Storm Front, I was incredibly confused and disappointed. However, Fool Moon has managed to completely turn that around as the initially misogynistic, highly unlikeable, arrogant character that is the wizard Harry Dresden, has turned into quite a well-developed and sound guy. I’m not sure at what point this transformation happened but it made this book so much more enjoyable than its predecessor!
Another giant improvement in this book is its plot – it was sufficiently intriguing, action packed and mysterious for a detective novel and though it could be worked out quite quickly, the action alone was enough to keep the reader hanging on to see what would be around the corner. However, this was a double-edged sword as the intensely packed action scenes began to grow tiresome towards the end and it felt like the author was being stretched to fill a word count by adding more and more instead of leaving it well alone while the going was good.
As a standalone book, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the plot very much given how action-saturation it was but again, in view of the progress of the series, it was a refreshing break away from the lengthy description and background information doled out in Storm Front.
The characters in this are all much more developed (and realistic!) than they were in Storm Front, Butcher was careful this time around to add quirky little details which livened up the plot and gave the action scenes a nice emotional boost.
The world-building was also much better, in part because it actually told us information as and when Harry learned it himself rather than him dropping in the piece that solves the puzzle as a conveniently forgotten magical-world afterthought.
Something I enjoyed in Storm Front cropped up again in Fool Moon but this time, instead of turning the book around, it was incredibly frustrating. The action scenes already stretch the imagination to its limit by involving an array of creatures from the Nevernever (that’s the magical world) described with Harry Dresden’s colourful imagery but they begin to happen so often in this book that it’s difficult to pay attention to them or to keep up with Harry’s latest injuries. This gets to the point where the action scenes begin to lose all of their momentum because the amount of suspense building them up just can’t compensate for them getting devalued by sheer quantity. It was a real shame to see my favourite aspect from the last book being overused and ruining its impact in the follow on, I hope the balanced gets worked out as I read the third book in the series, Grave Peril.
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Storm Front by Jim Butcher
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was told the Dresden Files series was brilliant and many readers (and writers!) I admire have listed the series as a firm favourite. It was only when a lecturer of mine insisted I read it that I finally picked up the first book and gave it a go.
Now, it would probably be useful to explain away some of my initial hesitation here. For one thing, I usually get irritated by detective novels, especially with an arrogant protagonist (and boy, it takes some arrogance to beat Harry Dresden the wizard detective!). They simply grate on me. Another irk of mine is when a mystery story can only be resolved when the writer unveils some wild card the character has had/known about all along that the reader has been unaware of.
Unfortunately, both of these things feature very prominently in Storm Front, particularly in the first half. I understand that world-building requires the writer to reveal little bits at a time lest they overwhelm their readers with information but in this case this method was used to hide away the clues that mystery which is plain irritating and in my opinion, a lazy way of writing. It also made Harry Dresden’s pondering over the clues quite painful in retrospect because we’re made to believe he is smart yet him being unable to connect the information together earlier given his knowledge just completely shatters that character trait.
Don’t get me wrong, you can figure out a lot of the plot by yourself. In fact, the clues are all too easy to put together which makes Storm Front more of an action/adventure book than a detective book.
Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a problem if the characters were interesting enough but here lies my biggest problem in the book.
Harry Dresden tries far too hard to be funny and instead, it comes across as cringe-worthy. When you add to this some of his other strong personality traits – he’s misogynistic, he’s rude, he’s undecisive (not a bad trait in itself but in a fictional detective it’s an issue), Dresden is pretty hard to tolerate, let alone like.
You would think there would be more interesting characters to compensate for Dresden’s unlikeable personality but I was left disappointed here too. Many of the characters are quite flat and peppered with sweeping stereotypes.
Fortunately, a lot of these problems are made up for by the action scenes. These are usually full of suspense and accompanied by electrifying imagery that really save the entire book. This piqued my curiousity and ultimately spurred me on to continue with the series. After such a shaky start to the series, I don’t have high hopes for Fool Moon but with this series being the favourite of so many, I plan on reading until I figure out why!
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