Today I Read…Grave Peril

Grave PerilToday I read Grave Peril by Jim Butcher, the third book in The Dresden Files. I’ve previously reviewed the first two book, Storm Front and Fool Moon.

Why can’t villains just stay dead? Harry Dresden, Chicago’s (only) openly practicing wizard private eye, and his friend Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross, are hunting a dangerous ghost when they are forced to cross over into the Nevernever, the realm of magic–and the home of Leanansidhe, Dresden’s not-at-all-beloved fairy godmother. After escaping from Leanansidhe, Dresden discovers that the murderous ghost was being controlled by a demon he calls the Nightmare.

Compounding the problems caused by the restless local spirits, the vampires seem to be making trouble again, and they’re doing it by holding a ball–a ball that Dresden is invited to as the representative of the White Council of wizards, even though the vampires have been trying to kill him. Unfortunately, refusing the invitation would be a deadly insult, with an emphasis on ‘deadly’.

So, evil sorcerer vampire, ghost with a grudge that can attack you in your sleep, faerie who wants to turn you into a frog and play with you for a few centuries, a burgeoning war between the vampires and the wizards, and a nosy reporter girlfriend with no instinct for self-preservation–even for Harry Dresden, this could present a problem.

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Grave Peril is where The Dresden Files really starts to pick up as a series, where it really seems like the books are connected to each other and not just monster-of-the-week episodes. In the first two books, Harry Dresden is by and large a solitary man. While he has people in his life (Murphy, Bob, Mister–ok, only Murphy is human), he holds most of them at a distance, and it’s hard for the reader to connect with his friends and family because he is disconnected from them. In Grave Peril, Dresden shows his investment in other people’s lives–in his friend and ally, Michael Carpenter, in his girlfriend, Susan Rodriguez, in his godmother, Leanansidhe (I didn’t say he liked her, just that they’re connected). Dresden’s friends are a weakness that can be (and are) used against him, but saving the world has always been a team sport. The traditional hard-bitten noir detective that Dresden wishes he was (see my review of Storm Front) is a solitary bastard with no friends to back him up or pick him up; Dresden can only get by with a little help from his friends. The problem is that letting people in means showing where you’re vulnerable to the world. Bianca is able to use Susan against Dresden because he cares for her. He’d probably try to rescue anyone being held captive by the vampires–he does have White Knight Syndrome still, especially for women since he promises Lydia he will try and help her when she comes begging for his help, but when other people die he isn’t as gutted as he is when he loses Susan.

Harry’s other problem with his friends is his complete incapability of demonstrating said investment and emotional connection. He spends most of the book unable to tell Susan that he loves her, even when he can admit it to himself and to others, until it is too late for them. He would clearly prefer to be a man of action, not words when it comes to interpersonal relationships, but this is a book–words are what the reader needs. Words are the strongest magic there is, even stronger than the power of Chicago’s private eye wizard.

This book also sets the stage for the war between the vampires and the wizards, and introduces the Faerie Courts in more detail. We get more hints about Dresden’s background with the White Council and with Leanansidhe, and how he came to be who he is. The first two books in the series were good–Grave Peril first demonstrates the potential for greatness in The Dresden Files.

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“Lord be with us,” Michael said, and crossed himself. I felt a stirring of something; powerful, placid energy around him—the power of faith. “Harry, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

“Don’t ask me to Mass again,” I told him, uncomfortable. “You know I’m just going to say no.” Someone in a red Taurus cut me off, and I had to swerve around him, into the turn lane, and then ahead of him again. A couple of the Beetle’s wheels lifted off the ground. “Jerk!” I howled out the driver’s window.

“That doesn’t preclude asking,” Michael said. “But no. I wanted to know when you were going to marry Miss Rodriguez.”

“Hell’s Bells, Michael,” I scowled. “You and I have been chasing all over town for the past two weeks, going up against every ghost and spirit that has all of a sudden reared its ugly head. We still don’t know what’s causing the spirit world to go postal.”

“I know that, Harry, but—”

“At the moment,” I interrupted, “we’re going after a nasty old biddy at Cook County, who could kill us if we aren’t focused. And you’re asking me about my love life.”

Michael frowned at me. “You’re sleeping with her, aren’t you?” he said.

“Not often enough,” I growled, and shifted lanes, swerving around a passenger bus.

The knight sighed. “Do you love her?” he asked.

“Michael,” I said. “Give me a break. Where do you get off asking questions like that?”

“Do you love her?” he pressed.

“I’m trying to drive, here.”

“Harry,” he asked, smiling. “Do you love the girl or don’t you? It isn’t a difficult question.”

“Speaks the expert,” I grumbled. I went past a blue-and-white at about twenty miles an hour over the speed limit, and saw the police officer behind the wheel blink and spill his coffee as he saw me go past. I checked my rearview mirror, and saw the blue bulbs on the police car whirl to life. “Dammit, that tears it. The cops are going to be coming in right after us.”

“Don’t worry about them,” Michael assured me. “Just answer the question.”

I flashed Michael a glance. He watched me, his face broad and honest, his jaw strong, and his grey eyes flashing. His hair was cropped close, Marine-length, on top, but he sported a short, warrior’s beard, which he kept clipped close to his face. “I suppose so,” I said, after a second. “Yeah.”

“Then you don’t mind saying it?”

“Saying what?” I stalled.

“Harry,” Michael scolded, holding on as we bounced through a dip in the street. “Don’t be a child about this. If you love the woman, say so.”

“Why?” I demanded.

“You haven’t told her, have you? You’ve never said it.”

I glared at him. “So what if I haven’t? She knows. What’s the big deal?”

“Harry Dresden,” he said. “You, of all people, should know the power of words.”

“Look, she knows,” I said, tapping the brakes and then flattening the accelerator again. “I got her a card.”

“A card?” Michael asked.

“A Hallmark.”

He sighed. “Let me hear you say the words.”

“What?”

“Say the words,” he demanded. “If you love the woman, why can’t you say so?”

“I don’t just go around saying that to people, Michael. Stars and sky, that’s . . . I just couldn’t, all right?”

“You don’t love her,” Michael said. “I see.”

“You know that’s not—”

“Say it, Harry.”

“If it will get you off my back,” I said, and gave the Beetle every ounce of gas that I could. I could see the police in traffic somewhere behind me. “All right.” I flashed Michael a ferocious, wizardly scowl and snarled, “I love her. There, how’s that?”

Michael beamed. “You see? That’s the only thing that stands between you two. You’re not the kind of person who says what they feel. Or who is very introspective, Harry. Sometimes, you just need to look into the mirror and see what’s there.”

“I don’t like mirrors,” I grumbled.

“Regardless, you needed to realize that you do love the woman. After Elaine, I thought you might isolate yourself too much and never—”

I felt a sudden flash of anger and vehemence. “I don’t talk about Elaine, Michael. Ever. If you can’t live with that, get the hell out of my car and let me work on my own.”

Michael frowned at me, probably more for my choice of words than anything else. “I’m talking about Susan, Harry. If you love her, you should marry her.”

“I’m a wizard. I don’t have time to be married.”

“I’m a knight,” Michael responded. “And I have the time. It’s worth it. You’re alone too much. It’s starting to show.”

I scowled at him again. “What does that mean?”

“You’re tense. Grumpy. And you’re isolating yourself more all the time. You need to keep up human contact, Harry. It would be so easy for you to start down a darker path.”

“Michael,” I snapped, “I don’t need a lecture. I don’t need the conversion speech again. I don’t need the ‘cast aside your evil powers before they consume you’ speech. Again. What I need is for you to back me up while I go take care of this thing.”

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She turned to me and smiled, her chocolate-colored eyes worried but warm. She tilted her head back toward the hallway behind her, where Michael and Charity had gone. “They’re a beautiful couple, aren’t they?”

I tried to smile back, but didn’t do so well. “They got off to a good start.”

Susan’s eyes studied my face, the cuts there, and the worry in her eyes deepened. “Oh? How’s that?”

“He rescued her from a fire-breathing dragon.” I walked toward her.

“Sounds nice,” she said, and met me halfway, giving me a long and gentle hug that made my bruised ribs ache. “You okay?”

“I’ll be okay.”

“More ghostbusting with Michael. What’s his story?”

“Off the record. Publicity could hurt him. He’s got kids.”

Susan frowned, but nodded. “All right,” she said, and added a flair of melodrama to her words. “So what is he? Some kind of eternal soldier? Maybe a sleeping Arthurian knight woken in this desperate age to battle the forces of evil?”

“As far as I know he’s a carpenter.”

Susan arched a brow at me. “Who fights ghosts. What, has he got a magic nailgun or something?”

I tried not to smile. The muscles at the corners of my mouth ached. “Not quite. He’s a righteous man.”

“He seemed nice enough to me.”

“No, not self-righteous. Righteous. The real deal. He’s honest, loyal, faithful. He lives his ideals. It gives him power.”

Susan frowned. “He looked average enough. I’d have expected . . . I’m not sure. Something. A different attitude.”

“That’s because he’s humble too,” I said. “If you asked him if he was righteous, he’d laugh at the idea. I guess that’s part of it. I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s a good man.”

She pursed her lips. “And the sword?”

“Amoracchius,” I supplied.

“He named his sword. How very Freudian of him. But his wife just about reached down that clerk’s throat to get it back.”

“It’s important to him,” I said. “He believes that it is one of three weapons given by God to mankind. Three swords. Each of them has a nail that is supposed to be from the Cross worked into its design. Only one of the righteous can wield them. The ones who do call themselves the Knights of the Cross. Others call them the Knights of the Sword.”

Susan frowned. “The Cross?” she said. “As in the Crucifixion, capital C?”

I shrugged, uncomfortably. “How should I know? Michael believes it. That kind of belief is a power of its own. Maybe that’s enough.” I took a breath and changed the subject. “Anyway, my car got impounded. I had to drive fast and C.P.D. didn’t like it.”

Her dark eyes sparkled. “Anything worth a story?”

I laughed tiredly. “Don’t you ever give up?”

“A girl’s got to earn a living,” she said, and fell into step beside me on the way out, slipping her arm through mine.

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Bianca ran her hands over Susan’s hair. “This one will stay with me. You stole away someone dear to me, Mister Dresden. And I am going to take away someone dear to you. After that, all will be equal.” She gave Ortega a very small smile and then glanced at me and asked, “Well? What say you? If you prefer to remain with her, I’m sure a place could be made for you here. After suitable assurances of your loyalty, of course.”

I remained silent for a moment, stunned.

“Well, wizard?” she snapped, harsher. “How do you answer? Accept my bargain. My compromise. Or it is war. And you will become its first casualty.”

I looked at Susan. She stared blankly, her mouth partially open, caught in a trance of some kind. I could probably snap her out of it, provided a bunch of vampires didn’t tear me limb from limb while I tried. I looked up at Bianca. At Ortega. At the hissing vampire cronies. They were drooling on the polished floor.

I hurt all over, and I felt so very damned tired.

“I love her,” I said. I didn’t say it very loud.

“What?” Bianca stared at me. “What did you say?”

“I said, I love her.”

“She is already half mine.”

“So? I still love her.”

“She isn’t even fully human any longer, Dresden. It won’t be long before she is as a sister to me.”

“Maybe. Maybe not,” I said. “Get your hands off my girlfriend.”

Bianca’s eyes widened. “You are mad,” she said. “You would flirt with chaos, destruction—with war. For the sake of this one wounded soul?”

I smote my staff on the floor, reaching deep for power. Deeper than I’ve ever reached before. Outside, in the gathering morning, the air crackled with thunder.

Bianca, even Ortega, looked abruptly uncertain, looking up and around, before focusing on me again.

“For the sake of one soul. For one loved one. For one life.” I called power into my blasting rod, and its tip glowed incandescent white. “The way I see it, there’s nothing else worth fighting a war for.”

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One thought on “Today I Read…Grave Peril

  1. Pingback: Today I Read…Summer Knight | wadingthroughbooks

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