Today I Read…Summer Knight

Summer KnightToday I Read Summer Knight, the fourth book in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. I’ve previously reviewed the first three books, Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril.

Harry Dresden has never been in so much trouble before–which is really saying something. The Red Court of the vampires is after his blood, both literally and figuratively. They’re threatening war with the White Council of wizards if the Council doesn’t hand Dresden over, and Harry isn’t exactly overflowing with allies on the Council. They think that he’s reckless, foolhardy, unprincipled, and dangerous, especially after he killed his mentor and his girlfriend when he was a teenager. (There were extenuating circumstances–namely, they were trying to kill him at the time.)

Now to prove himself, Harry must act as the Emissary for Queen Mab of the Winter Faerie Court, tasked to discover who killed the Knight of the Summer Court, Ronald Reuel, and prevent a war between Winter and Summer. Easier said than done.

***********************************************************************************************

Like Grave Peril, Summer Knight feels like part of a series as opposed to a stand-alone novel. Finally we learn more about why Dresden had the Doom hanging over his head in the first book, Storm Front. We meet the White Council that Dresden has been so wary of, and learn that he is right to be cautious–many of them have no love for him since he killed his mentor, Justin DuMorne, and his girlfriend and fellow apprentice Elaine Mallory (and points for people who can guess where Butcher picked those names from). We learn more about the structure of the fairy courts, though we still don’t know much about how he came to be under the power of his fairy godmother Leanansidhe. We see little of the vampire courts, though we do see their assassination attempts against Dresden. Many things (although not everything) that has been hinted at or alluded to in the past three books is pulled out into the open, sometimes kicking and screaming, though I have faith that not all has been revealed–Harry Dresden is never that simple, and there are still more than 10 books left in the series to go. However, major changes in the Dresdenverse happen because of Summer Knight–there are major shakeups in the Faerie Courts that I’m sure will have long-reaching consequences, as well as the oncoming war between the vampires and the wizards (c’mon, no way that’s a spoiler–Harry Dresden stop a war? Only by uniting everyone against him, and that’s already happened.). I’m looking forwards to finding out what happens next.

***********************************************************************************************

She regarded me in that empty silence for long moments more. It was unsettling to see a face so lovely look so wholly alien, as though something lurked behind those features that had little in common with me and did not care to make the effort to understand. That blank mask made my throat tighten, and I had to work not to let the gun in my hand shake. But then she did something that made her look even more alien, more frightening.

She smiled. A slow smile, cruel as a barbed knife. When she spoke, her voice sounded just as beautiful as it had before. But it was empty, quiet, haunting. She spoke, and it made me want to lean closer to her to hear her more clearly. “Clever,” she murmured. “Yes. Not too distracted to think. Just what I need.”

A cold shiver danced down my spine. “I don’t want any trouble,” I said. “Just go, and we can both pretend nothing happened.”

“But it has,” she murmured. Just the sound of her voice made the room feel colder. “You have seen through this veil. Proven your worth. How did you do it?”

“Static on the doorknob,” I said. “It should have been locked. You shouldn’t have been able to get in here, so you must have gone through it. And you danced around my questions rather than simply answering them.”

Still smiling, she nodded. “Go on.”

“You don’t have a purse. Not many women go out in a three-thousand-dollar suit and no purse.”

“Mmmm,” she said. “Yes. You’ll do perfectly, Mister Dresden.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “I’m having nothing more to do with faeries.”

“I don’t like being called that, Mister Dresden.”

“You’ll get over it. Get out of my office.”

“You should know, Mister Dresden, that my kind, from great to small, are bound to speak the truth.”

“That hasn’t slowed your ability to deceive.”

Her eyes glittered, and I saw her pupils change, slipping from round mortal orbs to slow feline lengths. Cat-eyed, she regarded me, unblinking. “Yet have I spoken. I plan to gamble. And I will gamble upon you.”

“Uh. What?”

“I require your service. Something precious has been stolen. I wish you to recover it.”

“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want me to recover stolen goods for you?”

“Not for me,” she murmured. “For the rightful owners. I wish you to discover and catch the thief and to vindicate me.”

“Do it yourself,” I said.

“In this matter I cannot act wholly alone,” she murmured. “That is why I have chosen you to be my emissary. My agent.”

I laughed at her. That made something else come into those perfect, pale features-anger. Anger, cold and terrible, flashed in her eyes and all but froze the laugh in my throat. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m not making any more bargains with your folk. I don’t even know who you are.”

“Dear child,” she murmured, a slow edge to her voice. “The bargain has already been made. You gave your life, your fortune, your future, in exchange for power.”

“Yeah. With my godmother. And that’s still being contested.”

“No longer,” she said. “Even in this world of mortals, the concept of debt passes from one hand to the next. Selling mortgages, yes?”

My belly went cold. “What are you saying?”

Her teeth showed, sharp and white. It wasn’t a smile. “Your mortgage, mortal child, has been sold. I have purchased it. You are mine. And you will assist me in this matter.”

I set the gun down on my desk and opened the top drawer. I took out my letter opener, one of the standard machined jobs with a heavy, flat blade and a screw-grip handle. “You’re wrong,” I said, and the denial in my voice sounded patently obvious, even to me. “My godmother would never do that. For all I know, you’re trying to trick me.”

She smiled, watching me, her eyes bright. “Then by all means, let me reassure you of the truth.”

My left palm slammed down onto the table. I watched, startled, as I gripped the letter opener in my right hand, slasher-movie style. In a panic, I tried to hold back my hand, to drop the opener, but my arms were running on automatic, like they were someone else’s.

“Wait!” I shouted.

She regarded me, cold and distant and interested.

I slammed the letter opener down onto the back of my own hand, hard. My desk is a cheap one. The steel bit cleanly through the meat between my thumb and forefinger and sank into the desk, pinning me there. Pain washed up my arm even as blood started oozing out of the wound. I tried to fight it down, but I was panicked, in no condition to exert a lot of control. A whimper slipped out of me. I tried to pull the steel away, to get it out of my hand, but my arm simply twisted, wrenching the letter opener counterclockwise.

The pain flattened me. I wasn’t even able to get enough breath to scream.

The woman, the faerie, reached down and took my fingers away from the letter opener. She withdrew it with a sharp, decisive gesture and laid it flat on the desk, my blood gleaming all over it. “Wizard, you know as well as I. Were you not bound to me, I would have no such power over you.”

At that moment, most of what I knew was that my hand hurt, but some dim part of me realized she was telling the truth. Faeries don’t just get to ride in and play puppet master. You have to let them in. I’d let my godmother, Lea, in years before, when I was younger, dumber. I’d given her the slip last year, forced an abeyance of her claim that should have protected me for a year and a day.

But now she’d passed the reins to someone else. Someone who hadn’t been in on the second bargain.

I looked up at her, pain and sudden anger making my voice into a low, harsh growl. “Who are you?”

The woman ran an opalescent fingernail through the blood on my desk. She lifted it to her lips and idly touched it to her tongue. She smiled, slower, more sensual, and every bit as alien. “I have many names,” she murmured. “But you may call me Mab. Queen of Air and Darkness. Monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe.”

*******************************************************************************************

“Gatekeeper,” the Merlin said, “what is your vote?”

The silent figure of the Gatekeeper silently lifted one hand. “We have set our feet upon a darkling path,” he murmured. “A road that will only grow more dangerous. Our first steps are critical. We must make them with caution.”

The cowl turned toward Ebenezar, and the Gatekeeper said, “You love the boy, Wizard McCoy. You would fight to defend him. Your own dedication to our cause is not inconsiderable. I respect your choice.”

He turned toward LaFortier. “You question Dresden’s loyalty and his ability. You imply that only a bad seed can grow from bad soil. Your concerns are understandable-and if correct, then Dresden poses a major threat to the Council.”

He turned to Ancient Mai and inclined the cowl forward a few degrees. The Ancient responded with a slight bow of her own. “Ancient Mai,” the Gatekeeper said. “You question his ability to use his power wisely. To judge between right and wrong. You fear that DuMorne’s teaching may have twisted him in ways even he cannot yet see. Your fears, too, are justified.”

He turned to the Merlin. “Honored Merlin. You know that Dresden has drawn death and danger down upon the Council. You believe that if he is removed, so will be that danger. Your fears are understandable, but not reasonable. Regardless of what happens to Dresden, the

Red Court

has struck a blow against the Council too deep to be ignored. A cessation of current hostilities would only be the calm before the storm.”

“Enough, man,” Ebenezar demanded. “Vote, for or against.”

“I choose to base my vote upon a Trial. A test that will lay to rest the fears of one side of the issue, or prove falsely placed the faith of the other.”

“What Trial?” the Merlin asked.

“Mab,” the Gatekeeper said. “Let Dresden address Queen Mab’s request. Let him secure the assistance of Winter. If he does, that should lay to rest your concerns regarding his ability, LaFortier.”

LaFortier frowned, but then nodded at the Gatekeeper.

He turned next to Ancient Mai. “Should he accomplish this, it should show that he is willing to accept responsibility for his mistake and to work against his own best interests for the greater good of the Council. It should satisfy your concerns as to his judgement-to make the mistakes of youth is no crime, but not to learn from them is. Agreed?”

Ancient Mai narrowed her rheumy eyes, but gave the Gatekeeper a precise nod.

“And you, honored Merlin. Such a success may do much to alleviate the pressure of the coming war. If securing routes through the Nevernever places the

Red Court

at a severe enough disadvantage, it may even enable us to avoid it entirely. Surely it would prove Dresden’s dedication to the Council beyond a doubt.”

“That’s all well and good,” Ebenezar said. “But what happens if he fails?”

The Gatekeeper shrugged. “Then perhaps their fears are more justified than your affection, Wizard McCoy. We may indeed conclude that his appointment to full Wizard Initiate may have been premature.”

“All or nothing?” Ebenezar demanded. “Is that it? You expect the youngest wizard in the Council to get the best of Queen Mab somehow? Mab? That’s not a Trial. It’s a goddamned execution. How is he even supposed to know what her request was to begin with?”

I stood up, my legs shaking a little. “Ebenezar,” I said.

“How the hell is the boy supposed to know what she wants?”

“Ebenezar-”

“I’m not going to stand by while you-” He abruptly blinked and looked at me. So did everyone else.

“I know what Mab wants,” I said. “She approached me earlier today, sir. She asked me to investigate something for her. I turned her down.”

“Hell’s bells,” Ebenezar breathed. He took the blue bandanna from his pocket and mopped at his gleaming forehead. “Hoss, this is out of your depth.”

“Looks like it’s sink or swim, then,” I said.

The Gatekeeper murmured to me in English, “Will you accept this, Wizard Dresden?”

Advertisements

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.

*********************************************************************************************

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.

**********************************************************************************************

“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.”

************************************************************************************************

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.

*************************************************************************************************

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.”

Today I Read…Fool Moon

Fool MoonToday I read Fool Moon by Jim Butcher, the second book in The Dresden Files. I’ve previously reviewed the first book Storm Front here.

Wizard Harry Dresden’s rent payment is late again, a student of his is asking uncomfortable questions about very powerful, very dangerous magic, and werewolves are killing people, most notably the bodyguard of Chicago’s most powerful mobster Gentleman Johnny Marcone. Great. Dresden knew it was safer to be a cat person.

Now he has to figure out how to turn Marcone’s (admittedly very generous) job offer down–after all, a wizard who consults for the police can’t really work for a mobster too. Except he might have a little trouble getting the cops to pay his bill after getting arrested for murder. And not stopping a werewolf from tearing apart the police station, and several police officers. And escaping from custody with the help of yet more werewolves, albeit a more friendly variety.

Seriously, is everyone a werewolf except Dresden?

*********************************************************************************************

I know that one of the later books in the series is called White Night,  but Harry Dresden definitely has White Knight Syndrome–something that he really needs to learn to control. He can’t protect everyone, and his chivalrous efforts towards women in particular are neither wanted nor effective. Kim dies because Dresden tries to protect her by not telling her everything, and Murphy and many other police officers get hurt because he tries to handle everything himself. As a feminist, I want to smack him upside the head a little. Fortunately, he starts relying on his friends a little more in the following books, so I guess you can teach an old wizard new tricks.

I’d put a slightly higher rating on this one than the previous book due to the bloodier murders–werewolves are not the tidiest eaters. There are also a LOT of them, considering that Dresden has never met a werewolf until this case. Butcher invents several varieties, and then has examples of each one. Good werewolves, bad werewolves, in control friendly werewolves, werewolves who start out with good intentions and then lose control and start murdering people, people who choose to be werewolves, people who are cursed to be werewolves, lone werewolves, werewolves in a pack…it’s practically a werewolf documentary. Still, it’s only the second book in the series, so Butcher is still worldbuilding.

*********************************************************************************************

I sat back down, frustrated. Dammit. Kim was one of several people I had coached through the difficult period surrounding the discovery of their innate magical talents. It made me feel like crap to withhold information from her, but she had been playing with fire. I couldn’t let her do that. It was my responsibility to help protect her from such things, until she knew enough to realize how dangerous they were.
To say nothing of what the White Council would think of a nonwizard toying with major summoning circles. The White Council didn’t take chances with things like that. They just acted, decisively, and they weren’t always particular about people’s lives and safety when they did it.
I had done the right thing. Keeping that kind of information out of Kim’s hands had been the right decision. I had been protecting her from danger she didn’t, couldn’t, fully appreciate.
I had done the right thing—even if she had trusted me to provide answers for her, as I had in the past, when teaching her to contain and control her modest magical talents. Even if she had trusted me to show her the answers she needed, to be her guide through the darkness.
I’d done the right thing.
Dammit.
**************************************************************************************************
I closed my hands around the keys. “Just sit down and relax for a while, Murph. We need to talk.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Harry,” she said.
“This is the thanks I get for saving your life. Twice, now. You’re going to hold out on me.”
“You should know how it works,” she said, scowling. But she settled back in her seat and looked out the windshield of the car. We could see the police, forensics, and the FBI suits moving back and forth inside the building. We were both quiet for a long time.
The funny thing was that the problems between Murphy and me came from the same source as the problems with Kim Delaney earlier tonight. Murphy had needed to know something to pursue an investigation. I could have given her the information—but it would have put her in danger to do so. I’d refused to say anything, and when I’d pursued the trail by myself all the way to its end, there had been some burning buildings and a corpse or two. There wasn’t enough evidence to bring any charges against me, and the killer we’d been after had been dealt with. But Murphy hadn’t ever really forgiven me for cutting her out of the loop.
In the intervening months, she’d called me in for work several times, and I’d given the best service I could. But it had been cool between us. Professional. Maybe it was time to try to bridge that gap again.
“Look, Murph,” I said. “We’ve never really talked about what happened, last spring.”
“We didn’t talk about it while it was happening,” she said, her tone crisp as autumn leaves. “Why should we start now? That was last spring. It’s October.”
“Give me a break, Murphy. I wanted to tell you more, but I couldn’t.”
“Let me guess. Cat had your tongue?” she said sweetly.
“You know I wasn’t one of the bad guys. You have to know that by now. Hell’s bells, I risked my neck to save you.”
Murphy shook her head, staring straight forward. “That’s not the point.”
“No? Then what is?”
“The point, Dresden, is that you lied to me. You refused to give me information that I needed to do my job. When I bring you in on one of my investigations, I am trusting you. I don’t just go around trusting people. Never have.” She took a grip on the steering wheel, her knuckles whitening. “Less than ever, now.”
I winced. That stung. What’s worse, she was in the right. “Some of what I knew . . . It was dangerous, Murph. It could have gotten you killed.”
Her blue eyes fixed on me with a glare that made me lean back against the car door. “I am not your daughter, Dresden,” she said, in a very soft, calm voice. “I am not some porcelain doll on a shelf. I’m a police officer. I catch the bad guys and I put their asses away, and if it comes down to it, I take a bullet so that some poor housewife or CPA doesn’t have to.” She got her gun out of its shoulder holster, checked the ammo and the safety, and replaced it. “I don’t need your protection.”
“Murphy, wait,” I said hastily. “I didn’t do it to piss you off. I’m your friend. Always have been.”
She looked away from me as an officer with a flashlight walked past the car, shining the light about on the ground as he looked for exterior evidence. “You were my friend, Dresden. Now . . .” Murphy shook her head once and set her jaw. “Now, I don’t know.”
************************************************************************************************************
We went down what looked like a servant’s narrow spiral staircase, down into the basement. She led me to the back of a storage room and pushed open a heavy, steel door there that opened onto a small, stark chamber, all of concrete, with no other exits. In the center of the chamber was another three-ring summoning circle, but this one’s symbols had been made from silver and set into the concrete of the floor. Short bars of what looked like a mixture of silver and obsidian were interspersed around the second circle, creating what would, if the circle was functional, be a very formidable barrier.
But the symbols had been marred, torn, broken. Several from the critical inner ring had been pried up from the floor and were simply missing. Some of the bars had been broken. The circle, as it was, was nonfunctional and worthless—but whole, it would have served to contain Harley MacFinn when he shifted into his beast form. The room was a prison he had created for himself, something to contain the fury of the beast inside of him.
But someone had intentionally marred the circle, made the prison useless.
And I abruptly understood Kim Delaney’s request. She had to have known Harley MacFinn, maybe through her environmental activism. She must have learned of his curse, and wanted to help him. When I had refused to help her, she had attempted to re-create the greater summoning circle upstairs in the bedroom, to hold in MacFinn once the moon rose. As I had warned her would happen, she had failed. She hadn’t had the knowledge necessary to understand how such a construct would function, and consequently, she hadn’t been able to make it work.
MacFinn had killed her. Kim was dead because I had refused to share my knowledge with her, because I hadn’t given her my help. I had been so secure in my knowledge and wisdom; withholding such secrets from her had been the action of a concerned and reasoned adult speaking to an overeager child. I couldn’t believe my own arrogance, the utter confidence with which I had condemned her to death.
I started to shake, harder, too many things pressing against my head, my heart. I could feel the pressure, somewhere inside of me, that switch on the inside of my head quivering, getting ready to flick back beneath a tide of raging anger, fury, regret, self-hatred. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, trying not to let it happen.
I opened my eyes and looked up at Murphy. God, I needed to talk to her. I needed a friend. I needed someone to listen, to tell me it would be all right whether it was the truth or not. I needed someone to let me unload on them, to keep me from flying apart.
She regarded me with cold, angry eyes.
“Karrin,” I whispered.
She drew from her pocket a crumpled piece of paper. She unfolded it, and held it up to me, so that I could see Kim Delaney’s graceful handwriting, the sketch of the summoning circle that she had brought to me in McAnally’s. The sketch I had refused to tell Kim about. The sketch I had crumpled into a little ball and tossed on the floor, and which Murphy had picked up, absently, just to get the trash out of people’s way.
And I realized why there was so much anger in Murphy’s eyes.
I stared at the sketch. “Karrin,” I began again. “Stars above, you’ve got to listen to me.” I took the sketch from her hands, my fingers trembling.
“Harry,” she said, in a calm tone. “You lyingbastard,” and on the word she drove her fist into my stomach, hard, doubling me over. The motion put my head within easy reach, and her fist took me across the jaw in a right cross that sent me to the floor like a lump of wet pasta, stars dancing in my vision.
I was only dimly aware of her taking the sketch back from me. She twisted my arms painfully behind my back, and snapped her handcuffs around my wrists. “You promised me,” she said, her voice furious. “You promised. No secrets. You lied to me all along. You played me like a sucker the entire while. Goddammit, Dresden, you’re involved in this and people are dying.”
“Murph,” I mumbled. “Wait.”
She grabbed my hair, jerked my head back, and slammed me across the jaw again, near-berserk anger lending her strength. My head swam, and blackness closed over my vision for several seconds.
“No more talking. No more lies,” I heard her say, and she dragged me to my feet, shoved my face and chest against a wall, and began searching me for weapons. “No more people torn up like meat on a block. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
She took my blasting rod. My shield bracelet. The energy ring. Even my lump of chalk. Her voice went on, hard, cold, and professional, letting me know my rights.
I closed my eyes and leaned against the stone wall. Next to my head, it was the softest thing in the room. I didn’t try to fight or to explain.
What was the point?

Today I Read…Storm Front

Storm FrontToday I read Storm Front by Jim Butcher, the first book in The Dresden Files series.

Harry Dresden-Wizard. That’s what the sign says.

Most people think he’s a kook, a crazy, a few wands short of Tinkerbell–Harry knows that he is the only openly practicing wizard with a detective’s license. He also knows that the rent is overdue. He needs a case–fast.

Enter ‘Monica’, a woman who wants Harry to find her missing husband–and doesn’t want to tell him her husband’s name, where they live, or anything that could help him actually find the missing man. Well, beggars can’t be choosers when the mail contains nothing but overdue bills.

Then Harry gets a call from his occasional ally Karrin Murphy, the head of the Special Investigations Unit of the Chicago Police Department–Special Investigations being what the police call anything they refuse to call magic. Someone has been ripping out people’s hearts and leaving behind some very messy corpses, and Harry is the chief suspect. Not to mention the doom hanging over his head, and the trigger-happy Warden Morgan watching his every move and hoping that he’ll step just the tiniest bit out of line.

Add in angry mobsters, vampires, and a new magical street drug that drives users insane, and you get a wizard who’s really about to earn his  fifty dollars an hour. Plus expenses.

************************************************************************************************************

I started this series because Jim Butcher was a guest at Ad Astra this year, and I wanted to attend before work got in the way (yes, I still have a backlog of reviews that dates back that far, but the list is slowly shrinking. I read faster than I write). I’ve read the first book in the series before, but it’s been some time and I’ve never read the rest of the series, so I decided to restart it from the beginning.

Harry Dresden is torn between his attempt at a self-image as a classic noir detective and as a powerful wizard, but unfortunately he can’t forget his reality of being broke and in trouble most of the time–he’s more magical working stiff than awe-inspiring all-powerful mage or hard-boiled tough-talking hard-living private dick. The answers to all of his problems don’t come easily enough to him for him to really fulfill the image he wishes he had. Though you do have to admire his ability to take a punch, considering how often it happens, and he doesn’t stop his investigation for anything or anyone, even when it would be in his own best interest to just walk away. Harry Dresden is in many ways the living embodiment of Murphy’s law–anything that possibly can go wrong for him will, and it only gets worse in the later books. He considers himself gallant and a bit of a throwback to chivalry, though he’s fairly good about acknowledging that Karrin Murphy could kick his ass and fire him as a police consultant.

I wouldn’t call this book brilliant, but it is solidly entertaining. Butcher has said in an interview that he wrote Storm Front in a writing class, and “I fought my writing teacher tooth and nail for the longest time, flatly rejecting a lot of very good advice she was giving me. When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.” I certainly wouldn’t call Storm Front awful–I quite enjoyed it, and the others from the series that I’ve read so far. And considering it was Butcher’s first professional sale, and that so far he’s published 14 novels and a book of short stories based on Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, as well as one season of a television show, I guess a lot of people don’t think it’s awful.

Chicago makes an interesting scene–how would a modern wizard work in the real world? As Harry worries so often, he would have rent to pay. Other wizards work behind the scenes, instead of advertising in the Yellow Pages, and most people think that Harry is crazy or a con man, but there are enough people who believe or are at least curious enough that he can make a living. Then there are those who don’t care if he’s magical or crazy or a con or anything else so long as he gets results, and he can do that. Harry educates those who want to learn, without going into too much detail (which becomes a problem as the series goes on, when Murphy and others are put into danger through ignorance of how the magical world, the Nevernever, works), but he also doesn’t really feel the need to flaunt what he is in front of people who are not prepared to believe. As long as their cheques don’t bounce, he doesn’t care what people think of him (plus, if Warden Morgan catches him revealing too many secrets to outsiders, he might decide that that’s enough to cut Harry down to size–about a head shorter should do it).

This series should appeal to fans of modern fantasy and noir mystery who don’t take the conventions of the genres too seriously. Harry is a man who would like to fit into the formula a little more tightly than he does, but his life just keeps getting in the way. It’s entertaining to watch, but man am I ever glad I’m not Harry Dresden. I don’t think I could take getting beat up so often.

************************************************************************************************************

I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn’t sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.

Then he knocked.

I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it’s registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and it’s never good news. I got up out of my office chair and opened the door.

The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign. “You’re kidding, right?”

I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Can I have my mail, please.”

“So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office.

I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand. “No, not like that. I don’t do parties.”

He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. “So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things?”

“No,” I told him. “I’m not a psychic.” I tugged at the mail.

He held on to it. “What are you, then?”

“What’s the sign on the door say?”

“It says ‘Harry Dresden. Wizard.’ ”

“That’s me,” I confirmed.

“An actual wizard?” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke. “Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”

“Not so subtle.” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard. “Can I sign for my mail please.”

The new mailman’s grin vanished, replaced with a scowl. He passed over the clipboard to let me sign for the mail (another late notice from my landlord), and said, “You’re a nut. That’s what you are.” He took his clipboard back, and said, “You have a nice day, sir.”

I watched him go.

“Typical,” I muttered, and shut the door.

My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:

HARRY DRESDEN-WIZARD

Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.

Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.

No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could not think I was serious.

**********************************************************************************************************

Blood smells a certain way, a kind of sticky, almost metallic odor, and the air was full of it when the elevator doors opened. My stomach quailed a little bit, but I swallowed manfully and followed Murphy out of the elevator and down the hall past a couple of uniform cops, who recognized me and waved me past without asking to see the little laminated card the city had given me. Granted, even in a big-city department like Chicago P.D., they didn’t exactly call in a horde of consultants (I went down in the paperwork as a psychic consultant, I think), but still. Unprofessional of the boys in blue.

Murphy preceded me into the room. The smell of blood grew thicker, but there wasn’t anything gruesome behind door number one. The outer room of the suite looked like some kind of a sitting room done in rich tones of red and gold, like a set from an old movie in the thirties-expensive-looking, but somehow faux, nonetheless. Dark, rich leather covered the chairs, and my feet sank into the thick, rust-colored shag of the carpet. The velvet velour curtains had been drawn, and though the lights were all on, the place still seemed a little too dark, a little too sensual in its textures and colors. It wasn’t the kind of room where you sit and read a book. Voices came from a doorway to my right.

“Wait here a minute,” Murphy told me. Then she went through the door to the right of the entryway and into what I supposed was the bedroom of the suite.

I wandered around the sitting room with my eyes mostly closed, noting things. Leather couch. Two leather chairs. Stereo and television in a black glossy entertainment center. Champagne bottle warming in a stand holding a brimming tub of what had been ice the night before, with two empty glasses set beside it. There was a red rose petal on the floor, clashing with the carpeting (but then, in that room, what didn’t?).

A bit to one side, under the skirt of one of the leather recliners, was a little piece of satiny cloth. I bent at the waist and lifted the skirt with one hand, careful not to touch anything. A pair of black-satin panties, a tiny triangle with lace coming off the points, lay there, one strap snapped as though the thong had simply been torn off. Kinky.

The stereo system was state of the art, though not an expensive brand. I took a pencil from my pocket and pushed the PLAY button with the eraser. Gentle, sensual music filled the room, a low bass, a driving drumbeat, wordless vocals, the heavy breathing of a woman as background.

The music continued for a few seconds more, and then it began to skip over a section about two seconds long, repeating it over and over again.

I grimaced. Like I said, I have this effect on machinery. It has something to do with being a wizard, with working with magical forces. The more delicate and modern the machine is, the more likely it is that something will go wrong if I get close enough to it. I can kill a copier at fifty paces.

“The love suite,” came a man’s voice, drawing the word love out into luuuuuuuv. “What do you think, Mister Man?”

“Hello, Detective Carmichael,” I said, without turning around. Carmichael’s rather light, nasal voice had a distinctive quality. He was Murphy’s partner and the resident skeptic, convinced that I was nothing more than a charlatan, scamming the city out of its hard-earned money. “Were you saving the panties to take home yourself, or did you just overlook them?” I turned and looked at him. He was short and overweight and balding, with beady, bloodshot eyes and a weak chin. His jacket was rumpled, and there were food stains on his tie, all of which served to conceal a razor intellect. He was a sharp cop, and absolutely ruthless at tracking down killers.

He walked over to the chair and looked down. “Not bad, Sherlock,” he said. “But that’s just foreplay. Wait’ll you see the main attraction. I’ll have a bucket waiting for you.” He turned and killed the malfunctioning CD player with a jab from the eraser end of his own pencil.

I widened my eyes at him, to let him know how terrified I was, then walked past him and into the bedroom. And regretted it. I looked, noted details mechanically, and quietly shut the door on the part of my head that had started screaming the second I entered the room.

They must have died sometime the night before, as rigor mortis had already set in. They were on the bed; she was astride him, body leaned back, back bowed like a dancer’s, the curves of her breasts making a lovely outline. He stretched beneath her, a lean and powerfully built man, arms reaching out and grasping at the satin sheets, gathering them in his fists. Had it been an erotic photograph, it would have made a striking tableau.

Except that the lovers’ rib cages on the upper left side of their torsos had expanded outward, through their skin, the ribs jabbing out like ragged, snapped knives. Arterial blood had sprayed out of their bodies, all the way to the mirror on the ceiling, along with pulped, gelatinous masses of flesh that had to be what remained of their hearts. Standing over them, I could see into the upper cavity of the bodies, I noted the now greyish lining around the motionless left lungs and the edges of the ribs, which apparently were forced outward and snapped by some force within.

It definitely cut down on the erotic potential.