Today 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.”
“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
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
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?”
“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?”