Here we go, it’s Dresden time!
Some background: this is a (currently) 13 book urbam fantasy series by Jim Butcher. As per the ancient scrolls, I will now present an embarrassing photo of him doing his best impersonation of The Rock:
Okay, it’s no Rothfuss gnome outfit, but that sword is still pretty goofy. On the other hand, cute dog.
I reviewed the first book way back when and also read a few chapters of this one. All you need to know going into this second one that the plot concerns Harry Dresden, a wizard for hire living in Chicago. Just so we’re clear: he is a wizard named Harry and yes, they do make jokes about that. The photo of the doofus in the trench-coat is actually how he’s described in the books. I occasionally see people like that walking around Dublin- late-twenties to early-thirties dudes wearing enormous leather trenchoats, usually with huge beards. Once I saw a guy with a giant silver dragon pendant. I suspect they may belong to some sort of underground society of power metal fans.
Harry Dresden is not a power metal fan, he’s a freelance magical investigator who works with the cops. Nerds of a particular stripe seem to fucking love these books for some reason, even though as far as I can tell they’re nothing but juvenile male power fantasies.
Wait, never mind.
Like Goodkind’s stuff, the books spawned a short lived TV series that I may or may not get around to talking about a some point.
I never used to keep close track of the phases of the moon. So I didn’t know that it was one night shy of being full when a young woman sat down across from me in McAnally’s pub and asked me to tell her all about something that could get her killed.
“No,” I said. “Absolutely not.” I folded the piece of paper, with its drawings of three concentric rings of spidery symbols, and slid it back over the polished oak-wood table.
Harry is talking to a woman named Kim Delaney. We are told that Kim is his long-time protoge in magic and all things wizardly, which is odd since she’s never even mentioned in the first book (keep that in mind, we’ll be finding out why soon enough).
One of Harry Dresden’s distuingishing features is the fact that his mind works as a sort of scanning device, probing the body of any woman who he lays eyes on. Every single woman in the first book is described in loving detail, with descriptions of their “assets” and a relative rating by Harry of how hot they are. He stops just short of using a number scale.
So for example:
Kim Delaney frowned at me, and brushed some of her dark, shining hair back from her forehead. She was a tall woman, buxom and lovely in an old-world way, with pale, pretty skin and round cheeks well used to smiling. She wasn’t smiling now.
Let’s parse this a bit. “Lovely” is a completely meaningless word. Buxom means she has a “full figure and large breasts”, according to the internet, but she’s buxom “in an old world way”. What exactly does that mean? In a European way? Does she look like something out of a famous European painting? Is she riding a giant clam around Chicago, a strand of hair clasped artfully over her vagina?
Anyway Kim really wants to know what the symbols mean. Harry decides, since he’s an idiot, that the best way to dissuade her from this is by acting all mysterious and cagey and telling her that she “doesn’t want to know”, thus all but ensuring that she’ll go digging around where she shouldn’t.
Mac caught my attention from behind the bar by waving a hand at me, and slid a couple of plates of steaming food onto the polished surface of the crooked oak bar
Plates of steaming food.
Not anything in particular, just “food”.
This bar is a special wizard bar, by the way. These books take place in your standard urban fantasy world where every magic whats-it ever is real and lurking just under the surface, deliberately kept a secret. Yet for some reason Harry advertises publicly as a wizard in the phone book and gets enough people who take him seriously to make a living out of wizarding, while resisting the temptation to take the James Randi million dollar challenge and become instantly rich.
She leaned forward and put her hand over mine, looking me in the face without looking me in the eyes, a trick that few nonpractitioners of the Art could master
Oh Jesus, I forgot about Harry and his magic eyes.
So if someone looks into Harry’s eyes they soul-bond or something. When attractive women do this the force of it just blows them away in a manner described in terms we are obviously supposed to read as erotic. Naturally this never happens with men.
(and looking at someone without looking them in the eyes is really easy)
Harry is in a bad mood because his contact at the Chicago police hasn’t contacted him in a while, supposedly due to the events of the first book but actually because Harry is an enormous toolbox.
Since Kim is paying for the steak dinner and Harry is strapped for cash, he grudgingly agrees to tell her about the symbols. While they’re tucking into their plates of steaming hot food they engage in a bit of as-you-know-bob-this-is-how-a-particle-accelerator-works regarding magic circles (which are circles that are magic)
Kim nodded. “They either hold something out or keep it in. Most work on magic energies or creatures of the Nevernever
No, that’s not a typo.
The symbols are a series of concentric magic rings built to hold things in, only the innermost one is designed to hold creatures of spirit and flesh simultaneously. Harry claims there aren’t any creatures like that even though there technically are- demigods and angels and shit, which The White Council has forbidden discussion of.
I should mention that the rules and mechanics of magic in this are extremely loosely defined. Which isn’t a problem in and of itself- if you start going on about detailed magical systems my eyes glaze over immediately- but Butcher uses this to let characters, mostly Harry, pull powers out of their ass as needed.
Harry tries to dissuade Kim from toying with the circle some more but she refuses to listen because….. reasons, I guess, and storms off.
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.
I bet that’s going to work out really well.
While Harry is brooding Murphy, his police contact, comes in to talk.
Karrin Murphy wasn’t much more than five feet tall
Murphy was extremely cute, for a grown adult who also held a black belt in aikido, and had several marksmanship awards from Chicago PD
Can’t have a woman who’s in a position of authority and physically imposing to our rugged hero, now can we?
She’d gotten her golden hair cut, from shoulder length to something far shorter, and a little longer in front than in back. It was a punky sort of look, and very appealing with her blue eyes and upturned nose.
Seriously, he does this with every single woman he meets.
Murphy is in charge of Special Investigations, the Chicago PD’s department in charge of investigating weird shit that everyone thinks is a waste of time but that they keep funding anyway.
Harry acts pissy for a while since Murphy hasn’t called him lately, but gets interested when she mentions there’s a been a gruesome murder (it was werewolves).
Murphy and Harry speed off to the crime scene, Murphy refusing to ride in Harry’s beat-up quirky mid-life-crisis-mobile.
Technology tends to foul up around wizards-flip on a light switch, and it’ll be the time the bulb burns out. Drive past a streetlight, and it’ll pick just then to flicker and die.
I’m fairly certain this would be more of a problem in real life.
They arrive at Wherever and Murphy reveals that there’s been a spate of violent killings lately (which were committed by werewolves).
For all that these books get goofy at times (and they can be extremely goofy) they also have a predilection for disturbing levels of violence, as seen here where the bloody, chewed up corpse of the guy who got werewolf’d is described in all its gory detail.
Harry says he recognized the victim as a low-level employee of Johnny Marcone, a gangster he had a run in with during the previous book.
I could hear her frown in her words
This is one of those books where people frown a whole lot.
There was blood on several of the broken pieces of glass. I picked up one of the larger ones and frowned at it
See, I told you.
Harry finds a big paw print and, since he didn’t look a the cover of the book or its god-awful title, only just now realizes that a werewolf is to blame.
You’ve had other murders happen in the same way. Probably about four weeks ago, when the moon was last full.
Those were the other killings you were talking about.”
Murphy glanced at my face for a moment, keeping her eyes off mine, and nodded her head. “Yeah. Four weeks ago, almost exactly. But no one else picked up the full moon angle. Just me.
I know in real life no one would be looking for werewolves, but I’m pretty sure if people kept getting violently murdered every full moon the police would make the connection fairly quickly. They are kind of paid to investigate that sort of thing.
Just then a bunch of dudes in suits burst in. It’s the FBI, and since Butcher is uncritically ripping off police procedural cliches the FBI are bad guys in this.
There’s a bit of Harry acting like an asshole here, where the lead FBI asshole asks who he is and Murphy tries to deflect the question, since she’s been criticized for hiring him in the past and is obviously worried about her career, but since Harry’s ego is always the most important thing in the room he insists on giving his name.
“Ah,” Denton said. “The charlatan. I’ve read about you in the Tribune.
Astute readers may notice an obvious problem here, namely that people think Harry is a fraud but he is in fact an actual wizard and could presumably just do some magic to prove he’s telling the truth. I think there’s some handwavey explanation given for this, like the White Council doesn’t want muggles to know about him, but I don’t see why advertising himself in the phone book and openly working with the police doesn’t also piss them off.
The FBI asshole, Denton, calls over Agent Brenn, who is a cool lady with silver hair who I’m hoping gets to roundhouse-kick Harry in the dick at some point. Since Murphy is a silly woman with woman-feelings she decides she’s going to fight Brenn and it’s up to Harry and his manliness to save the day.
(Yes, I’m interpreting everything Harry does in the worst possible light. No, I don’t feel guilty about it)
We’re supposed to think Denton is an asshole for wanting Murphy gone, but while he’s undoubtedly being a dick about it he does have a legitimate point in that this latest murder is outside of Murphy’s jurisdiction and she’s basically trespassing on a crime scene. Hell, the fact that he decides to just throw her out instead of getting her fired- which he would be perfectly within his rights to do- is really saying a lot.
Benn didn’t give us any warning. She just moved, fast and hard, stepping toward Murphy and flicking some sort of martial-arts blow I wasn’t familiar with toward her temple.
The structure of this sentence makes it sound as if Benn just threw something called a martial arts blow at Murphy’s head.
I just said that Denton is within his rights to throw Murphy and Harry out of the crime scene, but I’m fairly certain FBI agents aren’t allowed to elbow cops in the side of the head just for trespassing on a crime scene (although this is America, you’d never know). In any case Murphy manages to deflect the martial arts blow before it can hit her- Benn must be pretty bad at throwing things- and they both end up pulling their guns on each other. Just a reminder that this went from “tense disagreement” to “Mexican standoff” in the space of less than a minute. I suddenly understand why Harry ends up doing all the work around here.
Benn actually fires at Murphy and Harry knocks her away. Denton, finally realizing that the situation is getting a tad out of hand, screams at Benn to put the gun away. When some officers from outside come running he claims Benn’s gun went off by accident.
I’m really having trouble working out what the point of this scene is. Possibly it’s just here so Murphy and Benn can call each other “bitch” a lot and fight.
Denton was kneeling down beside Benn, who had her face in her hands, and looked as though she were weeping
God damn it I thought Benn was going to be cool. Not that there’s anything wrong with crying, but I don’t think there was a single woman in the first book who doesn’t end up doing it at some point
Denton was watching me, his grey eyes calculating and expressionless, filing me away under “tall, slender, dark hair, dark eyes, hawkish features, no visible scars
I like how ever the asshole FBI agent’s profile makes Harry sound handsome and awesome.
Maybe give Deborah some slack. She’s really stressed out about these Lobo killings
This blog post is sponsored by DC Comics.
I looked up through the clear night at the almost-full moon. Werewolves jumping through windows at gangster’s lackeys in unfinished restaurants. A mangled corpse in the middle of a blood-drenched floor. Berserk FBI field agents drawing guns and shooting to kill. A little kung fu, a little John Wayne, and a few casual threats.
It’s getting noir as shit in here.