Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Just finished reading Death Masks by Jim Butcher and at the risk of sounding repetitive this series just keeps getting better.  Harry Dresden is a private investigator working out of Chicago.  The ace up is sleeve is that he’s also a wizard.  He’s a wizard who seems to be storing up more and more bad feeling between him and a lot of nasty characters – such as vampires and demons.  Death Masks is No5 in the Dresden Files so beware of potential spoilers.

In the latest instalment Harry lands himself into all sorts of trouble.  As we all know the Red Court don’t like him very much.  Neither, for that matter, do his peers on the White Council!  (Well, there are a few exceptions – thankfully).  We start off with a new job, desperately needed by our wizard PI – the Shroud (of Turin no less) has been stolen.  Interest has been sparked and it’s recovery is essential to prevent a rather dreadful prophecy from being fulfilled.  On top of that we have a dead body – sans head and hands, some rather dastardly Denarians (more about that in a moment), the return of Susan, still struggling with her semi-vampiric nature and Michael and a couple of his co-workers, i.e. two other Knights of the Cross.

Firstly, the story.  Loads going on this time around that all comes together very well at the end.  There’s the theft of the Shroud, and the investigation to find the thieves and the intended buyer.  Something is going on with the Knights of the Cross who all seem to have descended – scenting trouble somehow.  And, Harry has been given a resolution to the impending conflict between the White and the Red – a challenge to the death with one of the Red Court Warriors – Ortega, with a promise that the war will be called off if Dresden accepts the challenge.

The characters.  We literally have the good, the bad and the ugly going on this time around.  These Denarians are some bad ass critters who I don’t want to meet, ever, thank you very much.  They’re incredibly powerful, very difficult to get rid of and can shapeshift into some pretty terrible nastiness.  We have a reappearance of Susan who has become a lot more clued in during her absence.  She can look after herself now and on top of that instead of being a bit ‘yippee here’s a life threatening situation lets have some fun’ she now seems to realise that the ‘life threatening’ bit is actually quite serious!  She has a man in tow and the sparks of jealousy coming off Harry could cause some serious damage.  We have two new Knights of the Cross – a Russian guy – who actually doesn’t believe in God – and Shiro who is like some sort of Japanese master – now, I don’t know why but I just kept picturing Master Shifu out of Kung Fu Panda – yes, I know, different countries and a whole other load of stuff that makes that wrong but the picture was there anyway.  And, is this crazy, but I liked the role that Marcone had this time round – could it be possible that I’m starting to like him??  Surely not, but he had a good bit of banter going on with Harry this time round and on top of this he jumped straight into the fray when needed, even if it was a little self-serving.

On top of all that Butcher continues with his world building and the world he is imagining is becoming a very easy place to imagine. The circle of friends and acquaintances who Harry mixes with is expanded upon each time with old characters sometimes taking a bit part or sitting out the story completely but resurfacing for a later instalment.

What else can I say.  I really enjoyed it and have no hesitation in recommending this series.

 

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Just finished reading Summer Knight by Jim Butcher.  The fourth instalment in The Dresden Files series.  I don’t know how he manages to do it but these books just keep getting better and better.  This story was really entertaining.  Hells Bells – it was brilliant.  Beware of spoilers in the text below – they might be unintentional but that makes them no less annoying!

Harry hasn’t been the same since Grave Peril when Susan became infected with a taste for blood.  He’s blaming himself and to a certain extent he’s having a bit of a pity party.  He’s also on a fast track to being evicted from his home and business and having very few friends left to speak of due to his ill humour and almost reclusive habits.  On top of that it appears that everyone seems to be interested in seeing him dead.  Assassins seem to be popping out all over the place and going out even for a stroll in the park with your werewolf buddy has become a dangerous business.

However, it’s funny how just as you’re thinking that things can’t get any worse they sink ten feet lower and then they continue to all new record breaking levels of badness.  Not only is Harry about to be visited by the White Council and potentially be offered up as a sacrificial lamb, but he’s also going to make a deal with the Winter Queen of Faerie.  Making deals with the fey is never recommended, they twist and turn like a twisty turny thing, they talk in riddles, they’re mischevious at best and downright evil at worst and they take pleasure in the perverse.  They cannot tell a lie but this doesn’t mean they always speak the truth.

So things are about to get very hairy for Harry – pretty quickly.  As usual, he’s a complete sucker for a female in distress therefore not only is he working as the Winter Queen’s emissary and trying to appease the White Council but he’s also taken on a separate job for a bunch of changelings.

There’s so much going on in this novel that it’s difficult to put it down – basically because there’s never a good point to break off.  It’s hair tearing and almost maddeningly entertaining.  Harry seems to stagger, roll, fall or plain get pushed from one almost death situation to the next gathering clues like moss along the way.

In terms of characters we have the usual appearances from Bob and Murphy, Toot Toot and his mini army also come out to play and we get to meet someone in this story that we’ve only heard about previously.

I really like Harry.  He’s not perfect but he does the right thing.  He’s not a wuss.  He gets stuck in and he keeps his sense of humour in the face of terrible odds.

On top of this I love the way that Butcher is building up this whole world of other beings around Harry.  With each new instalment his world expands and we have different tie ins from previous stories.

Without a question of doubt for me each of these books has got better, I don’t see how that can continue – it seems against the odds doesn’t it?  But, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief here.

Surprisingly I don’t think I have any criticisms at all for this one.  It was downright good fun.  Thoroughly entertaining and a definite must read.

I’m really falling for this series and the good thing about this is that there’s plenty more to look forward to.

 

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher, No.3 of the Dresden Files

Just finished reading Grave Peril by Jim Butcher.  This is Butcher’s third in the series of the Dresden Files and for me was a definite improvement.  The first two books are Storm Front and Fool Moon.  I liked the first two but wasn’t as ‘wowed’ as I would like to or thought I would be.  Well, that feeling was more so probably with No.2.  But, I figured this is a series I could get in too so I continued.   If you’re planning on reading this series then be warned that the rest of the review may contain spoilers.

Grave Peril gets off to an immediate and spooky start.  Ghosts are running riot and terrorising the Town and Dresden his battling against the odds to discover what’s going on and why the world of ghosts is in such an uproar.  (I must confess that reading the start of this I couldn’t help picturing the Ghostbusters and the scene with the ghost librarian).  On top of this the vampires again enter the scene.  The Queen of the Vampires has not forgotten her grudge at Dresden and is eager to see him pay for the insult he gave her previously and perhaps an invitation to the annual vampire ball would be the perfect occasion.  On top of that there is a much more sinister entity at work, one that is stalking it’s prey carefully.  And, as if that wasn’t enough for Dresden to deal with he has to enter the world of the Nevernever where the veil between the realms is stretched thin, demons roam and his fey godmother and her hounds are baying for Dresden’s blood (or soul).

This was definitely a packed instalment.  Dresden wasn’t so much investigating anything this time round as just trying to find out why things were becoming so heated and at the same time simply trying to stay alive.  We have the usual cast.  Bob puts in an appearance as does Murphy and Susan’s relationship with Dresden seems to be going fairly strongly.  On top of that we are introduced to a number of characters from the White Court of Vampires and to top it all off a dragon makes an appearance at the Ball.  And, Dresden is lent a helping hand by Michael, a knight templar who helps Harry to defeat the baddies using his blazing sword.

Lots of the characters come under threat in this episode.  And nobody is going to escape completely unscathed.

What I like about this series is Harry.  He’s a readable character.  He likes to pretend he’s tough but really he’s a raging softie.  He’s developing much more as each book goes by as we find out more about his character and his history and in the same way his magic seems to be growing.  In fact the whole world that Harry inhabits is developing.  It’s almost like that the author was giving us a slow introduction to this strange and fantastical world – like if you had to read about all these strange creatures from the get go you just wouldn’t accept it.  It’s the frog soup recipe.  Basically we’re being slowly brought to the boil so we don’t have the sense to jump out of the pot.  I’m quite nice and cosy now so I’m staying where I am – just waiting for the carrots and herbs to be added!

I also like the dark and sinister world that is created here.  We’ve been for a visit round Nevernever now and it’s not particularly friendly. You certainly wouldn’t want to stick around or start asking for directions.  Fey and demons and probably more sinister creatures inhabit this world beyond the veil and for me it was good reading.  The sort of make believe fantasy world where anything can happen and I like that I can’t always predict it.

In terms of criticisms.  I wouldn’t say everything was quite rosy with me with this series just yet!  I’ve already made reference to the way that a formula is being followed and to be honest I would say that is still the case here, although as mentioned above this installment isn’t your typical investigative story so that’s something of a step change.  But, as in previous novels, Harry does get terribly beaten up, then beaten up some more and, yes, then beaten up again before finally having his lightbulb moment.  I know that these style of books usually do operate to a formula but I would prefer it to be mixed up a bit more.  I also wasn’t really that keen on the character of Michael – again, given the number of adversaries in this novel I think Harry needed all the help he could get – and yet somehow I couldn’t quite get along with him for some reason and it felt as though the whole ‘tone’ of Harry was diluted in some way due to the addition.  Also, that brings me to the final point which is that I did have a couple of ‘uugh’ moments.  For example, with the character Michael – he just appeared in the novel as though we knew who he was – I almost thought I was reading the wrong book in the series or had skipped ahead at first, and I actually have done that before!  I mean the book just started and it was all ‘Michael this, that and the other’ and I was thinking who is this Michael – same with the evil fey godmother – where did she suddenly pop up from without any explanation.  I don’t mind not having an explanation and I’m fairly sure even with my limited grey cells I can pick up what’s going on however it jars a little bit with the continuous repetitious explanations that you get in each novel about other aspects.  I expect there to be repeat explanations because the author wants people to be able to read the novel as a strand alone but I just don’t get why these new characters came so unintroduced. Although, now I’ve made that point I’m starting to disagree with myself so I’ll just move on…

Now in spite of the above.  I enjoyed this.  There’s plenty of action and the author doesn’t shirk away from getting a bit dark and gritty.  I feel like there’s going to be plenty more to this series and I like the fact that I’ve got so much yet to look forward to.

If you want a dark urban fantasy with all sorts of paranormal activity and a slightly unconventional won’t stick to the book magician then you’ve got plenty here to look forward.

This novel is one of my R.I.P reads for the book event taking place at Stainless Steel Droppings.  Drop in here and take a look.  There’s plenty of activity and loads of bloggers taking part so it’s never too late to join.

 

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Just finished reading Fool Moon by Jim Butcher.

Fool Moon picks up a few months after Storm Front and sees our hero Harry fallen on hard times.  The police are giving him the cold shoulder, following incidents in the last book, and work is very thin on the ground.  That is until a series of grisly murders, all taking place around the time of the full moon, begin to occur and the Special Investigations unit once again call on Harry.

Firstly, I will say that I liked this book but, for some reason, not as much as the first.  Although it won’t put me off continuing with the series because the story and the telling were good just as good.

What I really like about this series so far is Harry.  He is just so very readable.  He’s a magician, but his magic in no way takes over the whole story, in fact it is relatively little used and quite often only as a last resort, he’s witty, I like the way he tells the story and admits to all his little flaws.  He’s certainly not perfect, you could almost accuse him of being patronising to certain people, but, he means well and is genuinley a good guy and frankly a bit of a softie.  What I also like about this series is that it’s got lots going on, particularly in this installment which was action packed.  We are introduced to wolves in this story and there are a number of different varieties, and I’m talking of the supernatural kind and the theories were a different take from the norm which was refreshing.

As I said, there’s plenty of action in Fool Moon accompanied by gore and blood, lots of blood – Dexter would have been in his element! (Blood splatter patterns all over the place.)  There are also a number of different themes and gangs.  We also once again seem to end up in a situation where circumstances keep spiralling ever down from bad to worse to 20 feet below.

I suppose what detracted from this story for me would be a few things.  I felt that Murphy acted just plain weird or stupid – I could have joyfully slapped her (and yet Dresden doesn’t help by withholding information – so slap for him as well), but, nonetheless I found some of her actions a little bit hard to swallow.  I also found the layout of this story very much followed Storm Front.  Harry isn’t working, Harry gets work, Harry gets involved in all sorts of heinous situations pdq, Harry gets beaten up, Harry gets beaten up some more and then when things can’t get any worse Harry saves the day, sounds familiar but just swap the motives a little and involve a different bunch of supernatural critters, bingo.  I don’t have a problem with Harry saving the day btw it’s just that this felt very much as though a formula has been written and will be stuck to – I just hope that’s not the case (okay, I know this sort of novel is a bit like that but this one was just too in your face) and the other thing that sort of irritated me was the romance thing with Susan which feels really forced.  I’m not feeling it at all, in fact I would say there is a deal more chemistry between Harry and Murphy – perhaps that will be developed further in future editions.

On the whole, I enjoyed the book, it’s action packed and quite amusing with a decent plot but I just didn’t like it as much.  It won’t stop me reading the next as I already like Harry and it feels like a fun and indulgent read.

Rating -B

Fool Moon

Fool Moon

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Just finished reading Storm Front by Jim Butcher.  Storm Front is the first one in the Dresden Files series of books and brings to us a new type of PI.  Harry Dresden is a private investigator with a difference – he’s a wizard!  This is a paranormal detective book with wizards, demons, black magic, fey, vampires and talking skulls – and I loved it!

Okay, I admit this probably isn’t a work of art, it isn’t deep and meaningful and it’s cliched but it’s fast paced, full of tension, had a fairly good story running through and frankly pretty much grabbed me from the first page and kept me wanting to read – which is a definite plus.

In this first book we learn a little bit about Harry but I suspect that this will be built upon in future novels.  I really liked Harry – he’s one of the good guys after all.  He’s poor and not exactly flooded with work but he treats people decently, he doesn’t try to con them, he feels bad when he has to act tough and he’s not ashamed to admit to his weaknesses – creepy crawlies give him the shivers, he feels sick at the sight of a crime scene – and, my favourite, he has a love of books and an overloaded book shelf in need of some attention!  But, he does have a shadow looming over him – something in his past that has put him out of favour with the all powerful ‘White Council’ – the wizarding police if you will.

In this episode Harry’s dry period comes to an abrupt end when he is asked to look into a ‘missing persons’ mystery and then he’s called in by the police to look at a particularly nasty double murder where black magic is suspected.  Things quickly spiral out of control and Harry seems to go from one life threatening event to the next, he’s definitely caught the wrong sort of attention and he’s in a race against time to find the killer and save his own life in the process.

I enjoyed the Chicago setting with the dark and stormy settings and I thought there was enough detail to set the scene without it being overly done – which I don’t think would have sat well with this story and would have slowed it down in an unhelpful way.  I also enjoyed the introduction to a number of the supporting characters – Murphy, hard nosed cop (but her bark is worse than her bite), Bianca, the vampire, who will definitely be reappearing in future novels and is bearing a grudge – her bit of the story was quite riveting!  And, of course, we have the obligatory reporter – Susan.  There are of course plenty of others who will doubtless be in future novels – the bar McAnallys, and the obvious favourites – the pizza eating faerie – Toot Toot, and Harry’s helpful assistant Bob – who lives in a skull!

On the whole, a very enjoyable and entertaining read and I will definitely continue with the series.

Rating -A

Storm Front

Storm Front

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