Jim Butcher's Dresden Files Combined Full Series Review Plus Ghost Story Speculation (Spoilers)
I can admit it - I'm a Harry Dresden Fan
I've enjoyed the Dresden Files from the beginning. When I discovered them, the first three books (Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril) were already out. So I didn't have to wait before getting a good feel for the series. I was hooked right away, reading all 3 books in a row. Now that the 12th book is out, and a 13th scheduled for release, it seems a good time to organize my impressions and share them. If you're looking for your next good read, and you like cross-genre books with an emphasis on urban fantasy, mixed with hardboiled detectives and lots of action, this is the right place to be!
Below is a brief synopsis of each book, with a quick review. Short enough to whet your appetite, but hopefully not detailed enough to spoil your pleasure. It's much more fun to find out as you read.
---Don't expect an objective review… I love the Dresden Files. I'm giving my honest opinions, not a point-counterpoint comparison. This is a completely biased point of view :^)
Possible Spoilers: I've tried to avoid giving away too much, but the stories grow, new plot elements in one book are major recurring friends in the next; so be warned. Reading about the books before you've read them can give away things you might not want to know about.
Book 1: Storm Front
Meet Harry Dresden. Nice guy. Bit of a klutz. Great friend. Oh, and wizard. Harry lives in a dark and grim world, one where the monster under the bed is real more often than not. In a world like his, you need a friend like Harry. He's something of a powerhouse in the magic department, but that doesn't mean so much when there's always a bigger powerhouse just around the corner. Harry's main strength is that he never quits. When the chips are down and the stakes high, he'll always have your back.
As the only wizard listed in the phone book, Harry doesn't get a lot of respect. The "good guys", the very secret White Council, have placed him under the Doom of Damocles… which is kind of like having his neck in a noose, sitting on a horse, and waiting for someone to yell 'Giddyup!'
In Storm Front, Harry is hired as consultant for the office of Special Investigations when a gruesome double murder is discovered. Before long, he's implicated in the murder by his own personal White Council parole officer (Warden Morgan). Lieutenant Murphy, of the SI office, decides to arrest him for withholding evidence. The killer decides to remove a threat by killing Harry.
In an upward-spiraling tornado of adventure, mayhem, and humor, Harry must solve the murder, prove his innocence to the White Council, and regain Murphy's trust. All while trying not to get killed. It's a tough job… even for Harry Dresden: Wizard!
This book caught me completely off guard. It looks like a lightweight read of no consequence, but packs a punch like the Incredible Hulk. Harry narrates the story from his own point of view, so when he gets blindsided, so do you. The plot is intricate, the cast of characters interesting. The deft blend of action, detective, and fantasy genre provides a unique twist to the Dresden Files. Harry's do-or-die sense of honor makes him immensely likeable. Even when he's heavily outclassed, he just doesn't know how to quit. For me, Storm Front is a solid winner. Hard to put down until the last page.
Book 2: Fool Moon
Harry Dresden is back. Chicago's only publicly listed wizard is once again on the job, this time chasing after (or being chased by) werewolves. Did you know there are at least 4 types of werewolves? Not only does Bob, Harry's resident spirit-in-a-skull, explain all about them… Harry actually runs into all four kinds in the course of his adventures.
Dresden is once again helping Lieutenant Karrin Murphy of Special Investigations. As usual, he's torn between revealing too much of the supernatural world, and not enough. If life's not complicated enough, throw in a group of FBI agents with conflicting interests in the case, a biker gang who thinks they're werewolves (and may be right), and a group of teen wolves who may not survive to become adults. Something is very wrong, and it's up to Harry Dresden to set it right again!
The Dresden Files' second installment is even better than the first. Jim Butcher's writing style just gets better and better, as Harry becomes more and more… Harry. We see old friends and new. Of special note is Susan Rodriguez, a reporter looking for the supernatural. First seen in Storm Front, she maintains a presence throughout the following sequels. Gentleman Johnny Marcone is also worthy of recurring walk-on appearances. The bad guy with a code of honor is almost likeable until you remember the horrible things he does. Both characterization, and plot style, continue to improve.
Harry takes saving lives very seriously, is willing to admit he's outclassed, yet still keeps his sense of humor. Butcher manages to balance all the plot elements in a way that builds and builds. Fool Moon is, like Storm Front, a book that's hard to put down. Do yourself a favor… read Fool Moon!
Book 3: Grave Peril
It's been a year for Harry since the events of Fool Moon. Harry and his old friend (new to the series) Michael Carpenter have teamed up to fight a vengeful spirit, but that turns out to be just the beginning. The spirit has been tortured into it's actions, with a signature twist of barbed wire bound around from neck to ankle. Harry's life depends on solving the mystery, but other things keep interrupting. For instance, the vampiric Red Court has invited him to a party celebrating the ascension of Madame Bianca to Margravine. Susan Rodriguez plans to crash the party, an act that could lead to her death - or worse. The Leanansidhe, Harry's Faery godmother, is looking to 'collect' Harry. The nightmare creature Harry's hunting has eaten a huge portion of Harry's life-force. And Michael Carpenter… Harry's friend? He's also a Knight of the Cross, with a very special sword. Harry manages to lose his friends' sword. Looks like he's got his work cut out for him in this third episode of the Dresden Files!
More thrills, spills, and enchantments as Harry juggles more plot twists and turns. Jim Butcher continues to improve as a writer. Old friends return, new ones arrive. And at least one old friend that hasn't even been in the books yet! Butcher uses an innovative technique to incorporate Michael Carpenter, by creating him fully-woven into Harry's past while introducing us to him for the first time. We also meet Thomas Raith, another important ongoing character. There are more details about vampires, breaking them into White, Black, and Red Court.
We also learn about the Nevernever, world of spirit and faerie, and about Harry's complicated past with the Leanansidhe.
All these plot elements (and more) are effortlessly integrated into a unified whole that keeps you wondering… "What Next?" Dark, convoluted, entertaining, this book really delivers!
Book 4: Summer Knight
Now two years since the events of Storm Front, Harry is coping poorly with the loss of Susan (first seen in Storm Front). Depressed, obsessed, everything is coming apart. How can it get any worse? Easy - Queen Mab appears, demanding 3 favors, one now, the others in the future. The first is to solve a murder and recover a stolen object. The Summer Knight has been killed, and Harry has to figure it out. In the meantime, his first love Elaine shows up on behalf of the Faery Summer Court. Harry's first impulse is to decline Mab's request. But if he refuses, his own White Council plans to give him to the vampires as a peace offering! What else can Harry do but accept the assignment? Once again, It's up to Harry Dresden to save the day!
As always, I enjoyed this book from cover to cover. Fast, compulsive read. If nothing else, Harry's problems highlight the fact that having all that power doesn't make life easier. His life is never so complicated that he can't find a better way to screw it up. Still, he's never afraid to do the right thing. I admire Harry. He makes the best decision he can, often under immense pressure, and then deals with the consequences. Harry may grumble, but he's a stand-up kind of guy.
As an aside, here we meet one of my favorite characters, Toot-Toot the dewdrop fairy. He and his other wyldfae pledge Harry their allegiance. In turn, he is their Pizza Lord. Something so patently silly just shouldn't work, yet Jim Butcher not only makes it work, he has me laughing out loud at Toot-Toot and his troop. But with respect and affection. Jim, my hat's off to you!
Book 5: Death Masks
It's 8 months after Summer Knight. Harry is invited to do a talk show, where he discovers every other guest on the show is there for him. There's his pal, Mort, who want to pass on information. Father Vincent, who needs Harry's help recovering a stolen artifact. And Professor Ortega, who happens to be a Red Court vampire duke. All HE wants is a duel to the death. If Harry wins, Chicago gets neutral status. If he loses, the vampires will strive for a peaceful end to the war. If he refuses to fight? Then all his friends, clients, anybody who ever meant anything to Harry, are all targeted for death.
While all this is keeping Harry's attention, Murphy shows him a mysterious corpse in the morgue. Cause of death? Every disease know to man. Now Harry has to make sure the most virulent plague in the history of forever isn't given the chance to destroy humanity. With the help of Susan Rodriguez, who has returned to put her affairs in order, Harry figures he just might stand a chance this time… Until the Denarians, a group of Fallen Angels merged with humans, show up. That's our Harry- always at his best when he's outgunned, outnumbered, and out of control!
Harry Dresden just keeps on coming up Aces. With every new book, I wonder if Jim Butcher can continue his winning streak. And every time, the answer is a fast and furious YES! I enjoy every complicated twisty intricate element. Not to say I always like what happens, but everything happens for a reason, the pace is maintained at a frenetic rate, and there's never a dull moment. I will take a moment to mention, the scene between Harry and Susan surprised me a bit. It seemed out of character for the series as a whole to go into that much detail during one of Harrys' more 'romantic' moments. But, nothing happens without a reason. Eventually, everything becomes clear. Have to give Butcher credit- he's got a habit of taking several books to wrap up some plot threads, while others are resolved right away. There's obviously a lot of planning going on, making for stories with great depth, and excellent continuity.
Book 6: Blood Rites
About a year after the events in Death Mask. It starts innocently enough. Harry and Thomas rescue a few puppies, though one goes astray and winds up staying with Harry. But with Harry, nothing ever stays simple. Soon, he's working on the set of an adult movie production, trying to stop a recurring curse from killing. There's a group of vampires out to get him. And high-level hijinks in the vampiric White Court. Any one of which could get Harry killed, but all of them together just might manage the job. As if that's not enough, Harry discovers a brother he didn't know he had, and someone he trusts turns out to be the White Councils lawless assassin. Some days it just doesn't pay to get up!
Character development. Continuity. Story depth. All the hallmarks of Jim Butcher, who has himself grown into a master storyteller. By now, I expect no less from every Dresden Files book I pick up. Not to mention, each book is an intense excursion into a world that completely pulls me in. When I read Harry Dresden, I forget where I am, and don't notice what happens around me. Butcher tells a dynamic story that constantly grows, and events in his universe have ramifications far beyond a single book.
I know I've been a bit like the 'Jim Butcher Cheerleader Club.' So I'm going to tell you something bad about Harry Dresden. He has a tendency to whine. At least, that's what my wife calls it, and it detracts from the story for her. For me, I just don't see it being such a big issue. Where she sees whining, to me, it's a natural explanation of how serious the situation is, so when it gets resolved, you can appreciate how hard it was to defeat. If you have a low tolerance for the appearance of whining, that might be an issue. It's your call.
Book 7: Dead Beat
Now it's a year after the events in Blood Rites. Mavra, an enemy Harry thought dead, has returned and wants revenge. Harry has to bring her a book, or she publishes a photo of Lieutenant Murphy shooting one of her minions, who, of course, looks like an ordinary person in the photo. But she doesn't have light reading in mind. The book will give her access to godlike powers. She's only one of several necromancers who want the book, all of whom will gladly kill Harry to get it. And one of them has a personal score to settle.
The White Council is after Harry again… only this time they want him to be a Warden! And just for bonus effort, Harry's ticked off the Erlking, who happens to be the Master of the Hunt -- and he's looking for something to hunt.
At least Mouse is on his side… Will it be enough?
Book 7 of the Dresden Files continues to be a great read like it's predecessors. Lots of new ideas and characters introduced, plus the return of some old ones. Mouse has become another favorite of mine. Harry's 30-pound cat, Mister, is cool, but Mouse is both cool, and useful. If you're wondering, Mouse is the Tibetan Temple dog Harry rescued, grown into an astonishingly large and intelligent guardian for Harry. The plot twists continue to be creative and compelling. Dead Beat also has one of the best scenes ever for images that stay in your head. All I'm going to say is "Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex." Read the book. See for yourself.
Book 8: Proven Guilty
In the old days, the White Council wanted Harry dead. Then they wanted him as a Warden. Now, they want to hire him. Harry's not sure if that's an improvement or not. Either way, his case is interrupted when Michael Carpenter's daughter Molly asks him to bail out her boyfriend. Ultimately, this leads to a theater at the "Splattercon" where movie monsters are taking on a life of their own, while relieving the movie-goers of their own lives. From this point on, chaos ensues. Let's see, White Council? Check. Movie Monsters? Check. Solving the Carpenter's family issues? Check. For bonus points, get caught in the middle of a power struggle in the Faery realm. Can even Harry Dresden cope with all of this? Follow along and see, in Proven Guilty!
The stakes are personal this time, as Harry fights to save Molly from the White Council, the bad guys, and even from herself. As usual, he's got a lot on his plate, and not enough time. It's always fun to see Bob again, and Mouse. I love the concept of having the shadow of a Fallen Angel trapped in Harry's mind. It's not just the great story with surprising twists. It's all the little details, the way everything gets blended together. Harry doesn't just save the world, he helps his friends. As always, the Dresden Files just keeps getting better.
Book 9: White Night
Someone - or some thing - is killing off the low-powered magic practitioners in Chicago. Investigating an apparent suicide, Harry learns that it was murder, with a message left deliberately for him, a reference to biblical scripture quoting "Suffer not a witch to live." To complicate matters, Harry's brother Thomas is implicated. Even worse, Harry is framed for the murders, causing the very people he's protecting to be afraid of him. Harry's past comes back to haunt him, including one of the most powerful wizards Harry's ever fought returned from the dead. To survive, he must ally with friends, enemies, and ex-lovers as a rampaging whirlwind of action and magic threaten to destroy all that Harry holds dear… including civilization as we know it!
Butcher thrives on complexity, especially in White Night. I have no idea how he keeps his continuity so accurate from book to book. Even with charts and timelines, it would soon outgrow my ability to track it all. But Jim Butcher spins his yarn with a master's touch. Tangling the threads beyond recovery, then sweeping it all up with a gesture and… it's all neat and orderly. Like magic. How he does it is beyond me, but the end product is a book that's hard to put down. Constantly escalating the threat, always keeping me guessing. The sense of humor is always razor sharp, the action always on the edge, and I keep wondering… "How will he survive THIS time?" The final battle was just amazing. Harry makes use of the darndest things to cobble together the strangest contraptions, but it always makes sense. Surprises, sacrifices, even a little growing up. I wouldn't want to live in Harry's world, but it's a great place to visit!
Book 10: Small Favor
Remember the Billy Goats Gruff? They're real, they're here, and they're hunting Harry. Mab, on the other hand, insists he perform his 2nd of 3 favors, and orders him to protect Marcone, or die. This might be difficult, since Marcone has been kidnapped by the Denarians, who perform a follow-up act by kidnapping the Archive. Now Harry has to rescue Marcone, keep the Archivist from becoming one of the Denarians, all while avoiding the Gruffs… who seem to be able to track him wherever he goes. Can things get any worse? With Harry… of course they can!
As entertaining as ever, Small Favor really shines with the trademark Harry Dresden humor. I loved his interaction with the Gruffs, especially the final confrontation with the eldest Gruff. Jim Butcher has a world class imagination, and he really gives it a workout in this episode. Gruffs aside, this struck me as one of Harry's grimmest stories. There's a lot of pure evil in the world, and the Denarians are right at the top of the heap. Harry takes some pretty big risks to deal with them, which could have had truly bad consequences… and in some ways, did. While I could wish for a happily ever after kind of ending, it's just not believable. Harry does the best he can, and if the results are a mixed bag, at least things are better because he tried.
As usual, a compelling read. The danger in picking up any book from the Dresden Files is that you can't put it down until you've finished.
Book 11: Turn Coat
It's been over a year since the events of Small Favor; Without warning, Harry Dresden's bitterest enemy within the White Council turns up at Harry's door. Warden Morgan asks Harry for protection from the council, then passes out. Anybody else would turn Morgan in as payback for the pain he's caused Harry, but Harry can't do that. He protects Morgan, who is accused of murdering a Senior Wizard. Now, he either proves Morgan's innocence, or dies with him by order of the Council. But the Council's not the only ones seeking Morgan. An ancient, semi-divine Native American Spirit is on the hunt, and of course, the vampiric White Court is also involved. With at least one traitor hidden in the ranks of the White Council, Harry has to move fast and think faster to survive all the forces arrayed against him.
Lots of details here; for instance, if Harry gets executed for protecting Morgan, then Molly does too, since they're linked by the Sword of Damocles edict. And Harry's relationship with the Alpha werewolf pack matures when they suffer because he withheld information. In some ways, Dresden is like a father who has to let go as the kids grow up.
One of the elements I most enjoyed was revisiting the mysterious island in Lake Michigan. It piqued my interest in Small Favor, and continues to hold my attention. Foreshadows of familiarity give Harry an ongoing case of déjà vu. The island is a major factor in Turn Coat, in a way that is very cool. I seriously hope Jim Butcher keeps the island as an active player in the Dresden books. I want to know more.
Lots of action and excitement, and you'll get plenty of Harry's trademark humor. I keep saying it, and it's still true again… The Dresden Files just keep getting better, book by book.
Book 12: Changes
Susan Rodriguez is back, and with a life-changing secret… Harry is a father, and their eight-year-old daughter Maggie has been kidnapped by vampires. With three days to save her, against the worst odds he's ever faced, Harry must move heaven and hell. In the past, he's saved friends, strangers, loved ones, even all of humanity. But nothing he's ever done can prepare him for this time… because this time, it's for his daughter… and the only way to save her is to give up all he holds dear. It's time to make some "Changes."
Wow. Butcher pulls out every stop possible. Talk about Changes; possibly the most understated book title in the history of… titles. Everything in Harry's life changes, and seriously - nothing will be the same by the end. Shock after shock, it became obvious pretty early that Butcher is ramping up to take the Dresden Files in a different direction. Harry's been cast adrift from every anchor he had, leaving him free to be totally reinvented. Though some of the changes he makes are in a very dark direction, I can certainly empathize with his motivations.
(Spoiler Note... Boy, can Queen Mab
hold a grudge… and keep a promise! She made a promise to Harry in Summer Knight, and here in book 12, she's still keeping it. Glad she's not mad at me!
Ghost Story (Unreleased)
Book 13: Ghost Story (Unreleased yet)
Scheduled for release March 29, 2011.
Warning - Potentials Spoilers throughout this section!
(Information below came from Wikipedia)
According to Jim Butcher's Twitter page, Ghost Story takes place immediately after the ending of Changes, with little or no gap in the story.
The following quote is from Wikipedia, who claim it came from the Amazon.com German website. I clicked on their link, and could not find any such quote. Make of it what you will:
"Harry Dresden forgot his own golden rule: magic - it can get a guy killed. Which didn't help when he clashed with unknown assailants intent on his murder. And though Harry's continued existence is now in some doubt, this doesn't mean Chicago's resident professional wizard can rest in peace. Trapped in a realm that is not quite here, yet not quite anywhere else, Harry learns that three of his loved ones are in mortal danger. Only by discovering his assailant's identity can he save his friends, bring criminal elements to justice, and move on before he becomes trapped in his own unending nightmare. It would just be easier if he knew which friends were at risk. And had a (working) crystal ball. And had access to his magic. Instead, he is unable to interact with the physical world - invisible and inaudible to all but the most specialised of magical talents. He's also far from the only silent presence roaming Chicago's alleys. Heck, he put some of them there himself. Only now, they're looking for payback."
Changes is currently the most recent book published in the series, though there are definitely more to be written. Butcher has planned at least 7 more, with the possibility of a grand finale trilogy. At this point, NOBODY knows what's going to happen next, except for Jim Butcher, and those few he shares with. So it's no spoiler to make my best guess… I think he's going to pull a Gandalf. When Gandalf fights the Balrog, he's Gandalf the Grey. But when he comes back, he's the new, improved, much more powerful Gandalf the White. In the Dresden Files, Harry keeps facing harder tasks and more difficult threats. I see this current plot arc as a means of raising Harry's abilities to a new level. Time will tell, but I'd love to hear your ideas as well. Drop me a comment if you'd like.
Kind of hard to do a
review yet, but Harry's never
disappointed me. I can't imagine how
this will play out, but I'm sure it'll be interesting!
The Dresden Files TV Series Trailer 2
Dresden Files TV Show on DVD
Extra Dresden Files Goodies:
Other Harry Dresden books and media:
Side Jobs - a collection of Dresden short stories. Due in 2010.
Of particular note in this collection is the story "Aftermath." Narrated by Karrin Murphy, it takes place 45 minutes after the end of Changes. This story is new, and exclusive to the Side Jobs anthology. All the others stories have been printed elsewhere previously.
Included in the collection will be "Backup", previously published as a stand-alone (though very short) novel, in which Harry's half-brother Thomas narrates the story.
While the Dresden Files novels get the most attention, Harry's been transported to just about every media available. He's been immortalized in Comics, graphic novels, games, and a tv series starring Paul Blackthorne (which is currently available as a dvd set).
Dresden Files TV Series Trailer
The Harry Dresden books are a blast to read. There are a small number of series that I will pick up and re-read every year or two… The Dresden Files is such a series. The continuity from book to book is exceptional, character growth for all involved is detailed and well-rounded. From start to last, fun and thoroughly exciting. While each book has a main and several sub-plots that get wrapped up by the end, Butcher excels at tracking small details of plot and character from book to book. This makes for great first-to-last reading. But it means picking up in the middle of the series would be pretty tough due to so many plot threads ongoing from previous books. It would still be a fun read, but you'd miss a lot of depth and nuance.
I give The Dresden Files my highest recommendation. It especially shines as a series. You'll get the most enjoyment by starting with Storm Front, and reading them in sequence. I've tried to keep this series overview brief. For more detail on any one book, click the Amazon link associated with it. You'll find many great reviews there!