So there’s this popular fantasy series about a “wizard detective” called Harry Dresden. I’d never read any of the books before; I don’t particularly care for “urban fantasy” — i.e., fantasy set in the more or less modern world. While I might have loved it when I was younger (and some of the fantasy I read in my teens and twenties had elements of what is now a fixed subgenre, namely magical things happening in the “real” world), now it strikes me as a subgenre suited for children and adults who never grew out of the childish desire to have magical things happen while never having to leave the comfort and safety of their bedrooms. You know, like wanting a tame dragon to be your pet, or a handsome rich vampire to marry you and settle down with you in a nicer neighborhood in your home town. But anyway, I was given the chance to read one of the books of this series, called Changes. I’m a couple chapters in, and frankly already I’m bored.
I’m also pissed off. Jim Butcher is an American dude, you can tell by the way the only thing his protagonist seems to care about is the fact that his ex-girlfriend didn’t tell him he had a daughter until said daughter was kidnapped by some of his enemies. Oh yes, the plot: Harry the Wizard gets a phone call (because despite the effects of his wizardly powers on computers, somehow he can get phone calls without the things fritzing — oh yes he talks about “receivers” and “the hook” but those old-fashioned things had electrical parts and computer bits in them since the 70s, and this story is not set in the 70s). Anyway he gets a phone call from his ex, who left him for Tragic Reasons (tl;dr: she was half-vamped by an enemy of his, and she’s okay only as long as she doesn’t drink any more blood, so she ran away south of the border so as not to be tempted to drink her boyfriend’s blood, and also to become a vampire fighter), and she tells him they had a daughter and the daughter’s been kidnapped by his vampire enemies. Anyway, you can tell that Butcher is an American male because he has his hero spend precious thinky time moaning about how awful it is he was never told about this daughter, even though as his ex has to point out (because hurt male ego and reason can’t share space in Harry’s head) they are both involved in dangerous evil-creature fighting which leaves no time to take care of a kid, so she had the kid fostered by a “normal” family. I will point out I can understand his ire but the question of just what can two vampire fighters with dangerous enemies do with a kid is left sort of hanging. I mean even if they retired until the child was grown, they’d always have to be in hiding… I dunno.
This fucking thing is longer than the Silmarillion so I’m just going put the rest under a more tag. You have been warned:
So Harry is bummed out, not about his daughter being kidnapped but about the sudden information that he has a daughter. Okay look. You get a call from your ex-girlfriend and she informs you that 1) you and she had a child she never told you about, and 2) said child has been kidnapped. What of those two things would you be worried most about? If it’s “what do you mean I have a kid” please take off your human suit and crawl back under the rock you slithered out from. A human would be of course freaked out about sudden unexpected child but that worry should be swamped by the fact that she’s been kidnapped. This is Harry’s reaction to the news:
“I . . .” I paused, trying to get my head around the concept. “I . . . I might have a child.” (Ed. — he’s talking to his dog.)
Mouse made an uncertain, high-pitched noise.
“Yeah. How do you think I feel?” I stared at the far wall. Then I stood up and reached for my coat. “I . . . think I need a drink,” I said. I nodded, focusing on nothing. “Yeah. Something like this . . . yeah.”
Now what Susan said was actually this:
“They’ve taken our daughter.”
That’s in the first sentence of the book. And Harry does not so much as acknowledge he heard her say anything before the words “our daughter.” Let me remind you this is a wizard detective warrior for the forces of good who has lots of enemies and the implication is those enemies have taken his daughter. And he’s acting like a mundane suburban dude being hit up for child support.
So he goes to his favorite bar, which for some reason he seems to actually notice for the first time has things arranged in sets of thirteen:
There are thirteen wooden pillars irregularly spaced around the room, holding up the roof. They’re all carved with scenes of Old World fairy tales, some of them amusing, more of them sinister. There are thirteen ceiling fans spinning lazily throughout the place, and the irregularly shaped, polished wooden bar has thirteen stools. There are thirteen tables in the room, placed in no specific pattern.
“There’re a lot of thirteens in here,” I said to myself.
Jim Butcher has no idea how to world-build. This nonsense has no bearing — none — on the scene to follow, and I’m betting it never does in the whole rest of the book. But the book is peppered with this sort of useless descriptive stuff, a clunky way of trying to set the scene that is just inserted at random, which means we have no idea where we are or what is going on because the setting is never tied to the action. The characters might be paper dolls in a series of cardboard dioramas.
By the way, this is how he first describes the place: “Mac’s place looks like Cheers after a mild apocalypse.” Swiftly becoming obsolete cultural reference to a tv show is swiftly becoming obsolete. Does anyone younger than thirty-five even know what Cheers was? I can hardly remember it, and I used to watch the show.
“Mac” is the standard cliché Wise Bartender. This is how Butcher has Harry describe him:
Mac is a man of medium height and medium build, with thick, bony wrists and a shining smooth pate that never shows signs of growing in. He could be anywhere between thirty and fifty and, as always, he was wearing a spotless white apron.
That “medium height and medium build” makes me want to roast Jim Butcher over a fire made from a pile of his own books. Also, “a… pate that never showed signs of growing in”? What the hell does that mean? If he already has “a pate” how will it need to “grow in”? Obviously what this sentence needs is something like “any hair” placed between “signs of” and “growing in,” because nothing else makes sense. But why should I have to fix Butcher’s typos for him?
Anyway, he grouses to Mac all about the kid, and Mac intones some prophetic your-life-is-on-the-verge-of-important-change garbage to let us know that Harry is the Most Important Person In The World and also to clunk us over the head with the title of the book in case we have forgotten what we were reading.
After this interval, Harry goes back to his apartment to wait for his ex-lady-love. I’d like to take a moment to make a comparison of this beginning to another book that had what many people consider a way-too-long, way-too-slow beginning segment: Lord of the Rings. (I am leaving aside any discussion of racism/sexism that both authors have in common in their own way for now. This is about pacing.) Everyone knows that the buildup to the crisis in LOTR’s first chapters takes basically forever compared to modern-day stories. We get a long chapter devoted to a birthday party and those cute hobbits in the bucolic Shire, with the only disturbing note Bilbo’s reaction to giving away his Ring, which is seemingly resolved but establishes the underlying theme of peace and contentment being only temporary, fragile states. Then another long chapter where years pass and Frodo grows into adulthood (actually middle age) and establishes himself at Bag End. There are a few hardly-noticeable mentions of “odd things” that are actually foreshadowing the troubled times to come, and though the Ring is hardly mentioned its presence is felt. Then things move a tiny bit forward when Gandalf visits Frodo and they settle down for a long conversation about Middle-Earth history and what Gandalf has found out about the Ring. Finally the central figures in the story start physically moving when they decide Frodo has to leave the Shire. This results in another long sequence devoted to Frodo and pals walking across the Shire which gradually evolves from a peaceful trip to one where they realize they’re being chased by evil creatures.
Ursula K. LeGuin has described the over all pacing of LOTR as being like a “rocking horse” — a series of urgent action scenes interspersed with restful ones — and that throws most people off these days because the trend in adventure-type fiction is to start the action right away and keep ratcheting the urgency up to a higher and higher level until the climax and fall-off. Scenes of sitting around chatting and tea-drinking while characters info-dump at each other have no place in modern action fiction. But that’s exactly what Changes, in its first chapters, is doing, and even though they are much shorter chapters, you feel like they go on forever. Long, slow openings are for one thing: establishing an atmosphere and getting you to really know the characters, so you’ll care about them even if they’re sitting around chatting. I don’t care about Harry or Susan or anyone in this book.
Also, long, slow openings only work if the trouble in your story is something that is far away in the beginning. In LOTR at first, no one is really sure what Frodo’s ring is, Mordor is far away, Sauron’s activities have been likewise relatively low-key, and the main characters live in an isolated community in the back-of-beyond where nothing exciting has ever happened in years. By contrast, the setting in Changes is right in the thick of things: a big city (I think it’s Chicago) full of evil vampires. Harry does not live a peaceful life; he’s been actively involved in fighting the evil vampires and even his apartment has been attacked. There are no ominous hints that faraway trouble is coming nearer: the story begins on a crisis of a child being kidnapped by vampires. Having the character maunder around while he waits several hours for his ex-girlfriend to appear, then have them sit down and have a drink and a long discussion, under these circumstances, is as if Gandalf had sent a note to Frodo telling him “Sam’s been snatched by the Nazgul!” then five weeks later appeared and they sat down in Bag End over a pot of tea to chat about it.
Here is how things should have gone: Susan should not have called him from Guatemala or wherever the hell she was (Butcher doesn’t care, why should I), she should have appeared on Harry’s doorstep with the news that they have a daughter, and that daughter has been kidnapped. Then they should start moving right away into the action. Any exposition we need (and really, this is a series, readers shouldn’t need much) can be done along the way, like maybe in the car ride. Also this would have the added bonus of not giving Harry too much time to wallow in his sadfeels, because there’s a kid being held by evil vampires YOUR FEELINGS ON ANYTHING DON’T MATTER, HARRY.
By the way, Butcher thinks this is how you have a hero talk to the mother of his kidnapped child:
“For now,” I said slowly, “we’re going to forget about your decision to edit me out of her life. Because chewing over it won’t help her right now, and because her best chance is for us to work together. Agreed?”
I spoke the next words through my teeth. “But I haven’t forgotten. Will never forget it. There will be a reckoning on that account later. Do you understand?”
Oh man. Whatcha gonna do, tough guy, cry moar? Beat up the mother of your child? Yeah it’s all about YOU fuck you.
They finally get moving out of Harry’s apartment, but it’s only into a car driven by Susan’s partner (in fighting vampires only apparently). We get more of Harry’s self-pity, this time aimed at Martin, the partner. Martin is clearly a better man than Harry: more ruthlessly dedicated to destroying the evil vampires. He even had the nerve to “use” Harry to get the White Council (the “good” guys, of course, because all things with “white” in their name oh hi fantastic racism) to stand up to the Red Council (the bad vampires, natch; I’m just glad they didn’t call them the “Black Council”) at some point previous to this story.* I mean, using our hero, who is a Wizard Detective with Feelings! I’ll bet Martin gets brutally killed real soon. They go to Harry’s office building and inform him in a bit of forced and obvious irony that the bad Red Council actually owns it and thus he’s paying rent to his enemies, har har har. Harry can’t go in because his wizard shtick melts computers and you’d think he’d be used to this by now and take it like it was standard operating procedure but this is Harry, he is a special boy, so he sulks at being “left behind.”
While sulking in the car (and still emoing over not being told about HIS CHILD) Harry gets a cold tingly bad feeling and goes into a long boring exposition of how he can put a “veil” around himself to hide himself from supernatural baddies and how he didn’t use to be able to because Reasons and then for some reason mentions he has an apprentice named Molly who has not appeared at all in the story in any shape or form yet so I don’t know if this is bad foreshadowing or more of the needless infodumping this book is riddled with because Butcher thinks the way you write well-rounded characters is to have them tell you every single trivial thing about their lives no matter how unrelated to the action. Then there are some icky spiderlike vampires all over the place boring action scene blah blah blah borecakes.
Oh I forgot this gem of a scene in the car before this:
I eyed the man and said, “You went blond. It makes you look sort of gay.”
Martin shrugged, completely unperturbed. “My last assignment was on a cruise ship catering to that particular lifestyle.”
I scowled and glanced at Susan.
She nodded. “It was.”
I don’t even know what this is supposed to establish: that Martin is gay, or that Butcher is “okay” with the idea of homosexuality (this is how a lot of American writers do that — they shoehorn in some out of place jokey reference and then act like they’ve made some great concession). Whatever, it’s just stupid.
So magically veiled Harry heads towards the office building with his “blasting rod” (don’t you dare call it a “magic wand”) at his side, all the while informing us about his RAWR SCARY RAEG that can destroy buildings and shit. Here is a passage from Harry’s head:
The man once wrote: Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger. Tolkien had that one mostly right.
Ha ha ha oh fuck off.
I stepped forward, let the door bang closed, and snarled, “Fuck subtle.”
The gurgle-hissing from around the corner ahead stopped at a confused intersection of speech that needed no translation: Huh?
I lifted the blasting rod, aimed it at the corner ahead of me, and poured my rage, my will, and my power into it as I snarled, “Fuego!”
God that was so shit and boring. (Also, “fuego“? The magical language of magic is Spanish? How… totally not appropriative or anything.) Anyway he kills some ugly vampires (they’re not pretty and sexy, that’s just a mask, arite? Don’t you forget it, Buffy fans!) Martin and Susan appear, kill more vamps, I want to die of boredom. Does the fun ever start?
Oh by the way, the vampires are terrified of Harry. Like, terrified! Here:
It was maybe six feet tall when standing, though its arms were scrawny and long enough to drag the backs of its claw-tipped hands along the ground. Its skin was rubbery and black, spotted here and there with unhealthy-looking bits of pink, and its belly hung down in flabby grotesquerie. It was bandy-legged and hunchbacked, and its face was somewhere between that of a vampire bat and something from H. R. Giger’s hallucinations.
It saw me round the corner, and its goggling black eyes seemed to get even larger. It let out a scream of . . .
It screamed in fear.
Then his office building blows up (I guess one of the big “Changes” is he has to find a new office). The next chapter opens thusly:
We got a cab. We got out of the area before the cops had cordoned off a perimeter. It wasn’t all that hard. Chicago has a first-rate police department, but nobody can establish that big a cordon around a large area with a lot of people in the dead of night quickly or easily. They’d have to call and get people out of bed and onto the job, and pure confusion would slow everything down.
More stuff we don’t need to know. We don’t need to know about Chicago’s “first rate” police department (riiiight… oh well this is fantasy), we don’t need to know that they have to wake people up at night (er, don’t big city police departments operate 24/7, okay fantasy but WORLDBUILDING HERE SUCKS OKAY?), we don’t even need to know they got a cab. It is meaningless drivel and shit to up the word count.
Then there is some more emo as Harry has GUILTY FEELS over the fact that there might be dead people BECAUSE HIS OFFICE was in the building. Um, there might be dead people because EVIL VAMPIRES SET BOMBS IN THE BUILDING. Guilt is normal, maybe, since Harry is the big vampire enemy, but it’s clearly being used to establish Harry’s “compassion” and that he’s an upstanding dude who cares, man. Pffft.
Oh here’s this thing:
[...]The cabbie, who looked like he was vaguely Middle Eastern in extraction, looked unhappy.
I felt that.
We stopped at my apartment. Martin had already paid him too much for the ride, but I duked him another twenty on top of that and gave him a serious look. “Your name is Ahmahd?”
It was right there on his cabbie license. He nodded hesitantly.
“You have a family, Ahmahd?”
He just stared at me.
I touched my finger to my lips in a hushing gesture. “You never saw me. Okay?”
He grimaced, but dipped his head in a nod.
What the hell. What. The. Hell.
Harry has a cop buddy, “Murphy,” who is described this way:
A woman a little more than five feet tall stood at my door, her face weary and completely free of makeup. Her hair was golden blond, but hanging all over her face and badly in need of attention from a brush and maybe a curling iron. Or at least a scrunchie. She was wearing sweat-pants and an old and roomy T-shirt, and her shoulders were hunched up in rigid tension.
She was all concerned that he’d been blowed up, see, so she didn’t even brush her hair! Anyway, he tells her all about Susan and the kid. Have some misogyny:
“Jesus and Mary, Mother of God,” she breathed. “Harry.”
“That . . . that bitch.”
I shook my head. “Pointing fingers does nothing for Maggie. We’ll do that later.”
Women as cheerleaders for men and enemies to each other has been established. Moving right along, Murphy promises to help him get HIS kid back. Yay.
Next chapter, Harry tries to sleep, tells us he has a Mickey Mouse alarm clock (we’re supposed to think that’s cute and quirky, not bizarrely childlike) and gets up to find his assistant making him breakfast.
This would be Molly. Here is how he describes her:
She wore a simple outfit—jeans and a black T-shirt that read, in very small white letters, IF YOU CAN READ THIS, YOU’D BETTER HAVE BOUGHT ME DINNER. Her golden hair was longer—she’d been letting it grow—and hung down to her shoulder blades in back. She’d colored it near the tips with green that darkened to blue as it went down.
I’m not sure if Molly was “bangin’,” or “slammin’,” or “hawt,” since the cultural catchphrase cycles every couple of minutes. But if you picked a word meant to be a term of praise and adoration for the beauty of a young woman, it was probably applicable. For me, the effect was somewhat spoiled, because I’d known her since she was a skinny kid somewhere between the ages of training wheels and training bra, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t have an academic appreciation for her looks. When she paid any attention, men fell all over her.
Harry is not gay, see? Also, that thing of “I’ve known her since she was a kid my how she’s grown” isn’t creepy at all. Ugh.
More words words words words, we get to know what he has for breakfast, I don’t care. I’m actually going to try to speed this up because it’s boring me. He and Molly go by magickal spirit world to Edinburgh and Harry makes a crass joke about buggery. They find out Harry’s big enemy “Duchess Ariana Ortega” from the Red Council is there to “make peace.” (Why is she Spanish? Do I want to know?) Harry is all RAWR RAEG. He calms down and goes into the big council where the evil woman is. Here she is:
She was gorgeous. I don’t mean “cutest girl at the club” gorgeous. I mean that she looked like a literal goddess. The details almost didn’t matter. Tall. Dark hair. Skin like milk, like polished ivory. Eyes as blue as the twilight sky. She wore a gown of red silk, with a neckline that plunged gorgeously. Jewels touched her throat, her ears. Her hair was piled up on her head, occasional loose ringlets falling out. Hers was a beauty so pure that it was nearly painful to behold—Athena heading out on a Friday night.
It took me a good five or six seconds of staring to realize that there was something beneath that beauty that I did not like at all. Her loveliness itself, I realized, was a weapon—such creatures as she had driven men literally insane with desire and obsession. More to the point, I knew that her beauty was only skin-deep. I knew what lurked beneath.
Beautiful, ambitious women are evil: got it.
Blah blah White Council won’t listen to Harry, he stomps off a Man Alone Against The World. There’s another woman friend of Harry’s and they go down to a bar and there is more boring talk. I’m so bored. Harry gets to call Duchess Ariana a “prehistoric bitch” thank you we hadn’t had any misogyny for a few sentences or so. There is more talking talking talking talking talking my God does the talking never end and a male wizard comes in and it gets through Harry’s thick head that they aren’t all about appeasing the pretty evil vampiress and I don’t care.
I’m going to skim. The male wizard tells Harry & Co. they plan to “exterminate” the Red Council. Well those guys are an established Evil Race of Evil so who cares about genocide, amirite? Chapter 9, Harry heads home via magic, all the while expounding boringly on how wizards can’t use planes because Hogwarts I mean J.K. Rowling made so much money I mean oh never mind. He gets home and Susan and Martin are there and Molly and Susan have a “Harry is mine no Harry is mine” face-off (unstated). We learn that the evil vampire duchess is from Mexico. Damn evil Mexicans. Skim skim skim skim past the talk talk talk. At some point Harry tells us “Molly wasn’t much in a fight” (sometime before he said something about her not being “one for combat” but I don’t want to go back and reread it) just to make sure we know that she is a Girl Under His Protection. Bet she gets killed so he can display Manpain.
He goes into his “lab” and does some magic shit. He has a skull named “Bob” who says things. The skull tells him the Evil Race of Evil people are going to do a human sacrifice. Guess of who!
Skim skim skim skimmmmm….
Here is a sentence: “The freaking Council never does anything quickly, and I had a bad feeling that tempus was fugiting furiously.” Speaking Latin badly is no way to go through life, son.
Something FBI after him to arrest him something he and skull Bob go to a magical place to escape and almost get eaten by a giant centipede something. Unfortunately he survives. A couple of chapters where he gets arrested talk talk talk then gets released or something and back at his apartment there is a Sidhe:
She was tall and beyond beautiful—like most of the Sidhe are. Her skin was fair and flawless, her eyes enormous, slightly oblique orbs of emerald green. In fact, they almost mirrored Mister’s eyes as he sat primly in the Sidhe woman’s lap. Her lips were full and very red, and her long red hair, accented with streaks of pure white, spilled down in silken coils and waves over her dress of emerald green.
When she saw me she smiled, widely, and it revealed neatly pointed canine teeth, both dainty and predatory.
Yeah, it’s another beautiful woman come to help Harry, the Most Interesting Man In The World.
Let’s just keep going: Chapter 15 is a long convo with the Sidhe where we get infodumped on thus: “’Protection?’ I demanded. ‘You spent most of a couple of decades trying to turn me into a dog!’” Anyway, she’s magicked Susan and Martin’s “predator spirits” to sleep so they’re passed out. Harry wants to know how she did it. She tells him she’s not giving him something for nothing. You know what this bores me. Let’s move on.
Martin has had enough of Harry’s shit and tells him to shut up with the me-pain. I bet Martin gets torn limb from limb.
This stuff is so long. They’re gonna go to Mexico because of course that’s where the evil ritual of human sacrifice is going to be held. I skipped over a bunch of stuff where we meet Harry’s landlady for no reason and he gets a “if you get this I’m probably dead” letter from his lady wizard pal that doesn’t really tell him anything we didn’t already know or suspect. Harry tries to call a bunch of people for help, which is actually just more stuff to establish Harry is a Man Alone Against All Odds because of course they won’t. Then for some reason he goes to Oslo. I have no idea why because Mexico and Norway are not really near each other but whatever. For some reason Magical Norway is a super hi-tech place — like Matrix-looking hitech, with computers made of “mist” or something, and where barely human people will kill you if you aren’t careful. Did Butcher get cold-shouldered by a cute Scandinavian girl or something?
Harry gets sent to meet a Norwegian wizard with an eyepatch that the woman accompanying Harry bows and scrapes to. Nice. They yak a while and I go check my Twitter. Make a pot of tea. Call my boss to find out what time I have to go in Saturday. Anything but continue this.
Here is a sentence:
“The Red King and his inner circle, the Lords of Outer Night, have got some big juju to brew up. They need a site of power to do it. For this, they’ll use Chichén Itzá.”
“Big juju.” “Chichén Itzá.” Yeah. So anyway, guess why they’re doing all this. It’s to do a bloodline curse! What’s that, you ask? Well, basically, it’s the evil vampire curse equivalent of “I’ll kill you and everybody who looks like you”:
This spell they were doing would kill me, if they pulled it off. It could also kill my only family, my half brother, Thomas.
Or as the Norwegian wizard whatever informs him:
No one has used Power on this scale in more than a millennium.
But Harry is The Most Interesting — sorry, The Most Important Man In The World. So just shooting him wouldn’t work because, er, I dunno. Rule of Cool I guess.
I’m going to just skip to the fun because if I have to read another long exposition scene in Tibet or Peoria or someplace I’m going to stab someone. Also I’m getting real tired of all the evil predatory women in this book who seem to have a thing for Harry. He’s just not that interesting. Believe me, that snarky fake world-weariness is boring after a while.
And then there is… well, so far all of the vampires have Spanish names, so I guess Spanish = evil vampires. What the hell did Spanish people ever do to you, Butcher?
Then there is this soulgaze shit. Oh god, the soulgaze. It turns women on for some reason. It’s really gross, take my word for it.
We’re back at Harry’s apartment again and he has an injured leg and no no no when will this stupid thing end? How can people do chapter by chapter recaps. I’m on chapter 28 (why do books these days have a million chapters of only a few paragraphs each, that’s not how chapters work) and I don’t think I’m halfway through the thing, and it’s been all talk interspersed with badly-done action scenes that always seem to end up with the hero back at his damn apartment and at no time to we get any respite from the stupid thoughts inside his head. I’ve never had a problem with first-person narration until now. It makes me want to read nothing but third person, whether omniscient author or not I don’t care, just so there’s an editor between me and the characters’ thoughts.
Oh wait! Harry’s apartment burns down. Yay to whatever demon set it on fire. Unfortunately Harry escaped. He ends up with a broken back and because we have to never be released from Harry the Alone Man Against the Shitty World we get an unbelievable scene with a wizard or somebody telling him he won’t heal him because fate or some shit OH COME ON. His reasons don’t even make sense:
“You made your choices,” Uriel told me. “One of them led you here.” He spread his hands. “That’s a fair ball, son. Nothing to do now but play it out.”
“But you could fix me if you wanted to.”
“My wishes have nothing to do with it,” he said calmly. “I could heal you if I were meant to do so. Free will must take precedence if it is to have meaning.”
“You’re talking philosophy,” I said. “I’m telling you that a child is going to die.”
Uriel’s expression darkened for a moment. “And I am telling you that I am very limited in terms of what I can do to help you,” he said. “Limited, in fact, to what I have already done.”
What the fuck? This is a stupid book.
There’s this scene where Harry has to kill some dude that betrayed the Queen of the Fairies before they’ll heal him and it’s as manipulative as fuck. No cliché is left unused by Butcher (perfect name for what he does to narrative): there’s even a “here’s what your daughter is suffering now” scene to persuade Harry. He makes some gestures towards moral dilemma but it’s all fake, so fake. Anyways he kills the dude (don’t worry everything is set up so it’s really all for the best didn’t I tell you it was clichéd?) and he gets all sorts of powers or something.
I need to take a tea break.
Ah, tea and a bagel with honey. Lovely. Anyway, I start reading again and there’s Harry having magical sex with fairy queen Mab SKIMMMMMMM
Then he’s in the hospital and there’s a character named “Butters” that I insist upon seeing in my mind as looking like the character in South Park.
Anyway, Harry’s got his legs back and a gunman pops in and shoots Butters and Harry magics the gunman and Butters is okay because he had a Kevlar vest on and this scene is stupid but I repeat myself.
Talk talk talk talk. Bonus stereotypical Russian heavy who says things like “I pick up this board, break in half, and put both halves into incinerator.” Unfortunately it’s not Harry who’s strapped to the backboard, but the gunman they are questioning. Turns out Susan hired him to kill Harry! This is my surprised face!
Harry and the Russian dude, Sanya, have the following exchange about Harry’s encounter with Queen Mab:
“So,” he said. “Mab.”
I grunted vaguely in reply.
“You hit that,” Sanya said.
I did not look at him. My face felt red.
“You”—he scrunched up his nose, digging in his memory—“tapped that ass. Presumably, it was phat.”
He let out a low, rolling laugh and shook his head. “I saw her once. Mab. Beautiful beyond words.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Yes,” I said, with emphasis.
“And you are now her champion,” he said.
“Everybody’s gotta be something, right?”
He nodded. “Joking about it. Good. You will need that sense of humor.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because she is cold, Dresden. She knows wicked secrets Time himself has forgotten. And if she chose you to be her Knight, she has a plan for you.” He nodded slowly. “Laugh whenever you can. Keeps you from killing yourself when things are bad. That and vodka.”
This book. This fucking book.
Anyway, they sit around and eat pizza and shoot the shit because Butcher was paid by the word. Harry gets visited by a squadron of tiny “Little Folk” who really are teensy little flying fairies out of Disney. One of them tells him Susan has been taken. At least, I think that’s who they’re talking about. I’ve kind of lost track. They rush off– oh wait, not in this book. They chat some more, then they go off presumably to find her since Harry no longer has an apartment to come back to. And, oh God, they go to the FBI building (that’s who have Susan), and we get more description, more snarky dialogue, more hostile people that are In Harry’s Way For Reasons. GET TO THE FUCKING MAYAN SACRIFICE ALREADY.
I’m a little impatient.
One thing I don’t get: what is the relationship between the mundane world and the world of wizards and vampires and things? I ask because the FBI agents are all skeptical when Harry tells them “vampires did it” but all the stuff that’s been going on is rather… loud and noticeable. Well whatever, Harry gets some semi-cooperation from the FBI and Harry makes a speech about how Susan has to be safe (grrrrr) and then the vampires invade! Harry and Susan get away through magic and end up somewhere in front of a throne where oh god they meet yet another character and there’s more talk.
There are too many characters in this book.
This one is “the Erlking.” He’s wearing armor and has antlers on his head and is nine feet tall and is “Lord of the Goblins” yes I swear that’s what I read. An interval of the usual staring and describing and talking commences.
Skim skim skim.
They have to fight an icky vampire thing because they’ve invaded the Goblin realm or some shit. I’m thinking of making another cup of tea, that last one was good.
No, back to the book. There is an end, I swear. There has to be. Please god tell me this ends.
The creature is called an “Ick.” It really is. It really… is. Anyway, they defeat the creature, or at least get away from it, and Susan is all injured, and he has to feed her blood so her “vampire nature” can heal her. That won’t go wrong, I’m sure.
Anyway, they say bye to the Goblin dude and end up in a Bass Pro shop (don’t ask) and then Harry’s Fairy Godmother picks them up in a stretch limo. (Yes, she’s his Fairy Godmother. It’s not cute.) Do you think they’ll finally get to Kiddy Kill Central this time? Let’s see.
They chat in the limo. (Of course.) His Godmother calls Susan Harry’s “concubine.” Oh that’s so not funny. She then magicks Harry into some new clothes. Finally she settles on a conquistador’s armor, because Harry’s setting out to fight an
Aztec Mayan (apparently) vampire. (I guess. She lives in Mexico and is 1,000s of years old and hates the Europeans. Anyway, it goes with the series’ legendary racefail so I’m going to just assume that’s what she is.) Susan gets her outfit offstage, as it were, and here is Harry’s reaction:
I turned to help Susan out and felt my mouth drop open a little.
Her outfit was . . . um, freaking hot.
Here’s that outfit:
The golden headdress was the first thing I noticed. It was decorated with feathers, with jade carved with sigils and symbols like those I had seen on the stone table, and with flickering gems of arctic green and blue. For a second, I thought her vampire nature had begun to rise again, because her face was covered in what I mistook for tattoos. A second glance showed me that they were some kind of precisely drawn design, sort of like henna markings, but far more primitive and savage-looking in appearance. They were also done in a variety of colors of black and deep, dark red. The designs around her dark brown eyes made them stand out sharply.
Under that, she wore a shift of some material that looked like simple, soft buckskin, split on the sides for ease of movement, and her feet were wrapped in shoes made of similar material, also decorated with feathers. The moccasins and shift both were pure white, and made a sharp contrast against the dark richness of her skin, and displayed the smooth, tight muscles of her arms and legs tremendously well.
A belt of white leather had an empty holster for a handgun on one of her hips, with a frog for hanging a scabbard upon it on the other. And over all of that, she wore a mantled cloak of feathers, not too terribly unlike the ones we had seen in Nevada—but the colors were all in the rich, cool tones of the Winter Court: glacial blue, deep sea green, and twilight purple.
I have no comment to make. None.
The excruciating scene and dialogue go on and on. This book is longer than Twilight. It’s longer than the Bible. It’s longer than the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary. It is the Book Ourobouros, it has neither beginning nor end. It’s vast, it contains multitudes…
Skim skim skim skimskimskimSKIMSKIMSKIM
Here’s some dialogue:
Ebenezar began to speak and then blinked several times, as if the sun had just come out of a cloud and into his eyes. “Susan and . . .” He paused and asked, “Hoss?”
“I meant to tell you the last time we spoke,” I said quietly. “But . . . the conversation wasn’t exactly . . .” I took a deep breath. “She’s my daughter by Susan Rodriguez.”
“Oh,” he said very quietly. His face looked grey. “Oh, Hoss.”
“Her name’s Maggie. She’s eight. They took her a few days ago.”
He bowed his head and shook it several times, saying nothing. Then he said, “You’re sure?”
“H-how long have you known?”
“Since a day or so after she was taken,” I said. “Surprised the hell out of me.”
Ebenezar nodded without looking up. Then he said, “You’re her father and she needs you. And you want to be there for her.”
“Not want to be there,” I said quietly. “Going to be.”
If I have to suffer, you do to.
Team Daddy gets turned into dogs at some point, just so we can finally hear the real dog, Harry’s dog, call a woman a “bitch.” (There’s a lot of that in this book.) Then something something something vampires and then they’re at Chichén Itzá and Harry does something that crushes a bunch of vampires. Then a bunch of racist sexist stuff happens:
A soft lamp carried by a slender figure in a white garment came toward us down the long row of columns.
It proved to be a woman dressed in an outfit almost exactly like Susan’s. She was tall, young, and lovely, with the dark red-brown skin of the native Maya, with their long features and dark eyes. Three others accompanied her—men, and obviously warriors all, wearing the skins of jaguars over their shoulders and otherwise clad only in loincloths and heavy tattoos. Two of them carried swords made of wood and sharpened chips of obsidian. The other carried a drum that rolled off a steady beat.
She drew in a short breath as she felt my hand circle her wrist and rose swiftly, so that I didn’t have to expend any effort lifting her. “Should you wish to defile me in that way, lord, it is also well within your rights as guest.” Her dark eyes were very direct, very willing. “My body is yours, as is my blood.”
“More than a century,” Murphy muttered, “and we’ve gone from ‘like a fish needs a bicycle’ to this.”
Harry sasses the Red King, because he’s the MC and the narrator and can’t die, and then we get the puzzling info that the Red King is “addicted” to blood and erm, waitaminute, I thought these were vampires. Oh never mind who cares it’s just that we need to show Harry is super-duper special and also share with the world the American contempt for drug addicts: “I’d seen behavior like that before. It was the mark of an addict scoring a fix and full of contentment that he had a body full of booze or drugs or whatever, and therefore the illusion that he could handle emotional issues more capably.”
This book. This fucking book.
Anyway, Harry gets to see his kid all chained up and scared so he can share his manpain with us. Then stuff about the ritual, and he goes out to have conversations about how dreadful the Mayans were (does Jim Butcher know that there are still Mayans? Does he know they are real people?), and then. More. Discussion. While everyone sort of stands around and glares. I dunno I’m just…
SKIM. Harry and Duchess Arianna have another talk (of course) where we find out he killed her granddaughter! Grant you said granddaughter was trying to kill him at the time but well, whatever, I’m not convinced Butcher really means us to care about a woman’s anger about anything. And again, drearily, Harry calls her a bitch, because why not.
Anyway there’s a fight and he kills her in horrible detail because “no one touches my little girl.” Aw. And of course the Red King is a dick and says to kill her anyway because, um, I don’t really know, they’re just an Evil Race of Evil Mayan Vampires. Then there’s another big fight and for some reason in the middle of it Harry emos when one of his crew kills hundreds of the human forces of the enemy because, I don’t know, we haven’t had enough of his arbitrary manpain yet.
Jesus. Chapter 47. I see the home stretch… Harry runs off to find his kid. Oh noes the Red King has her and is about to sacrifice. Something something talk talk backstory infodump exposition.
And. There. Is. More. Talking. Finally guess what! Everything that happened was all designed to put the Most Inter- the Most Important Man In The World, Harry Dresden, right where he was! Because only he could kill the Red King because reasons reasons reasons God when will this thing end. Anyway Susan goes nuts and becomes a full vampire and his Fairy Godmother sort of loses it… oh here, this happens:
My godmother, too, discarded her disguise, flinging the gold mask at the nearest Lord as she allowed the illusion that concealed her true form to fade away, taking with it the clothes and trappings that had let her insinuate herself among the enemy. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed. Bloodlust and an eager, nearly sexual desire to destroy radiated from her like heat from a fire.
This book. This fucking book.
There’s some more battle and gore and then all the bad guys get killed and the child is saved and Harry gives up the child (who never says a word, and is treated as if she has no more agency than a puppy) so she can be safe (and so he can continue his single, child-free life, haha) and has more manpain but I don’t care. I’m done.
Why is this series so popular? Just based on this one thing, it’s not very well written, the characters are cardboard snark machines, there is no pacing, everyone spends too much time sitting around and infodumping when they could be moving, it’s riddled with unexamined sexism and racism, and at the end it’s just a lot of stuff thrown into a blender. But Butcher has this following, apparently. I don’t get it.
*Updated August 22, 2012 — just noticed I’d left out some words.