Meet Harry Dresden, wizard for hire in the city of Chicago, and sometime consultant to the Special Investigations Department of the Chicago Police Department. In bad odour with his police liaison, Murphy, he is nevertheless called in to help investigate a series of murders that took place around the full moon. Did somebody say werewolf?
The story is fast-paced, in pursuit of the killer – or is it killers? – before any more innocents are torn to shreds. There are plenty of suspects, but something doesn’t feel right about MacFinn, who seems a shoo-in for the honour. While the deaths match his modus operandi, he is a strictly full moon kind of guy, and some of the deaths have occurred a few nights before or after. Who could be setting him up? Things are complicated by the fact the FBI keep trying to shut the local police out of the investigation, and Murphy herself is under investigation by Internal Affairs, who consider Dresden a charlatan.
The story is a little slow to start, but once it gets going it careens from one plot point to the next, with plenty of thrills, kills and excitement, and enough mystery and plot twists to keep you guessing. One of the backstory sub-plots is intriguing enough to make me consider reading the sequels, just to find out what happens, notwithstanding the rest of my comments below. About halfway through, the speed really cranks up, and the story just carries you along, caught in its grip. Some of the best scenes are the action scenes, which sweep you along like a wave.
Despite that, I never really connected with the narrator, Harry Dresden. For someone who strikes deals with demons on a regular basis, and assists the police in pursuit of bloodthirsty supernatural killers, he sure is sensitive. A little fear is reasonable, but Dresden seemed to dwell on it in a way that made me think if he was really that high-strung, he would have given up his career long before now. Later in the book he says he’s able to think past fear, but her never actually gave me that impression. My failure to properly connect with him meant I didn’t much care what happened to him, and I certainly felt no sense of satisfaction when he ‘got the girl’. I kept reading purely out of curiosity to know the answers to all the questions.
The ‘voice’ of the character never really worked for me either. To start with, I don’t ever feel we really go deep enough into the character to allow the first person point of view to colour and pervade the entire story, and secondly the voice seems inappropriate. Dresden ‘teeters’ and ‘trumpets’ in a way that is inconsistent with my notion of a powerful wizard – at least one who fancies women. If he was a particular type of gay guy, I’d have no issue with these descriptors, or the fact that he says he ‘decorates in textures rather than colours’, but I have yet to meet the heterosexual man who would even admit to decorating.
In addition, he gets lucky far too often, and the fact he berated himself for being an idiot on about three separate occasions in the first third of the book had me pretty well convinced he was an idiot! Despite the fact it was obvious to me almost immediately that the killer was a loup-garou (or was intended to look like one), Dresden didn’t pick up on that fact until it was in his face, nor the fact Tera Hill was a wolf in sheep’s clothing – I mean, human clothing. The odd way she spoke and the way she moved made that pretty obvious, but Dresden was so far behind me it wasn’t funny. It’s good for readers to guess answers, but it’s bad if the protagonist is so far behind he looks stupid.
Butcher’s writing is functional and workmanlike, being most effective in the action scenes, but hardly high art, and the book could also have done with a thorough edit, being littered with issues such as:
- ‘Saidisms’, such as ‘stammered’, ‘gasped’, ‘hissed’, my personal eye-roll favourite ‘thundered’ and so forth instead of the perfectly serviceable ‘said’, or even better, use of an action tag;
- Mixed metaphors and inconsistent descriptions – one character ‘glides’ in a ‘long lope’ – in my opinion you can glide, or you can lope, but you can’t do both at once. Similarly at one point Dresden says his heartbeat is ‘relaxed and steady with excitement’. Is it just me, or are you either relaxed or excited but not both at once?;
- Use of redundant words like ‘that’; and
- Passive language.
If you’re particular about the quality of the writing, these issues may make it difficult for you to really get into the book until about halfway, if you make it that far. If you’re not so picky, and you’re just looking for a good fast story, it’s definitely worth your time.
Ciara is a writer of high fantasy. A fantasy lover from her early years, this loyal, passionate, quirky, strong-willed, confident woman is bent on world domination and already has a couple of minions in the making. Born argumentative and recognising the long road to make money out of writing, Ciara wisely invested her natural inclinations in a career in law. Her favourite authors include Terry Goodkind, Terry Pratchett, Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan and Brent Weeks. She is the official dragon expert of #stabbylove.
More information about Ciara Ballintyne can be found on www.ciaraballintyne.com