Having posted my shout about the first three Dresden books, I got chatting to a friend about them. I’d only read one to three, and he’d only read four onwards, and our views of Harry Dresden as a character were rather very different. And this surprised me. I was sort of willing to give up on the series for a bit because Dresden’s character was grating on me so very very much, but the view I was painted of him in the later books seemed so different, I thought it worth buying book four* and having a try again. So worth it.
There is some serious character development afoot. At the start of book four, Dresden is a bit of an emotional and psychological wreck. And in the process of hoisting himself out of his mental pit, and trying to get back to his old self, he manages to become a sort of half way point between the two. He’s not back to old, annoying Dresden, but he does rescue himself from some of his demons. And so we get a more balanced, more mature, less caricatured portrayal than the one we start with in book one. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a bit arrogant, a bit self-centred and a bit of a chauvinist, but those traits have been mellowed a bit and he’s all round much less of an ass than he was before. Three cheers for some genuine character growth.
The rest of the book – the plot, the world-building, the supporting characters – continues much in keeping with the rest of the series, for which I am grateful. Butcher picks up on some mythology with which I’m familiar (the Sidhe and the seelie/unseelie courts and a lot of supporting fairy stuff) and he does it well, and adds some of his own creations into the mix. He delves a bit more into the wizarding world and its politics, and indeed we even meet some more wizards. I’m rather pleased. My only real grump is that the fence-sitting, unpleasant and generally annoyingly spineless leader that Dresden immediately hates… is British. Go figure. The American wizards are the balanced, sensible, practical and pragmatic ones, whereas the European wizards are arrogant or self-serving or dismissive or spineless or… well, you get the idea. Some subtlety would have been appreciated, is all I’m thinking.
That said, subtlety you do actually get when it comes to the sidhe. Spoiler time, you have been warned. He avoids the general problem of seelie/summer/good and unseelie/winter/bad. At the start, it looks like he might be falling into that trap, especially since a previous fey character, well set up as being an evil cow, is aligned with the unseelie court, but he avoids it and paints the sort of complex picture of the alien nature of the fey that you get in better fairy literature (and I get the impression is also the real sense of British fairy mythology, but I don’t actually know… it isn’t really my area). The unseelie court – associated with winter – are cold and harsh. They are not, however, necessarily evil. And this is really pleasing. DEPTH AND SUBTLETY. YESSS.
The plot is not majorly complex or much more effort to read than the others however. He keeps the decent pace and the lightness and the easy-read thing very well (I read Summer Knight on the train from Birmingham to Reading, which is a 1 hour 50 minute journey) and it continues to be just as mindlessly enjoyable as one to three. It just adds.
All in all, for me, four is a major upswing in quality in the Dresden books. It keeps the best of the previous and improves on the worst, to the point where reading the next book in the series has now become a major priority… if I can find it in the matching cover-style, of course. I have my standards.
Coming soon – I’m reading Cloud Atlas. And a book about word origins which I may or may not ‘blog about because it really isn’t SFF.
*I bought books one to three several years ago, and the style of cover they have is not the same as the ones now for sale on Amazon. I had a devil of a time getting book four to match, and in the end I had to sacrifice getting a perfect copy so I could get the copy I want. #bibliophileproblems maybe?