Friday, 28 May 2010

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden's faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book. But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone loco. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble - and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone - or something - is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself...

I was rather partial to the second book (Fool Moon) in the Dresden series, and started Grave Peril with great eagerness, but found myself somewhat underwhelmed. I think this was for a number of reasons, which I shall endeavour to explain below.

The first reason is no doubt the hype and expectation. Everyone I know universally loves this series (in fact, I genuinely don't know a single person who has found it boring or insipid - a danger with a lot of urban fantasy) and states categorically that each book improves on the last. Because I loved Fool Moon, I was expecting Grave Peril to blow me away - but it didn't.

The second reason is no real fault of the book or the author, but I feel it bears mentioning. When you join a long-running series so late, and there are so many books ahead of you, there is no real tension about whether the hero will live or die. Sure, the peripheral figures might be in some danger (depending on the author - some never kill of any people, despite an ever-expanding cast; LKH, I'm looking at you!) but your main dude isn't going to die, no matter what gets thrown at him. So, despite ever-escalating levels of danger in this novel, I felt comfortable that Harry would survive.

My third reason is a matter of writing: after three books, I can confidently state that I don't like the pacing that Jim Butcher employs. For the first hundred and fifty pages of each book, I've found it very easy to put them aside. The last hundred pages is usually barn-storming, tension-filled and extremely gripping - so I guess they all finish with a bang! - but I wouldn't mind a more evenly-spread level of excitement.

Reason the fourth: bloody vampire politics. I am so sick of vampire courts, with back-stabbing and covenants and home advantage and things like that. They pop up all over the place in urban fantasy, and seem so generic. Although Butcher's vampires present a couple of surprises (in appearance, mostly), in other areas they are tiresomely generic. Which is quite unlike the werewolves from the previous book, which felt quite refreshing to me.

Lastly, I didn't like Dresden's faerie godmother. I think the fae in the Dresden series have the potential to be chilling and unique, but I don't feel they're well represented by Lea. The reason I didn't like her is the way she popped up in a "plot device" moment usually. She felt tacked onto the main thrust of the storyline.

This is all making it sound as though I have nothing but gripes - but I did enjoy the book! Just not as much as the previous book!

The main reason for enjoying this book and loving the series as a whole is Harry Dresden. In Grave Peril Harry gains a lot more emotional depth and throws around some bad ass magic. His sense of honour and inability to leave a woman in peril is a facet of his character that I adore, no matter how chauvinistic it may appear. It sort of reminds me of Marty McFly in Back to the Future who is unable to be called 'chicken' without taking a person up on a stupid challenge!

" 'For the sake of one soul. For one loved one. For one life.' I called power into my blasting rod, and its tip glowed incandescent white. 'The way I see it, there's nothing else worth fighting a war for.' "

His resigned sense of humour when it comes to landing himself in dangerous situations is alive and well in Grave Peril as well, and some of his dialogue with both friends and enemies fairly snaps along:

" 'Hell's bells, Kravos,' I muttered, sitting up again. 'Do they produce a Cliched Lines Textbook for Villains or something? Go for broke. Tell me that since you're going to kill me anyway, you might as well reveal your secret plan.' "

Since we're talking about characters, Butcher introduced some really vibrant new cast members this time around. Michael, in particular, is a very powerful character - providing morality and an abiding faith to Harry over the course of Grave Peril. His quiet gravity and admonitions towards Harry for his swearing lend a calm centre to this novel that I felt was missing in prior instalments. I also *loved* Ferrovax - I demand to see more of this Dragon. His brief appearance in Grave Peril lit up the pages.

Another part of the novel I really liked were the references to the fact that life continued in between the end of Fool Moon and the start of Grave Peril - in other long running series you feel as though the characters are frozen in time until you return to their universe. Here we are aware that Harry has taken a number of jobs and his relationship with Susan has deepened - and it all happened off-screen, as it were.

In conclusion, this was not the strongest novel in the Dresden series for me and I am hoping for better from the next. Harry Dresden is still entertaining and I adore the little details of the world that Butcher is weaving into the tales; even though I was slightly disappointed with Grave Peril, I would still be happy to recommend the Dresden series.


  1. Sounds like a middle-of-the-series type of book from the problems you are describing, or more accuratly the problems you had as it doesn't sound like they are massive flaws (as you stated).

    Every series goes through these ups and downs, most noticebly when the author knows the plot outline for the next 30 novels and he/she is just trying to fill his contract.

    I actually haven't read any of these books yet, mostly due to being seriously wary of "urban fantasy"

  2. You're absolutely right, they're not massive flaws. I do believe Jim Butcher has plot for books to get him to the early 20's (currently at book 13, I believe), so again, your point might well be correct where you say that this one could be to fulfil contract. What I've heard though is that Butcher wrote the first three novels before selling any of them, and there was a remarkably different (and rather generic) tone to those books compared to latter books.

    I would encourage you to pick them up. Although they have been a little generic to now, they are definitely one of the more superior urban fantasy efforts I've read. Supernatural beasties and paranormal investigations against the backdrop of a city are the general idea, but Butcher adds lots of wonderful little details that elevate these to decent reads.

  3. Without giving away any spoilers, I think you're right that with such a long series like this, or the Laurel K Hamilton hunter ones (17 books or something??) you know the main character will survive. However, Harry's ride is not ever a comfortable one. Sometimes, it seems as if he is cursed because he survives, so expect some heartache. I think it is on Butcher's website there is a story about how he got published and also how long it took him. He had indeed written several Dresden books before his manuscript found its way into the right hands. But it wasn't planned that way, it just took him a long time to get an agent and publisher. I think he was and still is growing as an author and I absolutely adore the series now.

    I also love the idea that time doesn't stand still from the end of one book and the start of the next. His characters are indeed a massive strength, as everyone is well thought out. And the humour throughout turns what could otherwise be quite a depressing read into something else. At this rate you'll have caught up with me in about five weeks!

    I believe he is writing book 13 at the moment and it is not the last one as far as I know.

  4. I thought pretty much the same as you. What got to me was the repetition. I like this series, but I've decided to take longer breaks in between reading books in this series so the repetition serves to remind instead of annoying.

  5. Harry accumulates damage from one book to the other. Book 11 he still has aches and pains he acquired in book 4. For me book 4 was where I decided the series was truly something special and that Jim had hit a turning point in his writing ability. I've read several long running series, and Dresden Files is the only one I've had where I feel it continues to get better.

  6. I started reading this series a while ago and stopped but then I fell in love with the TV Series so have just decided to restart it and have just finished Book#3 . Im a new follower