Saturday, 5 June 2010

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Ever since his girlfriend left town to deal with her newly acquired taste for blood, Harry Dresden has been down and out in Chicago. He can't pay his rent. He's alienating his friends. He can't even recall the last time he took a shower. The only professional wizard in the phone book has become a desperate man. And just when it seems things can't get any worse, in saunters the Winter Queen of Faerie. She has an offer Harry can't refuse if he wants to free himself of the supernatural hold his faerie godmother has over him - and hopefully end his run of bad luck. All he has to do is find out who murdered the Summer Queen's right-hand man, the Summer Knight, and clear the Winter Queen's name. It seems simple enough, but Harry knows better than to get caught in the middle of faerie politics. Until he finds out that the fate of the entire world rests on his solving this case. No pressure or anything...

It's so strange. My review of Grave Peril complained about the fact that I was having vampire politics inflicted on me. Yet in Summer Knight the fae politics were tremendous. The idea of having two courts - a Summer and Winter court - combined with the idea of Maiden, Mother and Crone which comes from various points in mythology, helped to lend this novel a sense of something both familiar yet unique at the same time.

I did feel as though the Stone Table was more than a little inspired by The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe!

But enough of these idle ruminations...

Summer Knight opens with Dresden in a dark place - he might be fine physically, but his soul has been damaged by a succession of tough cases, finishing up with Susan's predicament. Once again, I deeply appreciated the fact that Dresden is a realistic character, struggling to do the right thing, but finding it hard to cope with the situations that have swept him up. In other long-running urban fantasy series, the author does not seem to realise that the events their character suffers through will have a deep and lasting psychological effect that needs to be dealt with.

In fact, the scene where Dresden meets the Summer Lady of the fae and she takes his pain away for a few brief moments is one of the most powerful and emotional in the series to date:

"Aurora gave me a small, sad smile. 'I'll show you. Here.'

Her palm pressed a bit closer to me, and somewhere inside me a dam broke open. Emotions welled up like a riotous rainbow. Scarlet rage, indigo fear, pale blue sadness, aching yellow loneliness, putrid green guilt. The tide flooded through me, coursed over me like a bolt of lightning, searing and painful and beautiful all at once.

And after the tide receded, a deep, quiet stillness followed. A sensation of warmth suffused me, gently easing away my aches and bruises. It spread over my skin, like sunlight on a lazy afternoon outside, and with the warmth my cares began to evaporate.

I also liked the fact that Dresden's relationships with recurring characters is changing and adjusting according to what has happened in previous books. There is never any idea that the Dresden universe is static and no one develops. For instance, here Dresden finally decides to trust Murphy, which is a complete about face compared to Storm Front, where he cannot bear the idea of putting Murphy in danger with the knowledge that he gives her.

I enjoyed this book mostly because everything that I enjoyed greatly in the previous three books was bigger and better this time round: the action scenes were superlative, with a real sense of tension, and the knowledge (thanks to Susan) that peripheral characters really aren't safe at all); the humour and snark was ever-present, with one of the best lines coming not from Dresden, but from Meryl, a character that I grew to love despite her short cameo in this book:

"Meryl said, 'Someone broke into the apartment. It looked like there had been a struggle.'

I let out a sigh. 'Have you contacted the police?'

She eyed me. 'Oh yeah, of course. I called them and told them that a mortal champion of the fae came and spirited away a half-mortal, half-nixie professional nude model to Faerieland. They were all over it.'

I just have to mention my enjoyment of Billy and the Alphas (which does sound like some oddball punk band...) I adore the fact that they are so young, and enthusiastic, and have pizza/gaming parties after beating the bad guys. They are rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of the Dresden series.

I do wonder how valid my reviews are going to be of this series, as I progress through the books! People who have never picked up the Dresden novels are unlikely to be swayed by my review of book four or five or six in the series, while those who have started the series and reach book four are more than likely to move onto the subsequent books with little encouragement from me... I feel a little as though these reviews will be only for those people who have already tackled the books, so that they might think 'oh yeah, I concur with her point' (if anyone actually does use the word 'concur' in their own thoughts!) or 'this girl has no idea what she is talking about!' But I shall continue to review them as I read them, so that I have a decent record of what each book was about, and what I liked about them.

Having now read four of the Dresden books, I can see a little unevenness in quality: some books have definitely been better than others. Happily, this is by far the best of the novels so far. The conflict between the Winter and Summer Courts played out against the backdrop of a murder mystery, with Harry racing against time to try and ensure that no imbalance of power exists in the world of the Fae. The tense and exciting events were matched well with some introspective moments, where the character of Dresden is explored in a deeper fashion. All I can say now is bring on the fifth book!


  1. Aww yeah, now you're starting to feel it, the growing tension, the horrible, painful things Dresden goes through, and he just stubbornly keeps on going, never letting up with the wise cracks or letting down his guard. And that moment of peace he is given is remarkable. It shows you what he is carrying around all the time. Oh, also you were introduced to one of my top 5 characters in this book from the series. Can you guess who? :)

  2. Arggh, I can't remember when what characters gets introduced now. But I'll take a guess at Mab? At least she is one of my favourite characters. You think you got her, but are never quite she what's really going on with her.

    I think you have highlighted one of the real strengths of the series, that life continues off-screen as it where and that characters change, adapt, grow up over time and consequently there relationship with Harry and each other change. It's the characters that really makes the books and it's always interesting to see where characters are now when you meet them again in later books.

  3. @Stephen - gosh, there were a few new characters introduced in this one, but I concur with Gorbad - is it Mab? She is an exceptionally cool character!

    @Gorbad - definitely agree that the relationships between the characters is the real strength to this novel!

  4. Mab is excellent, but it wasn't her. It was The Gatekeeper, on the White Council. Fascinating character to me.

  5. I completely forgot that you meet the Gatekeeper for first time in this novel! He is a fascinating character, I still don't know what he is really doing or what he knows. Easily the most interesting of the White Council I think, if nothing else because he is mysterious and seems like a nice guy (mostly), something none of the others really manage.

    I was considering Lily and Fix as well, although they don't really feature that much.