Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on September 18, 2014
In the first book of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Harry makes an immortal enemy in Bianca, a well-known and influential madame in Chicago. Bianca is also a vampire of the Red Court, a sect that has no compunction against killing the humans on whom they feed.
In the second novel, Bianca is conspicuous by her absence. Harry has little time to consider this, however, as he is busy subduing a demon under the control of Kravos, a sorcerer with a demented hate for Harry. With the considerable help of Knight Templar, Michael Carpenter, Harry dispatches the demon and Kravos is arrested.
Now, in the third book, Bianca is back, with her plans for revenge against Harry in place (think Kravos). Having been elevated to a position of power on the Vampire Council, Bianca plans a masquerade ball as celebration for her Court, with invitations also being sent to the designated representatives of each supernatural group within the Nevernever. Thus, Harry, as representative for the White Council, is invited, along with a guest of his choosing, to the ball.
Harry has no plans to attend that event. First of all, he really doesn’t want to walk into the lair of a vampire who has sworn to kill him, even if the “rules” of the Nevernever grant him safe passage. And secondly, he and Michael are up to their eyeballs in ghosts who have been slipping through a weakened wall in the Nevernever to wreck havoc, mayhem and death upon those who may, in some way, represent a contribution to their demise.
When one of the ghosts escapes them, Harry and Michael are forced to pursue her into the Nevernever. With his Sight, he discovers that the ghost is under the influence of a torture spell – ice cold barbed wire embedded in her neck and wrapped in coils about her body until it embeds itself again in her ankle. The tortures attached to the wire are for the purpose of causing deep emotional grief, unbearable pain and insanity.
Then, whoever or whatever is causing this spate of ghostly violence turns its attention to Harry. The entity, dubbed the Nightmare, first attacks one of Murphy’s former detectives in his sleep, wrapping the torture spell about him in his dreams. Then the entity attacks Harry while he is dreaming, but no barbed wire spell is included. Instead, within the dream, the entity guts Harry and consumes the organs, thereby removing the majority of Harry’s magic. The entity would have gotten it all save for Harry’s cat and the Bob skull managing to awaken him just before death would have been certain.
Now, virtually incapacitated magically, Harry cannot save Murphy when she is attacked by the torture spell. Continuing the rampage, the entity kidnaps Michael’s pregnant wife, and Harry must, for all practical purposes, sell his soul to save her. At this point, it appears that attendance at Bianca’s ball is going to be necessary if he wishes to find the perpetrator, retrieve his powers and end the carnage.
Just as in the previous books of the series, this one is non-stop mayhem, violence and angst. At least three supernatural entities want Harry destroyed, first mentally and physically tortured and then killed. Another creature wants him alive, but only so that she can possess him entirely in body, mind and soul. And through it all, Harry feels that he alone bears the responsibility for the safety of his friends. Even though these villains freely and purposefully choose their own actions, Harry still feels that he has forced them into their choices.
Sometimes you just want to slap Harry silly. But Jim Butcher has the character of Michael help him to get back on track with one of the most succinct and memorable pronouncements I have ever read:
“What goes round comes around. And sometimes you get what’s coming around. And sometimes you are what’s coming around.”
This urban fantasy series falls into that category where most of the supernatural creatures have an innate predatory and vicious nature. There is no compunction not to kill what they eat or not to cheat whom they bargain with or to ever tell the truth. Suspension of disbelief is simply a requirement from the opening words as far as dealing with the mental and physical stamina and the skills that these magical creatures, both human and not, possess. But in this third entry, Butcher drives home the strength of Harry’s character, his innate goodness and the forthright moral compass of his soul in such a manner that no belief need be suspended to accept.
DEFINITE SPOILERS FOLLOW:
The one major character that I have not yet mentioned is Susan Rodriguez, pulp news journalist and Harry’s girlfriend. From the very beginning of the series, I have disliked this character. Whether Jim Butcher means for the reader to dislike her, I do not know, but she has always come across to me as selfish and egotistical, a user. I have never doubted that she cares for Harry as much as she is able, but she always seems to place her wants and her needs first with no real concern for what Harry might need.
And finally, in this novel, her ego and her career goals do her in. Angry with Harry because he doesn’t want her to go to Bianca’s ball and because he won’t stop in the middle of a major spell to talk to her on the phone, she defies Harry’s warnings and slips into Bianca’s ball without an official invitation. Thus, she is also without official protection against attack. While there, she also bargains with a faerie to get part of Harry’s magic back without listening to Harry’s warnings about the “fine print” of the bargain.
As a direct result of both acts of stupidity, she loses her memory of what Harry means to her and she loses her humanity. As Michael said: “What goes round comes around. And sometimes you get what’s coming around.”
Using much of his little remaining magic, Harry helps Susan get the memories back and gets her away from Bianca’s lair alive. And, upon getting those memories back, how does Susan repay the man she swears that she loves? She leaves him in the hospital, poisoned almost unto death by vampire venom and mushroom toxin. She leaves him without a word and moves away from Chicago without a forwarding address.
When Harry is well enough to track her down, she tells him that she loves him, kisses him to sexual distraction, gets ups and walks away, saying “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.” Bianca may not have been able to kill Harry’s body, but through Susan, she has killed his heart. Harry is now a disheveled and broken man.
I have not researched the series far enough to know if Butcher brings Susan back, but I certainly hope not. With the vampires calling for war unless the White Council hands him over for execution, Harry deserves better than Susan. He deserves someone at his back, not at his throat, literally or figuratively.