Reviewed in the United States on July 28, 2014
I finished the Dresden Files books I got on promo and so now I'm working my way through the rest (at regular price). I'd be hard pressed to say anything too negative about the series because I've been enjoying it a lot. But here are my thoughts, a few days after finishing the latest installment.
This book opens with an execution -- of a teenager who'd stumbled into his magical abilities (without proper supervision) and used them to control the minds of others. Despite the severity of the teen's crimes, Harry is upset by the punishment. He can see a bit of himself in the executed boy, I think. And his reaction to this scene will affect his actions throughout the rest of the book.
Once again, I'd say this is NOT the place to start the series. While there is (as with previous books), a self-contained mystery, there are many, many events depicted that relate to the overall series arc of war between vampires and wizards, and quite a few recurring characters make appearances (Maeve, Lily, Fix, Charity, Michael, Molly, Murphy, Father Forthill, Lloyd Slate, Thomas, Lasciel, Morgan, Mouse, Mister, Bob the Skull, and several members of the wizards' White Council, just to name a few) and others are referenced (Butters, Kincaid, Nicodemus, the Archive, Billy the werewolf, etc.). Some of these characters get brief re-introductions, but you'd be missing out on a lot of depth by only relying on those introductions (as opposed to reading all the background material from previous books). Even a building (from Fool Moon) is re-used. (If it's been awhile since you've read the earlier ones, try the Wikipedia summaries. They're usually enough to jog my memory. And there are character lists floating around online, too, if you forget who someone is.)
The mystery in this volume is introduced early on -- Harry gets a message that there have been incidents of black magic in town and, acting in his capacity as Warden, he should investigate them and figure out what is going on. Further, attendees at a horror convention are being attacked in a violent and gruesome manner and Molly (Michael's and Charity's oldest daughter) asks Harry to help solve those crimes, as well.
Once again, Harry has to accept help from others. At various points, Detective Rawlins of the Chicago police department assists him. Murphy, Charity, and Thomas accompany Harry on a particularly dangerous mission. It's not surprising that Murphy and Thomas go along and are prepared to do battle -- they've helped Harry before. But we learn a lot about Charity in this book. I like the trend of meeting a character in a previous book and then learning more about him or her later on. For example, in the last book, it was Butters. This time, it's Charity. We begin to understand her animosity towards Harry (exhibited in previous volumes) and we learn some important information about her past. But everything flows logically. We've gotten hints that she was capable before, but now we see her in action. I hadn't cared a lot for her before (she seemed to be mean with no reason), but now it all makes sense, and I've got a lot more sympathy for her as a character.
Harry's driven to protect Michael's family, and his experience at the beginning of this book has an impact on him, throughout, as well. He also still struggles with Lasciel, but sometimes accepts her help -- grudgingly. His relationship with Lasciel is rather like his relationship with John Marcone, especially in the earliest books in the series -- frequent refusals to associate followed by teaming up out of necessity/self-preservation. Harry doesn't grow as a character so much in this book, but it's difficult to show development of a character in EVERY book in a long series, when it's a first-person POV sort of series as this one is. He still has something of a hero complex, but I've often found that first-person POV characters come off like this; it's not unique to these books.
As with past books, a new supernatural element is introduced -- the phobophage, a species from the Nevernever that feeds on fear. It fits in well with the self-contained mystery aspect while also expanding our view of the world Jim Butcher has created. I don't know if we'll see these guys again (would be a bit repetitive for them to reappear).
The characteristic humor is present, once again. There are some of the standard one-liners, but there's situational humor, as well. In one (very early) scene, Harry is preparing for a ritual. He's bathed, he's meditated, he's gotten his mind just right -- and he's taken two hours to do it. Then the telephone rings and all his preparations are wasted.
I don't have much to say about the setting that I haven't already said in past reviews. All the action is, as usual, in Chicago. It's summer but we're not beaten over the head with that fact. We get little reminders periodically (Harry is wearing shorts, or the air conditioning is blasting in a building). The writing style is similar to what has come before, as well. There's a lot of violence in this one, and some references to teen pregnancy and drug use, as well as some 4-letter words. Not an issue for me, and not surprising considering what we've seen in past books, but I thought I'd throw that information out there for anyone who cared.
Overall, I think all the individual elements are brought together into a cohesive whole. I found this to be an enjoyable read. Though the ending was not nearly as fun as the ending of Dead Beat, I think this volume marks an important turning point in the series. Looking forward to the next one!