So, here we are – back with everyone’s favourite Wizard-detective; Harry Dresden, with the third book of the series; Grave Peril.
The Dresden Files – Grave Peril: Jim Butcher (2001)
Our tale begins with Harry and Michael (a Knight of the Cross with a soul fit to make Harry weep), trying to rescue a ward full of children from a crazy ghost trying to protect/kill them depending on your perspective. But then all the ghosts of Chicago are pretty jumpy these days, and our Harry is keen to find out why. Of course, that may have to wait since not only are there ghostly goings-on to deal with but his Faerie Godmother is chasing him harder than ever, promising some more classic Lea action in this book. Just to add to his various other problems his relationship with Susan is growing tenser by the day, Mickey Malone of Chicago PD is paying the price for helping Dresden out on his last case, and he’s had a formal invitation to something else that will probably get him killed. All in a day’s work for our hero!
After the initial action, which was pleasantly unpredictable, this book has quite a slow, investigatory start to it. Harry is nicely sleuth-y for the first act, though there’s still some magic-based fighting to be done. However, when the pace increases it really increases, with everything going about as wrong as it can possibly go. This book also introduces a lot of fun characters including, but not limited to; Mavra, Morty, Thomas, Justine, and sneaky glimpses of Duke Ortega and the mysterious Mr Ferro…
As usual I know my views are coloured by having read these before, but while it does change the viewpoint do keep in mind it’s been most of a decade since I last picked this up, and I loved re-reading all the bits I’d forgotten just as much as I enjoyed seeing old favourites.
Also as per usual, cons first:
I did think that Lydia was a bit wasted as a character. As a plot device she is of course necessary but as a person I was a bit disappointed. For a start, her Cassandra’s Tears condition was so promising to begin with but then it sort of tailed off into nothing. It didn’t help that she’s described as both attractive and sexually forward, and it just gave me that; ‘so, another sexy girl trying to manipulate our hero then’ feeling. That aspect of her was completely irrelevant to a story that already has plenty of hot women, and for once I think it would be nice for Harry to help out a woman without having to describe her curves first.
The Hamiltons too are a bit archetypal, i.e. the pair of predators where the male is the voice of control and the female is semi-insane and has to be kept on a leash (he uses pretty much the exact same model for another pair of Reds in a later book). The idea of vampires in tennis whites is indeed cool, but I found the pairing to be a bit predictable.
This next complaint is only barely justified and I can’t really say it’s a bad thing, but it irked me a little that we know so little about the previous bust and about Kravos – I’d have liked to have been a bit more invested in that story since it is so relevant to this story. Of course the mystery of it was important, but given that Harry was there for all the previous stuff and we’re in Harry’s head for this book, I don’t think that a little more background would have hurt.
Right, now that’s done, on to the good points:
Michael is a great sidekick to Harry and the whole ‘faith magic’ thing he has only makes him cooler. Like Harry he’s an ordinary man with extraordinary drive, and is even more admirable than our hero because beyond his sword, all he has is faith and courage. Harry at least has supernatural powers on his side, albeit exhausted ones sometimes, but Michael is doing all of this as a 100% mortal human. His moral courage is incredible both in and out of the action, and he somehow still finds the time to be a loving husband and father. What a guy! (and what a contrast to Thomas Raith…)
The intro was very nice, with our sympathetic antagonist Agatha being a figure of both fear and pity. Her actions, though dreadful, are completely understandable and you feel sorry for her even as she’s trying to kill our heroes. I liked that in the midst of all that we have Lea making everything worse as well.
Besides some quality time with her we also get to meet some new faces. Morty Lindquist (whose pun name I didn’t get for years) makes a brief appearance but of course we also get our first sight of Thomas and Justine – mistrusted allies of the most interesting sort, swearing by their own stunning good looks! The whole Bianca’s Ball sequence is filled with great moments for the new reader and the re-reader alike (sooo much stuff kicks off from here!) and I really liked how you start the book thinking it’ll be all about ghosts, then the focus goes almost entirely to vampires, then the ghostly part comes back to the fore again and it all mixes together for the climax.
This book is one of the best early examples of JB’s patented ‘just when you think Harry’s hit rock bottom, someone beats him up with a shovel and then hands it to him’ method. Several times (mushrooms and helpful ghosts notwithstanding) you think ‘ok, it’s all gone wrong, now’s the time for our boy to clamber up and lay down some smack!’ but instead it all goes even more horribly wrong. It’s one of the things that makes Harry such a likeable hero; the fact that he is so incredibly abused by his author.
Tied in to that a bit is one of my favourite moments – Harry battling vampires in yellow ducky boxers. Once again JB takes what in another hero would be a moment of awesome-looking triumph and just undercuts it by having him look ridiculous while doing it. Classic Dresden!
Overall this is a good read for someone starting the series and a wonderful read for long-term fans, simply because of everything it sets up. Storm Front and Fool Moon might be tied in to the wider plot in their own way but to me it feels like Grave Peril is where the grander story-arc really begins and the books, while still digestibly self-contained, start to truly become a series. Yes, this volume does have its hiccups and some people might think it slow-paced to start, but it never gets boring and the gradual investigation only makes the intensifying climax that much more exciting. We have some very nice twists and reversals of fortune and a good introduction to the vampire courts and a host of new faces. Quality villain-wise it’s middling I’d say, the Nightmare falling somewhere between Victor Sells and the Hexenwolves, with the vampires providing the more charismatic antagonists. But then of course, villain-wise I’ve been spoiled by Nichodemus Archleone…