Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Dresden Readthrough: Grave Peril

EDIT: Apologies for this not posting on Tuesday as intended. Blogger kept this in draft form overnight.

We continue our readthrough of Jim Butcher's uber-popular urban fantasy series The Dresden Files today with book three, Grave Peril. The continuing plan is to do a book a month on the first Tuesday of each month, and with 15 books on the publication schedule between now and when our readthrough is over, and perhaps our timing being good enough for the 16th, our reading list should be pretty full for the foreseeable future.

As for Grave Peril, the short answer is that I ain't afraid of no ghost.

The plot of this volume gets a little more complicated. On one hand, we've got vampires. Lots and lots of vampires. A vampire court. Vampires. I wasn't initially excited about the prospect, but Jim Butcher hasn't steered me wrong yet, and it wasn't long before we got to the other hand: crazed ghosts wreaking a lot of havoc and problems throughout Chicago.

The one negative I've found with The Dresden Files so far is the way Butcher establishes his world. There are rules and issues to follow, and occasionally we'll be pulled out of the narrative, often by Harry himself, to explain them. That sort of establishment is not very organic at times, and falls into the key issue I've had with urban fantasy to start - the almost automatic need to make sure the worldbuilding is secure because it's not standard majestic sword and sorcery.

This isn't always a bad thing. Part of what makes Dresden work is Harry's need to follow the arcane rules of the magical world around him, and it introduces a lot of danger not only for him, but now for others around him. Could they be introduced in a better way in the narrative? Sure, why not? With that said, the only urban fantasy I've read so far that hasn't gotten hung up in that sort of descriptive speedbump is Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead, which is arguably not a traditional urban fantasy anyway. It might just be part of the genre, and that's okay.

With all that said, my criticisms feel a little empty because this book was even better than the first two, and watching the trajectory of these stories continue to rise even as things get a lot more complicated? It's great, especially in comparison to my last readthrough of The Wheel of Time, which could charitably be called painful at some times. At 340 pages, it never felt overdone, the last 100 pages may as well have been pure action, and it's fun to see smart, heroic characters making choices that you expect smart, heroic characters to make, even when they don't necessarily work. Kudos to Butcher as well for continuing to put his characters in real danger and giving real consequences to the actions made. A great gut punch occurs in this book that wasn't anticipated for me at all, and it was both stunning and refreshing.

I am so glad I'm reading these, and moreso that I'm enjoying them as much as I am. I actually can't wait for the next volume at this point.

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