Sunday, August 12, 2012

Review: Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight (The Dresden Files, #4)Private detective/wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden is tasked with solving a mystery that leaves the fate of the entire world, and his soul, handing in the balance.

Over the course of the last three books of the Dresden Files series I've come to expect Jim Butcher to give me something different every time, not just in terms of Dresden's adversaries and allies but also in terms of the difficulty of his task and the character arc. I've come to look forward to finding out what supernatural species was going to come up on the stage next. I've come to relish the smart-alec and often beat up but never beatdown Harry. I thought I had the general system all worked out. And then Butcher surprised me.
What surprised me most was the emotional journey on which the author took Harry. The last time I saw this level of character development in a fantasy series was in the Abhorsen Chronicles and I was glad to discover a similar depth in the Dresden Files. One of my favorite things about Butcher's writing in this novel is how well he showed the extent of Harry's depression and downright desperation. Grave Peril didn't end very well for the wizard and from the very first pages the fallout was obvious in everything from dark sarcasm to the state of Harry's life. Things started to turn around so gradually that I almost missed it, but I sure was glad to see it happen. After all, who wants the protagonist to be semi-suicidal for the nearest foreseable future, right?
The story has grown too. All the familiar elements were there but this time every aspect was taken to the next level - the villain is the most powerful being Harry has battled so far, the life of the entire planet is at stake, and the guys who should be helping are leaving Dresden out in the cold. Fortunately it wasn't just about the circumstances. This time around experience and the willingness to take a risk weren't going to be enough, and fire and wind magic was useless against beings with unlimited power. This time it was as much about keeping at it despite a seemingly no-win situation, not falling apart because of guilt and pain over the past, and being able to tell who is a friend and who is a foe waiting to put a deadly spell on you.
If you're wondering what supernatural species is front and center in this novel you're in for a treat: this story is all about the fey. You know, Summer and Winter courts, Queens, bargains one's better off not making. It was dangerous and a little disturbing but, true to the Dresden Files ways, a lot of fun.
Reading this book was like starting to see what the puzzle will look like after having only the simpler pieces to work with. I look forward to seeing more of the big picture.

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