‘Grave Peril’ by Jim Butcher

Overall Rating: Recommended (How I Rate Books)

Personal Rating: Better than the first two

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Genres: Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Dresden Files

Similar books:

Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:


This is a re-read for me, after about a decade. I’m reading it as a part of the Legendarium Podcast bookclub.

SPOILERS BELOW!

There is a large gulf in quality between ‘Storm Front,’ ‘Fool Moon’ and this. ‘Grave Peril’ is arguably one of the better books in the series. While I’d argue that neither SF or FM are atrocious books, they certainly aren’t what one would call literature. They were fun pulp, and kinda forgettable.

In ‘Grave Peril’ the protagonist Dresden begins his cross-series character arc. He starts changing from the loveable asshole he is at the start of the series, becoming a more mature individual as he’s forced to come to terms with affection for Susan. Their relationship goes to the next level as they tell one another of their love. So when the bad guys force their relationship to end, Dresden’s character arc becomes that much more poignant. In light of events in ‘Changes,’ the crux of the series, this chapter in the Dresden saga takes on additional importance.

This book’s plot was… convoluted. First there’s ghosts, then there’s Excaliber, then a demon, then a faerie, then a maiden who needs saving, then red vampires, then drug addiction, then a warlock, then a black vampire, then a white vampire, the a dragon, then… Yada yada yada. Honestly the plot just sort happened. It lacked a driving narrative.

The book was well paced, sorta. The first half of the book felt like a ghost story. The second half felt like a vampire story. The two plots weren’t satisfactorily integrated for my taste. When Dresden went to the vampire party at the 2/3’s mark it felt like we had just started reading a new book because all of the sudden we were dealing with different villains. Sure, in the end we found out that Kravos and the vampires were cooperating, but while we were reading we didn’t know about that cooperation. As a result, our ignorance made that sudden transition feel clumsy.

This book’s narrative had no thematic resonance. I’ve read this book twice now, and I still think this books feels like a ghost book stapled together with a vampire book with a sprinkling of faerie. There’s nothing wrong with having a book featuring ghosts and vampires and faeries. But this wasn’t the way to do it. It needed a driving narrative.

And finally, as is tradition for all my Butcher reviews, I have to complain that his villains suck. They are all evil, and they are evil in the same ways.

  • All the vampires in the Dresden Files are evil predatory monsters, be they Red/White/Black, all of them are motivated by ‘humans=food’ and not something more compelling.
    • A counter example from in Magic the Gathering is the vampire Sorin Markov. Sorin isn’t motivated by his desire to eat people. His motivation is his desire to protect his home planet. He’s still a cannibal who uses black magic- it’s just that his immortality and dark power is in the service of protecting his beloved planet.
  • All the evil wizards in the Dresden Files, from Nicodemus to Kravos to Victor Sells to Corpsetaker, all are lame. They might as well be twirling their mustaches for all the subtlety they have. They are evil because ‘evil feels goooood.’
    • A counter example of a compelling evil wizard would be Saint Liliath from ‘Angel Mage.’ She wants bring her dead lover, an archangel, back to life. She is motivated by insanely passionate teenage love. It doesn’t matter to her that thousands of people will die in the process; she’s just a teenager who wants to get it on with the only person she sees as worthy of her. From her point of view, what value do a few thousand human lives have compared to the life of an archangel?

Well, anyway, enough of that tangent. Butcher’s villains usually suck.

And finally, I’m going to rank the series. I’m coming at this as a re-read, so bear that in mind.  Here we are so far, ranked from best to worst:

  1. Grave Peril
  2. Storm Front
  3. Fool Moon

None of these are miserably bad… but I don’t think I’m going to re-read Fool Moon again. That’s the only one which I’ve never quite clicked with.

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