Thursday, December 31, 2009
Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
"Hell's Bells" count: 19 
As far as I know, The Dresden Files is an open-ended series that Butcher will continue to write until he decides to end it, which is fine with me. He's set up a universe that has endless possibilities to it, from simple mysteries to humorous romps to soul-searing betrayal and heartache. Can't go wrong with all that, and if Butcher wants to just keep putting out Dresden books every eighteen months or so, I'll happily keep buying them.
One of the dangers of such a plan, however, is stagnation - you end up rehashing similar plot points, perhaps throwing in a few twists and turns, but never really advancing the plot because, well, you don't know where the plot is going. I can imagine Butcher would get to a point where he thinks, "Ummm... Okay, Harry Dresden fights vampire werewolves.... from the future!" At which point, the shark has been well and truly jumped. As I've said before, I would much rather see a series end well than see it go on beyond its useful life and leave me with sad, sad memories. I'm looking at you, X-Files.
While I don't know if Butcher knows exactly where the series will finally end (though he probably does), he does manage to avoid stagnation very nicely, mainly by putting Harry in mortal danger. Okay, that's nothing new, but this time it's Mortal Danger with bonus Crippling Injury! And a side order of Serious Disillusion to boot. This book really stirs things up for the world of Harry Dresden and lets the readers know that there is far, far more in store for us than we knew. So bravo to you, Jim.
In this volume, Dresden is asked by his kind-of-sort-of friend Thomas to do a favor for him. Despite being a vampire of the White Court and a soul-sucking incubus, Thomas is an okay kind of guy and has helped Harry out of a few tight spots in their time. He can't say he trusts Thomas, but he likes him. And therefore we like him as well. The job sounds simple: a movie producer has been having weird accidents happen to people linked with his movie, and two women have already died mysterious deaths. Harry's job would be to figure out who's putting the bad mojo on the movie studio and stop it.
The fact that it's an adult movie studio is not brought up until later.
In the process of trying to help out with an astoundingly powerful (and regular) Evil Eye curse, Harry runs afoul of the Black Court vampires in a side plot that really has nothing to do with the main one. This seems unusual, since most of the Dresden books that have featured multiple cases do so in the spirit of Raymond Chandler, where we find out that they were all part of the same case after all.
The B plot in this book is an attempt to put down Mavra, a truly terrifying member of the Black Court of vampires. The Black Court is the type of vampire we all think of when the word comes up - the Nosferatu, the Dracula, all black and dry and horrible. They're also the toughest, most resilient and most vicious of the vampire clans. What's more, Mavra is an accomplished sorceress, whose power makes even Harry Dresden think twice about crossing her. Which is why he has a Plan this time. And we all know about Harry and his Plans....
All of this, though is incidental to the things he learns in this book, both about himself and the people he trusts. Those are the things that truly shake up his world and which will shape the books that are to follow. This book is a turning point for Dresden, and not a good one. While the Black Court plot, for example, didn't have much to do with the main plot, it sets up very important elements and concepts that are deftly exploited in later books. And Harry's always-fragile relationship with the White Council endures what could be a crippling blow.
All this is setting up the next few books and laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. One of the things I've come to admire about Butcher's writing is that nothing is wasted. I once heard that the process of writing a story is like packing for someone else's hiking trip - you only want to put into the bag what you think that person will absolutely need. After all, if they get to the end of their hiking trip and they haven't used that ten-pound bag of rice you thought might come in handy, they're going to be very pissed off at you.
Butcher doesn't do that. You can be sure that the elements he lays out in his stories will be used, sooner or later., and you'll never be left wondering, "But what was that scene with the baseball player and the chicken farm about?" If Butcher puts a baseball player and a chicken farm into his book, there's a very good reason for it, and you'll find out eventually.
As with the other books in The Dresden Files series, this is great fun to read. Which makes it no surprise that the series had some measure of success outside its original format - a TV series and a comic, at last count. I look forward to following it as it goes on.
"No matter how screwed up things are, they can get a whole lot worse."
- Harry Dresden, Blood Rites
 One of these was the maxi-expletive "Hell's holy stars and freaking stones shit bells," which I must commit to memory
The Dresden Files on Wikipedia
Blood Rites on Wikipedia
Blood Rites on Amazon.com
Jim Butcher on Wikipedia
Harry Dresden on Wikipedia
Jim Butcher's homepage