Death Masks: Book Five of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Published October 2005 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2003.
Review by Hobbit
Please note: I last reviewed Harry Dresden in June 2006 with Summer Knight. For the record, please read the other reviews first: (Book 1 (Storm Front) review here; Book 2 (Fool Moon) review here; Book Three (Grave Peril) link here; and Book Four, Summer Knight link here as there may be spoilers here.
Book Five of the entertaining series by Jim Butcher and things are on a darker roll here.
A little more micro-scale after the events of Summer Knight; the war between the wizard’s White Council and the vampire’s Red Court is continued but the focus is clearly on Harry’s role in it all here. Harry, in an attempt to settle the war, is challenged to a duel by Paolo Ortega, a reputed member of the vampire Red Court royalty, one-on-one. In the mannered way that seems to be the way in the world of magic and demons, seconds are called for and the duel is arranged – at Wrigley Stadium in Chicago.
There is also a development in Harry’s complicated (love) life with the return of Susan Rodriguez, his ex-girlfriend who, as a consequence of Harry’s actions in earlier books, is now part-vampire.
So in many respects a smaller scale book – little reference to the NeverNever, more happenings around Chicago.
We have the Hitchcockian McGuffin – this time, the object of power is the shroud reputed to be that used to wrap a certain religious figure of note, which has been stolen and is available to the highest bidder.
We also have the continued development of certain well-liked characters of earlier novels. In addition to the return of Susan, we have the return of Michael Carpenter, Knight of the White Council (along with some handy helpers) and Johnny Marcone, the mob leader of Chicago, whose relationship with Harry here becomes increasingly complex.
In my last review I said that ‘I didn’t think things could get more desperate, but they have’. Here they don’t seem to be as bad this time around, despite World’s End foretold. Though things are difficult and distressing, and there are deaths and the usual Harry torture scenes, what we have here is something that felt not as bleak as last time but rather melancholic instead. There are still the humorous touches in there – I particularly liked the surreal one involving the plastic duck – but this is a book with an emphasis on a number of set pieces that keep the pages turning.
And this rather leads me to my slight disappointment this time around. As much as I enjoyed this one, there were moments that didn’t work as well as I had hoped. On finishing the book, I felt I noticed more set pieces this time around, and clearly obvious from a long way off – the chase scene, the torture scene, the love scene, and so on. Butcher does all of this knowingly, and points it out in the book, yet there were parts that seemed a little too obvious this time around.
Most of my grumbles were plot elements: The climactic duel was a little bit of a let down for me, being a rather too obvious solution. So too was the end-of-the-world scenario, which was dealt with far too easily and quickly at the end of the book, after an interesting build up. After the complex characterisation of the previous books (and certain characters in this), there were others that were not so convincing. The evil bad guys, particularly the demonic ones, were straight out of the pulps, or perhaps Pokemon.
However the book is not meant to be a detailed critique of the genre; it is still, despite my moans, fast and fun. There was still that page-turning element; and again, unusually for me these days, I finished the book in a couple of days.
Again, the book has a degree of closure on Harry’s past; and a James Bond-ian cliffhanger, presumably leading to the next book, Blood Rites.
In summary, a slight disappointment, but still recommended. In short: more continued goodness this time around. More complicated personal life, more war, more knights, more vampires, more duels, no werewolves.
Onto Book Six!
Mark Yon / Hobbit, January 2007.
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