Proven Guilty: Book Eight of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Published April 2007 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2005.
Review by Mark Yon/Hobbit.
Please note: I last reviewed Harry Dresden in August 2008 with Dead Beat.
For the record, please read the ever-lengthening list of other reviews first:
(Book One (Storm Front) review here; http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/219.html ; Book Two (Fool Moon) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/232.html ) Book Three (Grave Peril) (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/243.html ), Book Four, Summer Knight (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/281.html), Book Five, Death Masks (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/416.html );
Book Six, Blood Rites (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/419.html ) and
Book Seven, Dead Beat (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/473.html ) as there are spoilers here.)
To the task, then. Book 8 takes place about a year after the events of Book 7.
I mentioned in my review of Dead Beat that the series seemed to have reached a renewal point, and that things had stepped up a gear there. Proven Guilty is a definite step up, in terms of plot complexity and pace. It is here that the war (between the wizard White Council and the vampire Red Court) is at its heaviest so far. Interestingly, things are not going well for Harry’s side. Thousands have been killed. This makes Harry feel a little guilty, because after all, it was Harry (albeit reluctantly) that started the War in the first place. Reluctantly, Harry has been made an active Warden, responsible for justice, and giving death sentences.
Consequently, the Harry here is a very different one from the one first encountered in Storm Front. More experienced, yet also a bitter and crippled Harry, a Harry with secrets and a darkness which threatens his life, or at least his sanity. He also feels conflicted by being conscripted to be a Warden, where the line between good and evil are clearly blurred. At the beginning of Proven Guilty Harry feels uncomfortable with the killing of a young man who has been involved with black magic. Reminding Harry of his own past, though the execution is perhaps deserved, Harry is clearly feeling a case of divided loyalties.
This theme continues through the book. The main plot lines this time around are quite convoluted. Firstly, Harry has been asked to go to the Nevernever (Faerieland) to contact his relative, Queen Mab, and ask for reasons why Winter has stayed apart from the War. The faerie Summer Court has stepped in by declaring war on the Red Court, but surprisingly the Winter Court has not.
Of course, these things are never simple. Harry risks his life by doing so as his earlier encounters in the NeverNever meant that Harry is at great risk by visiting. Just to keep things further complicated, there’s also possibly a traitor in the White Council giving the vamps information. Harry is asked by the Gatekeeper to investigate a series of black magic acts in Chicago which might be connected.
Harry has furthermore been asked to help out terrible teen Molly. The daughter of Michael Carpenter, Harry’s friend and Knight of the Sword (as well as Harry’s goddaughter) she seems to have got herself entangled with a boyfriend who is accused of a murder he and Molly claims he didn’t commit. The only problem with that denial is that he was the only person in the room where an old man was viciously and messily murdered. Harry suspects a supernatural cause, but is going to have difficulty proving it. Thus, as you can see, there’s an awful lot in the mix there this time around.
What fans of the series will like is that there are major revelations about characters that we know about from previous books, the re-appearance of Karrin’s ex-husband, a resolution of sorts to the complicated Harry/Karrin relationship, and major implications for Harry’s future.
There’s also Jim’s trademark humour. Jim sets many of the initial scenes at a horror convention called Splattercon!!! (evidently the three exclamation marks are important) where a phage appears, which feeds on other people’s fear. Where else to get lots of fear but at a Horror Convention? The humour plays an effective counterpoint to some of the darker events here, by throwing them into sharp relief. It’s an old trick, but it seems to work.
The characterisation is as good as ever, with some nicely done developments that fans will generally like. Some may be a little less loved however. For me I did feel at one point that (without giving major plot lines away, I hope!) we were creating Dresden: the Next Generation. I can see some grumbles that although the story is bigger, much of this greater picture does appear to be caused by beginning future stories than actually resolving this one.
My other gripe is that the ending of the main plot, before the 100 page coda at the end, was a little too convenient. I do think Jim stretched it a little too thin there, but then that might be the old cynic in me protesting.
Despite my grievances, the last 100 pages tie the rest of the book up fairly well. At the resolution Harry is again stronger and wiser for his experiences, as well as having made some difficult lifestyle changes that will no doubt be explored further in later books. This is another page-turning read that will keep fans very happy, and leave them wanting to go straight to the next.
In homage to my reviews of previous books, here are the key themes in short: generally more continued goodness this time around. More Carpenters, more Mouse, less Mister, more Karrin, more complicated personal life for Harry, more vampires, less polka, less dinosaur, more Nevernever, and more BIG duels.
Onto Book Nine!
Mark Yon / Hobbit, July/August 2009.
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