By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Summer Knight
While Grave Peril could be compared to a Michael Bay film in terms of relentless action, cheesy jokes, and blasting fast pacing, Summer Knight takes a different approach. Dropping almost all the staple characters from the previous novel and bringing back old ones, and focusing more on detective work rather than plain action, Butcher shows that he can handle both sides of his craft. A fine balance of action, magic, and mystery; Summer Knight easily outdoes its predecessor in nearly every way.
Same disclaimer as Grave Peril: I listened to the audiobook; I didn’t actually read the book. However, the rest from here on out will be in text format, despite me really liking the audiobooks.
I’ve mentioned in my previous review of Grave Peril how much I liked the novel. The first Dresden book was a good idea but dull execution, the second picked up but didn’t hit the nail on the head. The third really starts something fantastic off, with blisteringly fast action, and one thing happening right after the other. It establishes (and does horrible things to) its main characters, as well as introduce a few more: Susan, Dresden’s girlfriend. Thomas, a vampire of the White Court who is a bit of an unstable ally for Dresden. Michael, a holy warrior and good counter for Dresden’s carefree, “consequences be damned” attitude.
And, in Summer Knight, he dumps all these characters. They aren’t anywhere in this book.
Truth be told? It’s better for it. Let me explain.
While I consider Grave Peril to be were the series really starts off (seriously, Storm Front and Fool Moon seem like prologues, while the real story is just beginning), I’d argue that Summer Knight is where the series gets good. I don’t mean good as in just good reading. Grave Peril was a fun book but, ultimately, it was a popcorn novel. It had lots of fun, one-shot ideas, tons of crazy twists, and was a blast to read…but it seemed to be lacking on substance. It was goofy fun, which made a lot of the more dramatic scenes seem a little jarring or even forced.
Summer Knight takes the world and formula established, and slows it down. Having already read Death Masks (I read it in one day), I can also say that the pacing and style he establishes carries over to future novels, and this is a great thing. It is a sign of a good author that, when faced with all these brilliant ideas, to know he can’t put them all in one novel. Summer Knight puts Dresden back doing what he does best – detective work, mixed with magic – rather than having him simply Fuego! (aka fire burn) every supernatural beastie he doesn’t like.
So, let’s go down the list again. Storm Front was a crazy wizard. Fool Moon was werewolves. Grave Peril was ghosts. So, what can Dresden fight now? What about Fairies?
Yeah, fairies. No, they aren’t lame Tinkerbell things (well, a few are). They are manipulative, creepy, and bound to lots of odd rules which Dresden takes full advantage of. Another great point about this series is that it isn’t just the magic that feels natural, so does all the rules binding the magical creatures. Fairies can’t lie. They can bend the truth, but they can’t lie. They like to bargen for things, usually involving trickery. If anything can be said about Butcher, it’s that he makes certain you don’t get lost in his modern interpretations of beasts of myth. Every new rule is presented in great detail and, for whatever reason, makes sense. It’s a sure sign of his skill as an author.
At any rate, Dresden’s life is pretty much hell again. In Grave Peril he (potential spoiler) kind of sparked a war between the vampires of the Red Court (read: nasty, demon-looking things wearing human flesh masks) and the White Council (essentially the group of wizards which Harry belongs to). The vampires said they’ll stop the war if Harry is delivered to them, so the White Council calls a meeting to figure out what to do. It eventually turns out Harry, in order to save his own neck, needs to prove his loyalty to the wizards by securing an alliance with the fairie kingdom of Winter (the two houses in fairie land being Winter and Summer). Unfortunately, Winter and Summer are currently at war, so it is up to Harry to figure out why, who killed somebody important to both sides, and how he can use this to save both his own skin and a lot more on a much grander scale. Except Harry’s a grouch after what happened in Grave Peril, pissed off his girlfriend Susan is gone, and is generally being a useless piece of crap. Hey, we all have bad days. Harry’s just usually involve huge supernatural catastrophes.
Something I was glad to see was, despite the fact that none of the characters from Grave Peril made an appearance, the friendly werewolf pack from Fool Moon did. I was beginning to wonder where those guys went, and they don’t fail to impress. Especially since they play Dungeons and Dragons. Like, come on. You are werewolves. Pretty sure real life for you is much more exciting.
Summer Knight is a great book that fixes all the problems that I found in Grave Peril. More importantly, Butcher takes a very dramatic and much needed step in the series. He knows where the story is going, and he knows how to deal with it maturely. There are some genuinely dramatic choices Harry and his allies have to make in several dire situations. A lot of the “stupid popcorn flick” from Grave Peril is gone, but it’s replaced with a mature voice that really makes these books shine.
All in all, these books continue to impress. They’re flashy, pulp fiction with just the right amount of fantasy and noir that they’re accessible to a wide range of audience, but what really keeps people interested is the characters. With each book we get to know a little more about the various groups in the world, the people (or monsters) that inhabit them, and how both Dresden and humanity as a whole fits in the whole shebang. This is the book that starts taking what we know and using it to propel new plots forward, which really makes reading them a treat. A great novel, and absolutely worth reading.