In 2008, Jim Butcher published the tenth book in The Dresden Files, Small Favor. While previously Harry dealt with only one significant threat at once, things change here. Now, Harry Dresden faces both the Fallen and the Fae. Ramping up the stakes and watching to see what Harry will do shows how the rest of the extant series will evolve.
Spoilers for Small Favor and Butcher’s previous work.
So, What Happened?
Harry and the Carpenter brood teach Molly shields by having a snowball fight when Gruffs, Summer Fae, attack them. Afterwards, Murphy asks Harry to investigate one of Marcone’s buildings that someone destroyed with magic, and Mab shows up. She calls in one of Harry’s favors, and makes him her Emissary because the Fallen Denarians kidnapped Marcone from the destroyed building. Harry locates Hendricks and the Valkyrie, Gard, and arranges the White Council to file an objection for breach of the Unseelie Accords. Captain Luccio brings in the Archive, or Ivy, in as a neutral party to help negotiate.
Harry catches Murphy up on events, and she protects him by invoking her authority as a protector of the city when a second Gruff attempts to attack. He travels to Union Station after Gard gives him permission to access blood and hair samples stored there. The second Gruff and some Winter monsters attack Harry and Michael when they arrive. They defeat them and meet up with Luccio, Kincaid, and Ivy. Ivy schedules a meeting with Nicodemus and Harry, and Sanya shows up. Nicodemus betrays them and kidnaps Ivy with the intent of forcing her to take up a coin. Despite that, they kill all but 6 of the active Denarians in the whole world in the fight to keep Ivy safe. Harry bargains with Nicodemus with the captured coins and Amoracchius to try and free Ivy.
Michael worries about this. Molly discovers that Mab fiddled with Harry’s mind to keep him from using fire magic. Harry, Michael, and Sanya travel to the exchange site on an abandoned island in Lake Michigan. Nicodemus betrays them, and the Eldest Gruff “attacks”, but they manage to free both Marcone and Ivy. When escaping, Tessa shoots Michael in the spine, leaving him disabled.
Best Moment – Besting the Billy Goats Gruff
In half of their appearances, the Billy Goats Gruff are dangerous enemies, on par with the Fallen. In the other two moments, they become vehicles for levity or for the expression of duty. These scenes do such a good job at continuing to reinforce the characters of the characters doing the ‘besting’.
The first one to do so is Murphy, when the Middle Gruff visits Mac’s bar. The Gruff wants Harry to come out of the bar and fight, but Murphy stops him by standing and speaking. She forces the Gruff to acknowledge her as a knight with the local authority. Then Murphy protects Harry, utilizing the fact that Chicago is not part of the Accords to threaten him. When the Gruff asks why she defends him, Murphy says.
“This man lives in Chicago. He pays taxes to the city. He is beholden to its laws.’ … her mouth quirked wryly. ‘If he is to suffer the headaches of citizenry, as he must, then it is fair and lawful that he should enjoy the protections offered to every citizen.” (179).
Murphy proves herself able to bargain with Titania’s people. It also shows just how deeply she takes her duty. The way she recites this manifesto of responsibility with no preparation.
Then with Harry, on the Isle of Demonreach, the Eldest Gruff shows up, with big ominous thumping steps. Then he turns out to be over a foot shorter than Harry. That humor sets the tone for the meeting. Harry makes a joke and the gruff laughs. Harry tells him about how humans still tell stories about the gruffs. To avoid conflict, Harry calls in Summer’s boon granted to him because the Gruff won’t attack after he leaves the island. So. “I want you,’ I said, ‘to get me a doughnut.” (442).
Most Improved – Fallen and Redeemed, Sanya, Knight of the Cross
In this book, we learn more about Sanya’s past, before he became a knight. How he used to be a Denarian, with a coin, following one of Tessa’s lieutenants. For one thing, this shows that the knights actually practice the redemption that they preach. Michael and Sanya reach out to Nicodemus and the others, asking them to turn back. But now it has more impact because that’s what Sanya did. Beyond the lack of religious hypocrisy, it also marks an improvement in Butcher’s representation.
The Dresden Files has a largely white cast. But through Sanya’s experience as a person of color in white Russia, Butcher shows that he can think about these dynamics. He doesn’t always do so, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“Many people in that part of the world had never seen a black person with their own eyes. That is changing slowly, but growing up I was a minority the way Bigfoot is a minority.’ … ‘So when you say that Tessa prefers to take recruits she knows will be eager to accept a coin…’ ‘I speak from experience,’ … ‘Rosanna… truly did not care about the color of my skin.’ Sanya shook his head. ‘I was sixteen.” (161).
Sanya’s experience shows the lived experience of people of color, how being the Other wears them down emotionally and physically. How it sometimes makes minorities susceptible to negative influences because of that grind. But Butcher doesn’t show us that the Fallen actually care about minorities. When Sanya and Rosanna meet again, she calls him “animal” and “beast” (392). Both of these are highly negative stereotypes about people of color. This shows that Rosanna and Tessa give coins to the downtrodden because it makes it easy for them. Not because they genuinely care about their problems.
Best Worldbuilding – The Knight-Kings of the Cross
As is to be expected in a book where the major antagonists are the Fallen, we learn about their counterparts, the Knights of the Cross. After Harry and Sanya talk about Sanya’s past with the Fallen, they reminisce about Shiro. Harry mentions that Shiro was technically a king. Sanya mentions he was descended from a king as well. The question of coincidence is brought up. They quote King Arthur movies for a while, and then Harry gets serious. “The point is that in many cultures, the king or sultan of whatever held a position of duty and authority that was as much spiritual as physical. Certain energies could have been connected to that, giving the old kings a form of metaphysical significance. … ‘Now you need only find a prince or princess willing to lay down his or her life over matters of principle.” (164).
Later, escaping from Demonreach, Murphy pulls Fidelacchius from its scabbard. It blinds everyone with light. When Murphy asks what happened, Harry replies, “Offhand,’ I mumbled, ‘I’d say it was a job offer.” (457). Afterward, Harry asked Molly to research her family tree and she finds Charlemagne there.
This does two things simultaneously. On one hand, it establishes some of the requirements of being a Knight of the Cross, because it’s clearly not religion, given Sanya’s atheism. The requirement of royal blood and commitment to a cause explain how the Knights are chosen.
Then, with Murphy’s ‘job offer’, the other point of this worldbuilding emerges. Murphy spends her time during this book committing herself to defending Chicago. The implications that she could take up the sword also mean that she has royal ancestry. This takes her number of ‘significant’ ancestors up to two, with her father that knew about the magical world, and the unknown royal.
Worst Moment – Fallen Causing Michael’s Fall
This is not what you could call a ‘traditional’ pick for the category of Worst Moment. This isn’t something that is regressive, not something that makes me mad, or just bad writing. Michael’s fall makes me sad, and for lack of other options, that will have to be enough.
This makes me sad because Harry tries so hard to protect Michael. After seeing Gard go pale at the sight of Michael, and knowing her Valkyrie ability to predict deaths in battle, he decides to send Michael up first. “I’d made the grasshopper a promise. If things were about to get hairy for whoever was left on the ground, it wouldn’t be Molly’s dad that had to deal with it” (429). Then Tessa shoots Michael on the way up to the helicopter, and “my friend didn’t scream as bullets tore into him. He just jerked once in a spray of scarlet and went limp.” (430). The short plain sentences are where Butcher’s strengths as an author shine, and this is no exception. Then later, when Molly and Harry have to leave for fear of shorting out Michael’s respirator, just reinforces this hurt.
I think that this makes sense for where Butcher wants the plot in future books to go, and the character motivations make sense. This is not senseless brutality, but it hurts Michael, and after ten books we care about him.
The only other moments I considered for Worst Moment were his argument with Murphy at the opening and his argument with Michael about Michael leaving his children. But then Butcher kept writing and cut the ground from under my feet. Harry tells Michael and Murphy about Lash’s death. Murphy then explains why Harry’s been snappish. He’s suffering from psychic trauma over that, which explains, though not excuses his behavior.
I don’t really know what to say. I love this book, full stop. The Fae and the Fallen always fascinated me in the other books, and now they appear together. It’s like a dream come true, and that fact that I wasn’t overly annoyed by anything makes it better.
On that note, I don’t think that Worst Moment will go the way of Worst Worldbuilding, where it only pops up sporadically. I think that this is an outlier, something that won’t be repeated in the immediate future. Also, I need to keep up a ‘balanced’ critique, and I know there will be things that annoy me.
But for now, I am going to bask in the happiness that is a Worst Moment that isn’t actually bad, just sad. I’ll see you next month for Turn Coat.