Fool Moon works on a lot of different levels. It’s better written than the book that went before it. The morals provide a solid backbone from which the series will continue to grow. Butcher’s worldbuilding kicks into high gear and works perfectly with the narrative. For a book published in 2001, it’s got wonderful morals that still work with the times. But it’s not perfect, and that’s okay. Jim Butcher gives us some improvements, some moments where he falters, and some moments in between.
Spoilers for Fool Moon and for the other Dresden Files books.
So, What Happened?
Fool Moon opens in Mac’s Bar, where Harry meets Kim Delaney, a part time magic user. She asks about summoning and protection circles and Harry keeps quiet, trying to protect her. Then, as is typical for The Dresden Files, Lieutenant Murphy asks him to consult on a murder. Someone killed another one of Johnny Marcone’s goons. We find out Internal Affairs wants to investigate Karrin for connections to Marcone after the events of the last novel. Harry tracks down a group of teenagers using blood from the crime scene, then returns home where Bob tells him about the four kinds of werewolves.
Not surprisingly, he encounters all four types through the remainder of the story. He investigates the “Streetwolves” after a tip from the FBI, and that ends very badly. They pursue him during the rest of the story. Marcone enters the story to try and buy Harry and to give him a tip about Harley McFinn. Harry heads for McFinn’s house and discovers Kim dead there, trying to fix his broken protection circle. Karrin shows up and arrests him.
Tera West, McFinn’s fiance, frees him from the police station. But he only returns there when he finds out Karrin jailed McFinn, who’s about to transform into a wolf. He manages to prevent some bloodshed, but several people die at the station. Harry continues searching for McFinn, and discovers the FBI agents also working the case want to use McFinn to kill Marcone. Harry, Susan, Tera, and her pack of teenage werewolves go to Marcone’s estate to prevent any more deaths. Karrin shows up, and helps fight the rogue, hexenwolf, FBI agents. They ultimately have to kill McFinn to stop him hurting more people. Tera reveals that she is a wolf who can turn into a human and leaves.
Best Moment – Billy’s Morals Lecture
My absolute favorite moment in the entire novel comes right before the confrontation with McFinn at Marcone’s estate. Billy, the leader of the teenage werewolves, although they’re really college-aged, asks Harry what they should do to prepare. Harry balks at the idea of taking the Alphas, the college werewolves with him. Billy responds, and it’s a doozy.
“I know I don’t know a lot, compared to you,’ Billy said. ‘But I’m not stupid. I’ve got eyes. I see some things everybody else tries to pretend aren’t there. … I’m sort of a pessimist, Mr. Dresden. I think that people are almost too incompetent to hurt themselves so badly. … So what if the supernatural world is making a comeback? What if that accounts for some of what is going on? … Someone has to do something. I can. So I should. That’s why we’re here, the Alphas. Tera offered us the chance to do something, … and we took it.” (306).
These are the morals that will underlie the rest of the series as a whole. It’s a mission statement, and it comes from a college aged student, desperate to do something to help fix the world. In the story it sets steel into Harry’s spine and makes him determined to protect both the Alphas and the others caught up in this mess. In the morals sense, it resonates so wildly. It’s someone thrown into a world that grows darker and darker and each day. Instead of letting that darkness hurt them, they build community based around a shared set of morals to fight back.
Community building around protecting others, and standing up for what’s good. That’s hopepunk at its best, and a set of morals I can only hope to emulate. It’s something I hope to see in the current world as well.
Most Improved – No More Secrets, No More Lies
One of the things that infuriated me most in Storm Front was Harry’s stubborn refusal to tell anyone anything. I love that The Dresden Files lets the character’s flaws drive the story. As such, Harry’s lack of communication drives a good portion of Fool Moon.
When he meets Kim in the bar, he doesn’t tell her about summoning and protective circles because he wants to protect her. “Keeping that kind of information out of Kim’s hands had been the right decision. I had been protecting her from danger she didn’t, couldn’t, fully appreciate.” (9-10). In not telling her, Kim died trying to help McFinn restore his broken wards. It satisfied his morals and protective instincts, but it didn’t help her at all.
It didn’t help Murphy either, Murphy removed her warrant on Harry who linked himself with Marcone. Internal Affairs investigated Murphy to see if she involved herself with Marcone as well. All because they didn’t communicate. Harry continues making this mistake after Kim dies, and doesn’t tell Murphy anything then, which leads to his arrest.
But we see how Harry starts improving. After Tera frees him from the police station, he sinks into delirium. He hallucinates a conversation with his ‘instinct’, a shadow reflection of him. It gives him a lecture on his secret-keeping. “[Tell] her everything,’ my double said. ‘The White Council, the Nevernever, all of it.” (231). It doesn’t fix everything, but it gets him started. Even if his double and he don’t have the same morals, they still want to protect people. But now there’s the frame of coaching others instead of lying to them. It shows where he can start improving.
Best Worldbuilding – Werewolves, Everywhere
Jim Butcher does his research before he worldbuilds, and it’s amazing. He draws coherently on werewolf mythology to craft his four types of werewolves, Loup-Garou, Hexenwolves, Werewolves, and Lycanthropes. The type of mythology he uses also drives how they act in the plot.
“The loup-garou are the major monsters, Harry. Someone has cursed them to become a wolflike demon, and usually at the full moon.” (72-3). McFinn is a loup-garou, and Saint Patrick cursed one of his ancestors, and now he’s a loup-garou. McFinn causes the most damage, but he didn’t choose this.
“The talisman provides an anchor for a spirit of bestial rage. … you lose all your human inhibitions and so on. … It would influence their actions. Maybe even control them.” (70-1). These are Hexenwolves, or the FBI agents. Infuriated that nothing could touch Marcone, they bargained for the talismans that turned them into wolves, and killed people. They blamed McFinn, and set him on Marcone. Even though they eventually lose control, they engineer the plot of the book.
“The classic werewolf,’ Bob said, ‘is simply a human being who uses magic to shift himself into a wolf. … He’s like a wizard who only knows how to cast the one spell,” (68). Billy and the Alphas learn to be werewolves from Tera. She teaches them to use their wolf shapes, but they ultimately decide to become werewolves, and what they do with their forms. It ties in with the morals, choosing to act, to form a community, not to stand by.
“A lycanthrope turns into a beast, but only inside his head. … It affects the way he acts and thinks, makes him more aggressive, stronger.” (72). The Streetwolves suffer from a condition, without control. The Hexenwolves drag them in to throw Harry off their trail.
Worst Worldbuilding – Bob
To qualify this, I really appreciate Bob and how his character develops. However, in this book he comes off as exceedingly creepy. Probably to a purpose, but still.
I also appreciate Bob as a vehicle for exposition, he gives Harry information on werewolves. He comments on their shared past that gives us hints to Harry’s trauma. “Old Justin had a lousy sense of just about everything. He got what was coming to him, Harry, and don’t let anyone on the White Council tell you any different.’ I stopped for a moment. A sudden rush of mixed feelings, anger and fear and mostly regret, washed through me.” (65-6). This gives us a sense, between what we learn in Storm Front, that Harry killed a man with magic, of Harry’s trauma. Bob does excellently at that aspect of the story.
However, what makes me classify him as ‘worst worldbuilding’ in this one, when I quite like him mostly, is this.
“Forget it. The last time I let you out, you invaded a party over at Loyola and set off an orgy.’ Bob sniffed. ‘I didn’t do anything to anyone that a keg wouldn’t have done.’ ‘But those people didn’t ask for you to get into their systems, Bob.” (75).
We learned about this incident in a throw-away reference at the end of Storm Front. However, this description of the event, and the blurring of the lines of consent, and the intoxicant sits uneasily with me. It continues with the almost date-rape potion Bob forced Harry to mix previously. It starts to form a pattern, one I know get’s disrupted and deconstructed later. But still.
I also know, from future knowledge of Bob’s whole situation, that Bob is supposed to come off as creepy here. It still bugs me though.
Worst Worldbuilding – Sexy She-Wolf
One of the other recurring patterns in this novel is the sexualization of the she-wolves.
Tera is a wolf that turned into a human, and doesn’t have human mores. When asked to distract the guards in front of Harry’s apartment. “Tera spun gracefully through the steps of some sort of gliding dance, moving to a rhythm and a music I could not hear. There was a primal sort of intensity to her motions, raw sexuality, feminine power coursing through her movements. Her back arched as she spun and whirled, offering out her breasts to the chill rain, and her skin was slick and gleaming with water.” (184-5). While I get that it’s meant to be a preemptive punch line to the joke, “Men are foolish. They will stare at anything female and naked.” (185). The way that sex is implied to be the only power available to women is irksome.
I get that werewolves are supposed to be reflections of the id, and sex is part of that. But why is it always sex that is gravitated to? Because sex is titillating.
This further comes off in the Streetwolves garage, where Harry hides from the Hexenwolves. “Come with me. Change. … Benn made another sound, utterly sexual in nature. … Taste it,’ she urged him. ‘Taste the blood.” (281). Bob and Harry establish that Hexenwolves gradually become influenced by the spirit and controlled by it. They become monsters. However, by framing it as sexual in nature, and that the only female Hexenwolf falls first comes off as problematic. Benn attacks Murphy in the beginning, but the male FBI agents come off as rational up until this point. Benn is coded as hysterical, as more corrupted than her counterparts, because she’s female. The pattern is the problem.
Overall, Fool Moon isn’t a bad book. It markedly improves from Storm Front, though there are still problems. Butcher introduces several important characters, and reveals more of Harry’s backstory. The morals of the story become clearer and clearer, and this book, and Billy’s speech lays the ground work for that journey. I’m looking forward to looking through the next book and seeing where that takes us.
If you feel that I overlooked something you feel would be a better fit for one of these categories, feel free to reach out in the comments. If you feel I’ve misrepresented something, feel free to do the same. I want to spark conversation, and talk with people about what each of these categories means. Thanks for all the comments I got on the last piece, and I look forward to continuing the conversation begun there.