The Short Version: Harry Dresden, Winter Knight and Warden of Demonreach, has spent pretty much all of the last year on that little horrible island. But when Mab (now his boss) comes a-calling, he ends up contracted out as a wizard-for-hire to one of his mortal enemies: Nicodemus. And they’re going to go rob a vault. In Hades.
The Review: The thought of Harry Dresden on a magic heist is almost too good to be true. For one thing, his knowledge of pop-culture references alone would make him a delightful companion (I caught references to nearly all of the major heist movies in history, but probably missed some) – but here’s a guy who has had a pretty rough run of it over the last couple years/books. Why not give him something kind of fun to do, like a heist? Who doesn’t want to be on a heist squad?
Unless, of course, it’s this one. Butcher follows the traditional format of a Suicide Squad / Rogue’s Gallery sort of mission: gather a group of scurvy individuals, all in it mostly for the money and all distrustful of one another, put them in a room together with a boss who doesn’t tell them everything, and then watch as sparks fly. And while sometimes following a formula can lead to banal and boring results, Butcher is too assured of himself to fall into such a trap: even as you’re predicting various things (like the numerous betrayals or near-betrayals), he’s always one step ahead of you. The last big surprise in the vault, done with terrific narration like something out of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, was a hoot and I didn’t quite see it coming. Wouldn’t have mattered if I did, though: it was damned enjoyable either way.
But the secret of Butcher’s success has always been his ability to build these characters and keep them evolving. Fifteen books into a series, you figure something’s going to start suffering: character quality, world-building, grammar. Something. But not so, here: Butcher has organically taken Harry from a regular old wizard in a phonebook to the Winter Knight and it all feels logical. As he grapples with his various demons (some metaphorical, some literal, some only hypothetical), he never does something that seems ridiculous or out of place. When the action pauses mid-book to deliver an unexpectedly moving moment between Harry and his daughter Maggie… that spills out and colors the rest of the book. Same, too, does a moment between Harry and Murphy – and even the way Butters has developed, our series’ own Neville Longbottom in some respects (not the mutual prophecy part but the dweeb who steps up part). It is refreshing to rejoin this series each time and to find that, each time, Butcher pretty much knows what he’s doing. Even weird aberrations like Ghost Story or some of the earlier, somewhat more forgettable case files still have that spark that’s all in the writing: you get the sense that Butcher is never doing this because he has to, but because he wants to. Because he has a grand scheme planned out and he’s moving the pieces towards it. No Pendergast-style fatigue here, no LOST-esque confusion: there’s a plan.
And to Butcher’s credit, that plan is kind of staggering. I don’t know what it is yet and I don’t think anybody in the world of the novel does, not entirely anyway. But things have developed now to the point that Butcher can safely bring Hades himself into the story and it not only fits, but elevates the story. I mean, Hades appears alongside an archangel and some fallen angels and probably-Odin-but-maybe-also-Santa. There’s a whole lot of blurring of the lines here and it’s become a concentrated Dresdenverse that’s really fun to play around in. The limits are really only your imagination and just how much you can picture (because every brain has a limit where it shuts down so you don’t get the heebies, jeebies, jibblies, or other freakouts).
Rating: 5 out of 5. Astonishingly, Butcher continues to operate at a high standard in his flagship series – and the story continues to progress. Dresden’s development over the last few books and the ways he’s been dealing with the fallout from Changes all come together here, with some serious growing not only on his part but on the parts of just about everybody around him (including the bad guys). To boot, the heist aspect of the novel (saved until the third act, which just makes you hungrier for it) is just a hell of a lot of fun. The traps, the tools, the characters – all of it. Just a blast.