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Proven Guilty
Jim Butcher
Roc, 406 pages

Proven Guilty
Jim Butcher
A martial arts enthusiast whose resume includes a long list of skills rendered obsolete at least two hundred years ago, Jim Butcher turned to writing as a career because anything else probably would have driven him insane. He lives with his wife, his son and a ferocious guard dog.

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SF Site Review: Dead Beat
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A review by Michael M Jones

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Harry Dresden, P.I. and the only wizard listed in the Chicago phone directory, is in one of the worst binds of his life. And for a guy who routinely fends off attacks by vampires, werewolves, demons, faeries, zombies, ghosts, and warlocks, that's saying something. He has become the one thing he has always hated and distrusted more than anything else: a Warden for the White Council, the governing body that makes sure all wizards mind their manners and cast within the lines. It used to be, he was oppressed and feared by the White Council, living under a death threat should he ever misuse his powers. Now, against Harry's own better judgment, he's responsible for enforcing the rules he once stood accused of breaking. Not only is he suffering a moral conflict, but there are those of the Council who still distrust him, waiting for him to screw up just one more time. And it looks like the opportunity may have come at last.

As the war between the White Council and the vampiric Red Court rages on with ever-higher casualties (a war inadvertently sparked by Harry's own actions some years back), Harry is tasked to find out what the Summer and Winter Courts of the Fae have up their sleeves. He's got some history with the two Courts, which makes him ideal for the task. Find out why the Fae haven't acted in response to earlier slights. Find out why the Red Court has gotten away with blatant acts against the Fae. Discover what it will take to bring the Sidhe to bear against the vampires, and not the mages. Oh, and by the way, all evidence supports the existence of a traitor within the White Council, someone placed extremely high. Possibly even at the very top. And as if THAT wasn't enough for poor Harry, he's also instructed to track down rumors of black magic being performed in Chicago. A warlock is on the loose, and Harry has to find them.

That's just the tip of an ugly iceberg, especially when Molly Carpenter, the daughter of Harry's good friend Michael Carpenter (one of the Knights of the Sword, a holy warrior for the Lord) shows up on Harry's doorstep, up to her pierced eyebrows in trouble. Serious trouble. Black magic trouble. Something nasty is stalking her and her friends.

And it may be her fault.

Hey, when things get complicated in Harry Dresden's life, they get downright messy. Before it's over, Harry will defeat a creature of pure nightmare, storm the depths of Faerie, defy the White Council, resist the temptations of a fallen angel, and push himself to the limits over and over. All in a day's work.

Where do I begin? Proven Guilty is everything I've come to expect and love about the Harry Dresden books, with the intensity turned up to full volume and then some. Butcher is superb at blending action and adventure with hard-hitting, no-holds-barred urban fantasy, all with a noir sensibility.

Harry's the quintessential flawed hero with a rough past, a heart of gold, and a head of steel, capable of taking beating after beating and still coming back to finish the job. He'll do what's right even if it kills him, all so other people can go home to their families at night. But in this book, we see him grow even more, as he continues his own personal journey towards a greater responsibility. As he embraces his new obligations and duties, we can see how he has steadily evolved as a character from the first book in the series, enjoying a satisfying level of growth. This especially comes into play as he sees where he stands in relation to characters like Molly (who's grown up since she was first introduced a few books back), Thomas (Harry's half-brother and semi-reformed vampire), Ebenezar (Harry's old mentor), and Karrin Murphy (Head of Chicago P.D.'s Special Investigations unit, and one of Harry's best friends). You might want to beat Harry for being a pig-headed, stubborn, noble idiot, but you'd never turn him away if he was on your side.

The story definitely moves with a roller coaster's breakneck intensity, constantly on the move, throwing the reader through all sorts of loops, switchbacks, and surprise turns along the way, so it never gets dull. And as usual for a Dresden story, the multiple plot lines all feed back into the overarching threads, but not always as expected. Proven Guilty plays off of the ongoing story lines from previous books, but holds up on its own merits, even as it leaves plenty to be answered in the future. It's a satisfying read, but sure to leave readers demanding more, and the sooner the better. There are many reasons why new books in the Dresden Files shoot immediately to the top of my reading list, but the simplest one is this: they're some of the best urban fantasy to be found on the bookshelves today. Jim Butcher always delivers an excellent story, and he keeps getting better. The next book can't arrive quickly enough, in my opinion. Fans of the Dresden Files won't be disappointed. Newcomers to the series are strongly urged to start with Storm Front, the first in the series, just so they get a proper grounding, however. Trust me, they won't regret it.

Copyright © 2006 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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