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Grave Peril
Jim Butcher
Roc Books, 378 pages

Grave Peril
Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher lives in Oklahoma with his wife and son and a houseful of computers. He's also the author of Storm Front and Fool Moon, Books 1 and 2 of The Dresden Files.

The Jim Butcher Fan Attic
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fool Moon
SF Site Review: Storm Front
Excerpt from Grave Peril
The Dresden Files

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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Authors of continuing series face a special challenge -- they must not only come up with exciting plots for each volume, but find ways to keep the series protagonist(s) fresh. This can be difficult: the recognizability of the protagonist is central to retaining reader loyalty, so he can't change too much; but if he doesn't change at all, if his personal life doesn't shift and develop, readers will become bored and stop coming back. Some writers aren't able to master this delicate balancing act -- S.L. Viehl's Stardoc series, for instance, which has become a caricature of itself three books on. Jim Butcher, on the other hand, is doing just fine with The Dresden Files.

Harry Dresden, wizard for hire, is up to his neck in ghosts. All over his hometown of Chicago, angry apparitions are making trouble -- more of them than Harry has ever seen before. Even with the help of Michael Carpenter (a.k.a. the Fist of God, bearer of one of only three God-given swords dedicated to the fight of good against evil), Harry has been run ragged trying to send the spooks back to the Nevernever where they belong.

When an encounter with a particularly powerful ghost reveals that it has been driven mad by a deadly, painful spell wrapped around its ectoplasmic flesh like a strand of barbed wire, Harry begins to suspect that there's method behind all the spooky madness. Someone is attempting to destabilize the veil that divides the ordinary world from the Nevernever, making it easier to pass through. Is there a connection to the ritual sorcerer Harry and Michael took down a few months ago, with the help of Harry's friend, police officer Karrin Murphy? Or does it have something to do with the invitation Harry's just received, summoning him to witness the accession of vampire madam Bianca St. Claire (whose undying enmity Harry earned in the first volume of the series) to the Vampire Court? One thing's for sure: Harry won't rest until he finds out. But this investigation won't just risk his life -- it may take his soul.

The plot of Grave Peril is the most complicated yet in this series, with multiple story-strands involving ghosts, vampires, revenants, and Lea, Harry's exquisitely malicious faerie godmother, who is looking to collect on a promise Harry's been trying for years to dodge. There's also Harry's personal life -- specifically, his relationship with ace supernatural reporter Susan Rodriguez, to whom he can't quite bring himself to make a full emotional commitment. Butcher adroitly weaves these threads together, creating an engrossing tale whose many twists and turns are occasionally dizzying, but always well-grounded. If it doesn't have the compelling darkness of the previous novel, Grave Peril offers more flash and a greater variety of characters and settings; there's also plenty of grue and gore (what else would you expect, with vampires?).

Harry's dark side has been touched upon in previous volumes, but he confronts it more explicitly here, brought face to face (through Lea) with his youthful mistakes, and ultimately drawn by danger and desperation into re-enacting a version of the terrible deed that ended his apprenticeship. He also breaks through a crucial barrier with Susan, which should move their relationship to a new level -- but by the time he does, Susan herself has moved on, in a way Harry couldn't have predicted. Throughout, Harry remains his wry, wisecracking self, a stubborn champion of Doing the Right Thing under any circumstances, and a sucker for ladies in distress. It's a good balance between change and permanence, adding depth to Harry's character while retaining the basic qualities that make him such an appealing series protagonist.

The next installment, Summer Knight, should be out sometime in 2002. I'll be looking forward to it.

Copyright © 2001 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.


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