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White Night
Jim Butcher
Roc, 416 pages

White Night
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.

The Jim Butcher Fan Attic
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Proven Guilty
SF Site Review: Dead Beat
SF Site Review: Blood Rites
SF Site Interview: Jim Butcher
SF Site Review: Death Masks
SF Site Review: Grave Peril
SF Site Review: Fool Moon
SF Site Review: Storm Front

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Michael M Jones

As any Spider-Man fan can tell you, with great power comes great responsibility. As Harry Dresden, wizard, private investigator, and Warden of the White Council, can tell you, with great responsibility comes even greater headaches. And in Harry's case, the headaches tend to be magically explosive, often fatal, and always messy.

The White Council is several years into a deadly war against the Vampire Courts, a war which has already claimed many of the White Council's best and brightest, leaving them dangerously spread out. Harry's got his hands full with his new apprentice, who just happens to be the daughter of one of his best friends, and he's still teaching her the finer points of subtlety, control, and good behavior. And just when he thinks he can't quite juggle any more problems, a major one hits Chicago, in the form of a serial killer preying upon the city's low-level and less powerful magical practitioners. Unfortunately, the very people he wants to help are the ones least likely to actually trust him now that he's accepted the cloak of a Warden. Worse still, all evidence points towards Harry's half-brother Thomas, a vampire who's been acting awfully suspicious of late.

As the investigation drags on, several old faces -- both friend and foe -- return to bedevil and befuddle poor Harry, and as he gets caught right in the middle of a daring power play in the White Court of the vampires, he'll need every resource, ally, and trick he can muster. In this case, there are no easy answers, or solutions.

White Night is, as expected, an adrenaline-fueled adventure that mixes action, mystery, and magic into a seamless, nonstop story. Every time we think we have it all figured out, Harry uncovers a new clue that puts an entirely different spin on things. When old characters show up out of the blue, and newer characters get involved, it's never for exactly the reasons one might immediately suspect, and that's part of what makes it such a fun read. In this world, everyone -- good and bad -- is complex and full of surprises. And believe me, there were things even I didn't see coming in this book.

As always, Jim Butcher quite ably builds upon the seeds planted in the previous books in the series. Time passes in the world of The Dresden Files, enough that we can actually see how these things progress. And nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Harry Dresden himself, who's matured over the course of eight books, growing from a rebellious wizard clearly on the outs with the Powers That Be, to a capable, confident, effective leader. The Harry we first met was a man living under a suspended death sentence from the White Council; the Harry that battles his way through the events of this book is one of the White Council's best agents, responsible for the safety and training of new Wardens and likewise responsible for an apprentice of his very own. To see this tangible growth is one of the best payouts long-term readers can ask for.

Harry's not the only one capable of change and growth, however. Thomas, Murphy, Molly, they all have their slow-burning character arcs, which see some satisfactory progress here, as do some of the other major secondary characters to occupy this world. One of the most satisfying -- and somewhat surprising -- appearances had to be that of Harry's perennial foil, "Gentleman" John Marcone, Chicago's preeminent crime lord. All I'll say is that he takes a step towards becoming a truly major player in this story.

I tried to explain the appeal of this series a little while ago, and what I came up with was that while Butcher offers a complex story with all sorts of different elements, he manages to keep the tone accessible and the language simple. The Dresden Files aren't dumbed-down by any means, but Harry Dresden's viewpoint is, quite simply, that of the common man, and it's as easy to relate to him as readers once did to Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer, for example. Butcher makes it easy to get involved in what's going on, and even when things get messy and magical, they're still grounded in a real setting (most of the time). See, there are good reasons why The Dresden Files are some of the best urban fantasy on the market. And in a field that seems to be flooded with strong female characters (and that's not even counting the overlap with the paranormal romance subgenre), it's nice to see an old-fashioned white knight like Harry Dresden still in play.

In all honesty, White Night isn't an ideal jumping-on point. As the eighth book in the series, it plays off the story elements, plotlines, and character bits set up in the preceding seven, and a newcomer probably wouldn't appreciate some of the nuances.

My only complaint, and it's a minor one, is that some plot threads are taking forever to be resolved, and I'm getting antsy to find out the truth behind the "Black Council," and just what Harry plans to do with the sword in his umbrella stand, to name a few of said threads. But I have faith in Butcher, and I know he's playing a long-term game here, and that the wait will be worth it. Newcomers are well-advised to start with Storm Front and work their way forward. Those who are already fans, on the other hand, are unlikely to be disappointed in another excellent installment of The Dresden Files. As far as I'm concerned, this is another home run for Jim Butcher, and I heartily recommend it.

Copyright © 2007 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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