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Small Favor
Jim Butcher
Roc, 357 pages

Small Favor
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
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SF Site Review: White Night
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

To say Harry Dresden leads a complicated life would be an understatement of the highest caliber. In fact, he's at his least comfortable when no one's trying to kill him, because it means he doesn't know who his current enemy is. But for a few months now, things have been quiet, almost blissfully so. Of course, that just means it's the calm before the storm, and in this case, a major storm's a-brewing. And this time, it involves one of the most dangerous people Harry has ever had the misfortune of dealing with: Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, ruler of the Winter Court of the Sidhe. Harry still owes her two favors, and she's ready to call one of them in, and he doesn't dare refuse. The task? Locate and protect the infamous crime lord, Gentleman Johnny Marcone, a man Harry personally hates, a man who has become one of the most powerful mortals alive through Harry's own maneuverings. To say the relationship between Marcone and Dresden is complicated is putting it lightly. The catch? Marcone's been kidnapped by unknown parties.

Mind you, finding missing persons is in Harry's line of work. But ordinary investigators don't have to worry about being shot at and chased by goat-like fae known as gruffs (just like that story about the bridge, and troll, and the three brothers...). Nor do they have to worry about the Summer Court of the Fae showing up to both help and hinder the job. And that's not even touching upon the Order of the Blackened Denarius, a group of fallen angels who thrive on corruption and destruction. They're back in town, and ready to forcibly induct Harry into their ranks... or kill him, whichever's more expedient. As Harry and his allies -- including Karrin Murphy of the Chicago Police Department, Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross, Molly Carpenter, Harry's teen apprentice, and Thomas, Harry's vampiric half-brother -- attempt to find out just who betrayed Johnny Marcone, the assorted forces of evil come at them from all sides, in a never-ending, steadily increasing wave of destruction and violence. And that's all before Chicago gets even more crowded with the arrival of the immensely powerful being known as the Archive, and her mercenary bodyguard. The abduction of Johnny Marcone has set into motion a series of events leading straight towards a parley between various factions under the mystical agreements known as the Accords, a parley which is all part of a much greater plan.

What can you say? It gets downright complicated in Harry Dresden's world. Between the Denarions, the Summer Court, the Winter Court, Harry's own White Council, and assorted independent players and agents, war is brewing in Chicago, with a mindboggling amount of power at stake, and a great many lives. To save the day, Harry is going to have to make the gamble of a lifetime, utilize every resource at his disposal, and be prepared to pay a heavy price. Welcome to Chicago, Dresden style.

There is a lot going on in this book, which is the tenth installment in the bestselling series about that other wizard named Harry. With so many factions, and so many agendas involved, it's easy to get a little lost in the chaos and confusion, but Jim Butcher clearly has it all mapped out, and he's obviously moving around a growing number of pieces on the board as he positions them for the inevitable final conflict at some point down the road. There's no spinning of wheels here; people change, people are hurt, people die. New relationships are forged and old ones tested, some plans are thwarted while others are set into motion, and at the end, there's the distinct sensation of change and growth in Harry Dresden's world. Butcher does this regularly: Harry's not a static character, he's matured and taken on more and more responsibilities through the course of the series, and in this book, we really see him take a leap of faith (literally and figuratively) as he comes to terms with his roles and relationships. We get some hints as to who some of the truly major players behind the scenes might be, and it's obvious that even with their limited roles, there's bound to be some heavy-duty throw downs later on.

Early on in The Dresden Files, Butcher seemed to be conjuring up a hardboiled feel for his hero, the young wisecracking wizard/P.I. Now, however, I'm not exactly sure what to call this. I mean, Harry's been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the midst of hardcore supernatural politics, has been given a position of authority and responsibility in the same White Council who once wanted him dead, and has been instrumental in starting and fighting a war between wizards and vampires. He's saved the city, if not the world, time and again. In short, Butcher's been cranking up the notch with each book, escalating the action, intrigue, stakes, and level of power involved. Hardboiled? More like hard-hitting. It's safe to say that with Small Favor, Butcher's pushed the series to a whole new level of intensity, and in no way is this quite as evident as near the end, when the cavalry arrives in the coolest scene since Dresden rode a zombie T-Rex named Sue into battle.

I'm a huge fan of this series, if it's not evident by now. It's not just great urban fantasy, with an accessible tone and a likeable point of view character, it's a whole lot of fun. Dresden's appeal is clearly that of the everyman; he's fond of pop culture, games on occasion, cracks inappropriate jokes in stressful situations, can't catch a break half the time, and all he really wants is a nice, hot doughnut. He's clearly the sort of friend most of the potential audience would love to have hanging around, except that zombies or vampires or werewolves would likely attack as a result. Be that as it may, it's easy to see why this series, as seen through Harry Dresden's eyes, is so much fun.

If you like The Dresden Files, you'll undoubtedly love Small Favor. If you're a newcomer, well, I can't recommend starting with this book. There's just way too much going on that relies upon previous knowledge of characters, situations, and relationships, and while Butcher explains it all in context as he goes along, it's still like coming in halfway through a larger story. Small Favor is an excellent entry in the series, but not the best jumping-on point. Start at the beginning, and you won't regret it. As for me, I'll be wearing a trail in my carpet, waiting for the next installment.

Copyright © 2008 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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