Wednesday, February 9, 2011

They're like the Anita Blake novels, except good.

The greatest in-laws who ever lived got me a Nook for Christmas this year. So far, I've been making my way through the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher and just finished the fifth book while eating a less than satisfactory lunch today. And lunch might be why I'm a little cranky about Death Masks: Book 5 of the Dresden Files. I find it hard to like anything when eating overcooked, leftover, reheated pasta alfredo that came from a box in the first place. Which I shouldn't be doing anyway because it's not exactly Weight Watchers friendly, but I was too lazy to make a sandwich before bed last night.

The Dresden Files as a whole make me a little cranky, but not cranky enough to stop reading. And while I like aspects of the series, I don't like them enough to stop being cranky. So, it looks like I'm stuck reading all 12 books. I look at the title of this post and think, yup - good. The books are good, not great or awesome or super, but good (which frankly, is more than I can say about most sci-fi/urban fantasy authors). I read a bunch of Anita Blake books by Laurell K. Hamilton several years ago. The first few books were all right - like supernatural Law & Order SVU. But then one day Anita became a porn star with a vast stable of men, vampires, and were-beasts and the books turned into Choose Your Own Gangbang Adventure: And Oh Yeah, Figure Out Who Killed Those Strippers. These were 600 page books with maybe 150 worth of plot. I shit you not, in one book, the entire troupe of deviant sexiness didn't leave the bedroom until page 180 something. And what kills me about Hamilton is that Anita Blake will have sex with just about anything - vampires, men, werewolves, werepanthers, wereleopards, werebees, in human or animal form, in quantities upwards of 12 at a time, but the one time a female comes on to her, she goes absolutely apeshit, because you know, being gay is just plain wrong.

I digress.

The Dresden Files are good books. Their main strength is character. Harry is engaging, most of the time. He has secrets and an interesting back story. I adore his best cop friend Karrin Murphy - I would read a series about her. She's adorable, yet gritty - bordering on stereotype, until she actually starts believing that Harry is a real wizard. I'm on book 5 out of 12 and I think she's on the brink of a major character breakthrough. All side characters have been interesting. I'm really intrigued by the Knights of the Cross - the fists of God. Completely righteous men who also understand that there are supernatural powers that exist and fight the good fight with Harry, even though Harry considered religion just another form of magic. Some of our villains are good, but most are too easily defeated. A lot of time is spent in these novels building up some major nast characters and I think, "Oh no! How will Harry ever escape/win/save the day?!" He always does, somehow, and I don't always find this believable.

Example: The big bad in book 5 is Nicodemus. He's about a million years old, wears the noose Judas used to hang himself as a necktie, stole the Shroud of Turin, and wants to start a global "attitude of apocalypse" by spreading plague through all the land. Plus he does it with his own daughter. Ew. Bitch is bad. He doesn't seem to have any weaknesses - the noose of Judas protects him from death even when he gets blown to pieces by automatic weaponry. Yet, Harry escapes him not once, but twice.

A lot of these books hinge on luck and the good old deus ex machina. Someone or something is always there to save the day - as a reader, it's just a matter of figuring out who or what. Five books in, I'm not really concerned with plot anymore except in how it affects character. The plots are cinematic, chasing the bad guys, doing the good thing sort of plots. But I look forward to how these characters develop. Already, Harry's girlfriend has left him because she's been half turned into a vampire. A sort of mentor was killed in this last book. Harry learns more about his past, Murphy learns more about Harry's world, and even Michael (one of the Fists of God) bends just a tiny bit in his faith.  But plot... too unnecessarily convoluted at times and not enough reader access to Harry's thought process when he makes his leaps and bounds in reason. Keep in mind the difference between convoluted and complicated. Complicated = good.

Everyone I know who has read these enjoys them, and really, despite my complaints, so do I. At times, Butcher is really inovative in his world building. I'd like to see harry break free from the formulaic murder/mystery story board. But even if he doesn't, reading him smartass his way through each case is still fairly entertaining.

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