Summer Knight: Book Four of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
Published October 2005 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2002.
Review by Hobbit.
OK – I’m up to Book Four of the six Dresden books published to date here in the UK. (The seventh case file, Dead Beat, is due out in the UK in June 2006. And yes, I know the US is now up to Book Eight, Proven Guilty. J)
I last reviewed Harry Dresden in October 2005 with Grave Peril (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/243.html , and for the record, please read the other reviews first: (Book 1 (Storm Front) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/219.html; Book 2 (Fool Moon) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/232.html as there may be spoilers here.
At the end of Grave Peril, life was getting really complicated for Harry (the Chicago Police’s only professional wizard, remember?). Things really couldn’t have got much bleaker: Harry’s girlfriend had become a semi-vampire, there was a war brewing (partly Harry’s fault) between the wizard’s White Council and the vampire’s Red Court, and Harry was being hounded by his godmother (who just so happened to be a major league Faerie) to pay back a rather large debt.
Summer Knight starts with Harry on a rapidly darkening spiral of defeat and sheer bad luck. Things move rapidly from the beginning with a seemingly- impossible portent of doom – a storm of toads! – and an assassination attempt on Harry all in the first ten pages – after all, how much easier would it be to solve all the problems mentioned than by simply removing who is seen by many as the cause?
Harry survives; but is then given a Catch-22 ultimatum. In order to maintain his Full Wizard status in the eyes of the White Council, Harry must assist the two Faerie Queens, Summer and Winter. Ronald Reuel, the Summer Queen’s right-hand man and the titular Summer Knight, has been murdered. The Winter Queen, Mab, has conveniently, and perhaps unfairly, blamed for his demise.
In order to avoid being given by the wizards to the vampires for trial – something Harry is unlikely to remain living for – Harry must stop Queen Mab from becoming involved in the war. The situation is difficult, and not helped by the fact that Mab, has bought Harry’s debt from his godmother. This means that Harry is obligated to sort out the situation, though there is a chance that if Harry is able to clear the Winter Queen’s name, then in return for doing so, Harry’s debt would be reduced.
However, time is short – as Midsummer Night approaches, there is due a change of power and one from which, unless balance is restored, will lead to permanent irreparable change.
So, in order to solve his own problems and the case Harry becomes embroiled in the world of Faerie (first seen in a little detail in Grave Peril), and more dramatically, Wizard and Faerie politics. For as you might expect, the solution is not as simple as you might think…..
Things have turned even darker and more complicated here in my welcome return to this series. I have said in previous reviews that I didn’t think things could get more desperate, but they have. Despite this, what works in these books is that Jim manages to keep some of the humorous touches in there that lightened the mood of the earlier novels slightly.
As this is now a few books into the series, the situations become satisfyingly more complex. I’m also pleased to see the return of some old characters, as well as the introduction of new ones that I suspect will reappear later. Though you do not necessarily need to have read the earlier books in order to follow this one, those who have will recognise Billy the werewolf, Morgan the vindictive wizard Warden, and possibly even Elaine, to fill in some previous history and provide a degree of closure on some aspects of Harry’s past. I’m also pleased to see the return (in style!) of Detective Karrin Murphy, whose presence I have felt has been rather muted of late in the series, but had major problems to deal with at the end of Book Three. Here Karrin is finally told all by Harry and returns to form, as I rather hoped she would.
What also works here is the expansion of the backstory. This is shown by the variety of places visited – we go to the worlds of Winter and Summer, visit the NeverNever again, and are observers to the political machinations of the Wizard Council.
In particular what keeps Jim Butcher’s series going for me is that page-turning element; though the chapters are short, they have been written to make you keep going. In earlier books this device was a little crude in places, but here Jim is clearly into his stride and able to offer a lighter touch.
What was interesting here was that the book has a degree of closure on Harry’s past. Despite the bleak beginnings things do improve slightly by the end.
In summary then, the book ends still leaving me reaching for the next in the series (Death Masks). However, I will hold my anticipation a little longer. Harry is a series worth stretching out. The good news is that I’m pleased to type that the series hasn’t lost it’s way yet; indeed, things get more intriguing as the series progresses. Still highly recommended.
Hobbit, June 2006.