White Night by Jim Butcher

(2009-11-23)

White Night: Book Nine of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Published April 2007 (UK), by Orbit UK, US 2005.

ISBN: 9781841495309

528 pages.

 

Review by Mark Yon/Hobbit. 

 So, as we reach Book Nine of the Dresden Files series (yes, Book Nine!) what can we say that hasn’t already been said?

 Surely, by this point fans are already converted and newbies pointed towards earlier books?

 (Which reminds me, for the record, as there are spoilers here, please read the ever-lengthening list of other reviews first:

(Book One (Storm Front) review here; http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/219.html ; Book Two (Fool Moon) review here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/232.html ) Book Three (Grave Peril) (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/243.html ), Book Four, Summer Knight (link here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/281.html), Book Five, Death Masks (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/416.html );

Book Six, Blood Rites (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/419.html );

Book Seven, Dead Beat (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/473.html ); and

Book Eight, Proven Guilty (here: http://www.sffworld.com/brevoff/560.html ); I last reviewed Harry Dresden in August 2009 with Proven Guilty.) 

Usually by this point, it’s all been done. Hasn’t it?

Well, White Night is still determinedly Dresden. There’s still that dark humour and dry, Butcher drawl spoken through Harry. There’s still the broad range of engaging supporting characters. As you might expect from this far into a series, much of the tale derives its entertainment not from telling anything particularly new but rather from the development of characters and events earlier in the novels.

After the re-boot a couple of books ago, we are now well into Dresden: the Next Generation. Book 9 takes place fairly soon after the events of Book 8, Proven Guilty. Molly, Harry’s trainee from Proven Guilty is developing along fine. Harry’s growing relationship with Molly has given him, though he might perhaps be shocked to realise it, a much more positive and enthusiastic response to life. Some of (but not all of) that weariness and cynicism experienced in Books 7 & 8 seems to have gone and it is clear that apprenticeship, for all its difficulties, actually quite suits Harry.

Having said that, it is clear that the events of this book are cathartic experiences for Harry. White Night is about pain and facing up to your responsibilities, however awful they may be and whatever consequences may result. It is about death and regret, and how we resolve these issues.

Initially, I was surprised, in two ways. Firstly, for those who are following this - and well done if you are! – my feeling at the end of Book 8 was that the two preceding books seem to have been setting things up for major developments in the series. Logically that would suggest that White Night is it. Actually, I was wrong. Though there are links – Wardens, Wizards and such like - the majority of White Night is involved in events outside the main focus of the War.

This led to my second surprise in that this one initially seems to be a step back into an older style, more typical Harry from the start, when Harry is asked by now-demoted Karrin to have a look at a murder that may be more mysterious than it at first appears to be. It is then discovered that a number of women have been murdered around Chicago, with no real apparent link or motive. However, Harry finds clues which have been left that can only be read by those with a background in magic, for it seems that someone is going around witch-hunting and pointing it out very clearly to Harry.

 

So far, so good. We’re back to the good ol’ murder-mystery tales of the earlier books. Things start to complicate when the protection of the local witches group leads not only to Harry’s involvement but also the suspicion that Harry’s half-brother, Thomas, as a succubus-suspect. Harry not only has to prove him innocent but deal with the appearance of Elaine, a wizardess-for-hire employed by the group. In this curiously cyclic world of Dresden’s Chicago, we further find that Elaine is actually Harry’s first love, who has lived in California for many years.

As if this wasn’t enough, further complications ensue and the tale broadens in scope and scale. On the wider scale, Harry is still trying to uncover the members of the Black Council, who seem to be determined to destroy the Wizard Council.

Things also move up a pace as the vampire Red Court, having being knocked back a little in Book 8, holds an uneasy peace with the more subversive White Court. This fragile détente is threatened by the actions of the stealthier White Court vampire Houses, who seem to be attempting to re-assert new positions of power in the vampire world.

This was, for me, a longer and yet stronger book than Proven Guilty. After the introduction of new characters in any series, there is often a degree of settling-in and bedding-down. Jim has clearly got past that here. He clearly knows what fans of the series want to read by this point, though the tale is not always easy. The series by this point has clearly got its second wind. (This is also perhaps reflected by the fact that White Night reached the top five of the New York Times Best Seller List on its initial publication in 2007.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Butcher - cite_note-white_night-12

However what is the strength here is still the characterisation and the plotting. There are revelations on Harry’s past, and consequences for his future, and despite all the plot twists and turns at the end we still care about Harry. The series is as strong as ever, but now has a rich background and history that paves the way for greater opportunities in the future.

In homage to my reviews of the previous books, here are the key themes in short: generally more continued goodness this time around. Less Carpenters, much more Mouse, less Mister, more Thomas, more Karrin, yet more complicated personal life for Harry, much more vampires, no polka, ghouls, a brief mention of dinosaur, some (yet less!) Nevernever, and BIG duels.

Onto Book Ten (Small Favour!)

Mark Yon, October/November 2009

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