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Every weekend I'm stuck with seven hours of driving, and I overcome the boredom with audiobooks. Sometimes I need a break from Steven Fry's readings of Sherlock Holmes, and Jim Butcher has a bad habit of popping up in my listening lists. So despite having sworn off the Dresden Files series, I've come crawling back to try the fourth book, Summer Knight.
So this is where the series is meant to get good. I can see the argument in some ways. Summer Night puts to bed some of the more repetitive plot points from previous entries, such as Dresden falling afoul of his police chief friend. It's book of weighty politics this time, with clashing organisations of wizards, fairies and vampires, each of whom want a piece of Dresden. Likewise, its quite promising early on that Dresden himself is suffering from heartsickness, his absent girlfriend trying to stave off vampiricism, and it makes you think for a moment that with all this on his mind, he can stop ogling women and stick to the story. But then the story actually happens, and because its about fairies, we end up with Dresden describing a dozen scenes of sexy, writhing women with not much on. Goddammit Jim.
There are nice little visuals, and clearly Jim Butcher has an imagination for this stuff. I particularly like one little bit where Dresden sneaks up on a big guy raiding an apartment. He peaks out, trying to decide how he's going to clobber the guy. Then he spots the intruder pick up a whole sofa one-handed, and Dresden creeps away with a "nope". There's another bit where he goes to visit some old granny fairies, and he sees a row of increasingly feral looking dentures on the mantelpiece. It's the moments like these that make me laugh, rather than the rest of the time where Dresden prattles on with dated gags and relentless snark. Dresden gets on my nerves, and it doesn't help that people throughout the book are obsessed with him and his "smarts".
Plot wise, the Wizard White Council finally show up and act like a pack of jobsworths. Via contrivance, they force Dresden to work for the fairies to solve a murder mystery. Even though the wizards think Dresden is horribly incompetent and want to feed him to vampires, they still agree to entrust their most complicated and important missions to him. They don't even think to assign a colleague from the room full of present wizards, you know, just to make sure he doesn't fuck up and doom the council and the entire world. Meanwhile, the central mystery is over complicated by the fact that there are a lot of very similar looking figures; there are three versions of every fairy, so two characters become six, and four of those I kept mistaking for each other.
Summer Knight is a small improvement on a series with some broad writing problems, and is sufficient as noise for a car journey. It's popcorn fiction; easy to consume large amounts, has hints of flavour, lacks nutritional value. I'm sure I'll end up listening to another one.
This is the one where The Dresden Files really came into its own. Everything about this book works. Harry's guilt complex after losing Susan is well-handled, the Alphas make a welcome return, Murphy finally gets back into the action, we finally find out who Elaine is, we learn how faery politics work, and we get two of the greatest battle-cries ever. It takes Harry a long time to make progress on the investigation, but that actually works to the book's benefit, and allows a lot of the book to run on the problems he encounters while investigating, and slowly revealing the true scope of what's going on. The truth is, the plot is actually fairly simple, but the complications form simply because Harry expects them. The final battle is the biggest the series has done so far, and the scale of it is incredible. It really makes everything leading up to the finale pay off, and it's a heck of a lot of fun. Summer Knight is the book where Jim Butcher finally manages to make everything fit, and from here, The Dresden Files begin to be one of the most awesome series ever.
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