Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

I recently picked up the Dresden Files books on the recommendation of everyone I’ve ever met who likes reading. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it sure seemed like it. Everywhere I went, every time books came up as a topic, people would say “Oh! You should read the Dresden Files.” Amazon recommended it to me and so did Good Reads.

So, when I got my credit from Audible, I picked it up. For the sake of full disclosure, I have listened to the entire series thus far on Audible. James Marsters is the voice actor for the series, and I really love his voice. Since finishing the first book on audible I have skimmed through some of my favorite parts in actual book form and found that I sorely missed Marsters interpretation of Dresden.

Grave Peril is book three in the Dresden Files. Up until this book the series was interesting, but it sort of floundered at parts. Seeming to just skirt the “and now this big bad!” story cycle. However, with this book it seemed as though we gained enough understanding of Dresdens world to be pulled in by the feet and dragged along on a wild and crazy ride.

One of the best parts of Harry’s world is the magic system. It is believable. There are real costs and cause and effect relationships. Harry doesn’t get to just run around using his magic hither tither. The seven laws of magic have their own consequences, in addition to the magical justice system. One of the most interesting dynamics, actually, in the whole series is the moral trap that Harry often finds himself in. In order to do the right thing he needs to balance what that is against the laws of the council, the personal cost and human laws.

I have never been a huge fan of first person narratives. I usually find the prose awkward, the descriptions of the world and the characters in it forced and bland with this type of narration. However, Butchers prose is awesome. Sometimes in first person narratives the flavor of the character is not helped by the voice the author uses. Think Bella from Twilight. Ugh. In the Dresden files, as a whole, Harry’s character is only improved by the first person narrative. His actions, thoughts, the reactions of others, and the tidbits of information the Butcher feeds us about Harry’s world flow naturally. Oddly enough, my issues with first person narratives aren’t the source of my issues with this book.

Instead, my issues were in two areas. First, the beginning of the book. What happened? I couldn’t even begin to tell you. The beginning of the book is so disjointed I was convinced that the audio book had downloaded wrong. I deleted it from my device and re-downloaded it because I just couldn’t understand why the beginning of the book started in the middle of an investigation with no explanation what-so-ever.

Now, I understand the immediate interest that Butcher was trying to create by starting the book off in the middle of a story. That method of pulling a reader into a story is actually one of my favorites. In my opinion Butcher fumbles it here. Granted, within the first five pages I was asking not only “Who the hell is this guy? What the hell are they doing?” but also “Since when is he in love with Susan?” (Susan was a tertiary character in the first book, but by the conclusion of Fool Moon, she and Harry are well on their way to being a bona-fide couple.) The feeling the reader gets from this book isn’t that this intro was crafted as an intro. It feels as though the decision was made to just lop off part of the book and call it a hook. I really disliked this. But luckily, I didn’t dislike it so much as to have stopped listening to the story.

My second issue is with the relationship between Harry and Susan. I spent most of this book hating Susan. I’m not spoiling much by saying that it is confusing. In the first chapter Michael, who is a random character we’ve never met or even had mention of, is lecturing Harry about his relationship with Susan. My initial reaction to the news that Harry is in love with Susan was “Awesome!” But, then I saw them interact. I didn’t get the impression that Susan particularly loved Harry. Nor did I think that Harry loved her.

Instead, Butcher paints a picture of a relationship in which both of them enjoy sleeping together and Susan gets the added side benefit of tips on stories about the supernatural. A true tit for tat situation. There is no mention of a history together. There are no intimate moments or comfortable conversations. It doesn’t seem as though they have integrated each other into their daily lives. Instead, Harry and Susan make a date to have sex as long as Harry gives her some inside information on his most recent case. My issue doesn’t reside in this aspect of their relationship either. Maybe my morals are lax, but I don’t see any issue with this up front. They’re consenting adults, they can enjoy each others company however they like.

Maybe I’m too much of a woman when it comes to relationships in novels, but we spent the entire book not seeing any relationship.  When Butcher finally makes time to show the reader what Harry and Susans relationship is really like it feels like a cop out. It feels like he tacked it on at the end to justify torturing Harry a little more. We wouldn’t want him to not have guilt! What good is chivalry without guilt!?!

When Harry is faced with Susans third near death experience of the book, he suddenly remembers all the time they’ve spent together. All the intimate moments, touching comments, and habits you build around a person in your life come to him in a flash and he realizes how very much he loves her. I’ll buy that that happened. I’ll buy that he never realized it until that moment. But I don’t buy that he was oblivious to all those things all along. How the narrative could include minute details and comments about things like Harry’s Beatle, his apartment, the city, and his friends but not comments about Susan and their involvement is beyond me. Butcher fails to make the relationship believable because he fails to show the reader these things in advance.

The unfortunate thing about this failing is that it happens at the very very end. There was no time for Butcher to make up for this bumble, unlike the intro. Honestly, the fumble in the ending was so bad I completely forgot about the beginning. It was only my reread that made be stop and say “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeey! Wait a second!” and include my commentary on that part of the book.

Overall, I’d recommend that a person read this book. Ultimately this thing with Susan, this not relationship, is a blip in the radar. I hope. There are, like, 13 books in this series. I’m only on Book 4, and while the relationship did play a role in the book, I felt like it was tolerable. It wasn’t irritating, nor did it seem totally off base. The relationship held the role it did in relation to what Susan means to Harry, and ultimately the story is about him.

Well, Harry and the points of breasts. Sometimes these books are such Dude books. I love them for it, but I still roll my eyes every time the points of a womans breast stir. You’d think they’d get tired. Or that these women would wear clothes. Or that Butcher would come up with another way to describe it.