By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Blood Rites
While not as strong as the last few installments, Blood Rites is a dramatic book for Harry. Key elements regarding his dead parents, potential family, and relationship with Murphy and Ebenezer all play vital roles in this novel. While the book is far from terrible, it seems less driven by the book's own story, and plays more as an outlet for Jim to expound on Harry's past.
Time for the recap! (ignoring the fact I've done this every review, some of which are only a few hours apart). Book 1: Sorcerer/Warlock. Book 2: Werewolves. Book 3: Ghosts. Book 4: Fairies. Book 5: Fallen Angels.
So, Book 6? Vampires! Yes, while they show up from time to time in other books, they finally get their own book. But they aren't vampires of the Red Court this time (the ones involved in the war). Instead, they are of the White Court, which is significantly different. I'll get to why later.
The book starts with a classical example of why Dresden is clearly a hero and not a villain: he saves puppies from a burning building while being chased by monkeys who throw flaming poo at him. Yeah, really. A bit goofy once you think about it.
You think that's over the top? You haven't seen anything yet. Next thing you know Thomas, a vampire ally (kind of) whom he met in Grave Peril and returned (sort of, more like a cameo) in Death Masks is back and needs some help. It seems he is working with a bunch of guys working on an adult movie (yes, it's a porno) and he needs Dresden to find out what's going on. People are getting offed, apparently by an entropy curse (which is essentially a "bad luck" curse, which usually results in people getting killed in weird ways. I'm guessing Butcher watched the Final Destination movies before inventing that spell) and Harry needs to find out what is going on.
So first he's saving puppies from a building, and now he's hanging out with porn stars. Butcher isn't cutting any slack this time.
To be fair, for him working on a porn site, there is a surprising lack of sex in this book (probably because Susan is gone), and the scenes involving the films are surprisingly tame, and limited to only a single page. While it isn't something I'd show to my mother, I didn't find it nearly as appalling as some epic fantasy I've had the unfortunate pleasure to encounter recently (Rhapsody's prologue is essentially a sex scene between two 14-year-olds. Yeah. Ugh.).
Anyway, stuff goes crazy and it all ends up tying with vampires. See, there are three types of vampires in Harry's world. You have the Black Court, which is traditional "Dracula" type vampires that eat people, have weird powers, and are essentially immortal unless you lop off their heads or stake them through the hearts. Most of these guys are gone because, apparently, the book Dracula promoted tons of vampire killings. Way to go, Stoker. You have the Red Court, who are at war with the White Council and pretty much hate Harry. These guys are more traditional bloodsuckers, who are actually demonic monsters under the fleshy, beautiful "skin masks" they wear over their bodies. The last are the White Court, which Thomas is a part of. These guys are just as sexy/seductive as the first, but they feed differently. Rather than eating blood or body parts, they eat human emotion. The more powerful the emotion, the easier it is to eat, and since they are great at seducing, they usually feed during sex. Yeah, really, they kill with sex. It makes sense, I guess.
Anyway, it isn't bad enough the Reds want Harry dead, a bunch of Blacks from Grave Peril are back and pissed, so they are hunting Harry too. With the help of a bounty hunter from Death Masks, Murphy (Harry's Chicago PD friend and ally), and some others, all hell breaks loose.
One big positive for this one: The humor is much improved. Harry is witty, clever, and his references make sense. None of the jokes seem forced; in fact, I laughed a few times at some of them because they were very well done. The sort of oddly placed jokes in the series is a staple; Harry's ability to laugh even in the face of extreme danger is both entertaining and unbelievable. Butcher has figured it out perfectly (at long last!), making Harry's dialogue a joy to read.
The pacing is also very good, again, and the final fights are exceptionally well done. The reveal isn't as well hinted as in Death Masks, but it works and the synergy between characters is great, though many sub-characters don't get nearly as fleshed out as I'd hoped they would.
Lastly, I love how Harry (and Jim) become self aware at how absurd the situations Harry was in during the previous books. One character mentions, in passing, how Harry essentially saved the world twice (in both Summer Knight and Death Masks), to which we hear about how Harry does other things (between books) that aren't as crazy. It's good that this next one wasn't so insanely "Harry saves the world" again, and is more personal with Harry's life.
A few things bother me about this book. First, the amazon copy of the cover (see link above) as the text as red. But the copy I have and the cover dug up on google images (see above), the title text is purple. What the crap?
Seriously this is weirding me out.
Anyway, back to the review.
As stated, there's TONS of reveals in this book. You can't skip it if you are following the series. The problem is, while the reveals are great (the big one happens in the middle of the book), the rest of the book is just...bland. It almost seems forced. Sure there are some great fights, including squaring off with a villain I've wanted dead since Grave Peril. But when the end rolls around (minor spoiler), you find out she isn't dead, actually. She comes back in Dead Beat (so Jim didn't have to write another villain; just carry the same one over), making the totally rad battle against her moot. Lame.
Also, the whole saving puppies (one of which Harry keeps and drags around in his coat for half the book, clearly showing everybody what a hero he is and leading to adorably awkward moments with the thing), working with porn stars, and just general "look at all these innuendos and sexual references, ha ha" that coat the book seems really forced. We do get a really good scene with Murphy, a character I feel is too neglected and (up until this point) entirely a two-dimensional "amazon woman-cop" character. We get to see another side of her, which is great, though she does slip back to the previously stated "hard-broiled cop with a heart" that is extremely cliche.
As a whole, there are tons of scenes that long-going fans will love. The problem is they don't have much to do with and don't benefit the self-contained story in Blood Rites. It seems tacked on, which is unfortunate.
However, it certainly isn't the worst Dresden book (it's still better than Storm Front and Fool Moon), and I loved all the incredible twists and reveals, mostly because I was curious how they'd influence future Dresden books, rather than the one I was currently in. It's a pity Dead Beat (the book I'm currently in), isn't much better (in fact, based on a 1/2 way analysis, I'd say it's the worst one besides Storm Front). But, for the sake of blog integrity I shall plod on, hopefully making it all the way through Changes before the summer is over.