BOOK REVIEW - Death Masks by Jim Butcher

on Monday, June 28, 2010

By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Death Masks

Blurb Review

Taking what he learned from Summer Knight, Jim Butcher throws back in all the main characters you knew and loved from Grave Peril into a brand-new adventure. Showing the best of both Grave Peril and Summer Knight, combined with an improvement of wit easily noticeable in the prose, Death Masks marks a great next book in the already fun and furious Dresden Files series.

Full Review

First off, I don't know why this one is called Death Masks. All the others have some cute connection with the monster of choice, usually some sort of pun (Fool Moon? Get it?), but this idea. I am fully aware of what a death mask is, I'm just not getting the title.

Oh well, on to the review.

So, time for the Dresden monster-killing recap! What have we got so far? Crazy sorcerer, check. Werewolves, check. Ghosts, check. Fairies, check.

What about fallen angels? Agents of Satan? Has Harry fought those? No? Well, we'd better get him on that.

Of all the Dresden books I've read so far, I think Death Masks is probably the best. Not sure if it is my favorite, per say, but it certainly is extremely exciting and does what I want it to do: Brings back all the characters I liked and throws them into a huge mess.

The Shroud of Turith has been stolen. Legend has it the artifact was the cloth used to wrap Christ in during the Resurrection. So, as you can guess, the thing is a pretty powerful relic. But that isn't how the book starts.

It starts in the first few pages with Dresden on a TV show, only to have a "mystery guest" be a devious Red Court Vampire (the Red Court is at war with the High Council, aka, all of wizard-dom, remember?). This vampire warlord makes Dresden a deal: duel him to the death, and the winner wins the war. If Harry doesn't agree, the warlord will systematically kill everybody Harry holds dear. Yikes.

Well, you can guess where that goes. Harry accepts, only to turn around a few seconds later to find Susan, his now semi-vampire girlfriend. She's back in town, and wants to help him. A few seconds after (or was it before? this book starts INSANELY fast), Harry is attacked by a Fallen Angel, only to be defended by a trio of holy knights, one of them being Michael from Grave Peril (who is one of my favorite characters, so: hooray! He's back!), all wielding holy swords. Michael grimly informs Harry that the fallen angels know he's after the shroud, and there's like twenty of them wanting him dead.

So, Harry has a duel with a vampire warlord, a shroud to find, his girlfriend who simultaneously wants to bed him and take a bite out of his neck, and over a dozen near-immortal fallen angels breathing down his neck. Oh wait, the Chicago PD found a corpse without a head or arms, and it somehow seems to be tied with this whole mess. Holy crap. Harry really should move to another city or something.

While Summer Knight showed Jim Butcher learning how to properly pace himself, Death Masks was the book were he figured out how to foreshadow perfectly, with an ending that actually worked. Well, sort of. Here's the thing: all the twists and reveals are handled perfectly. I remember at one point turning to my wife and saying, "All this stuff has happened and I have no idea how it's going to work out." Literally a page later, a huge reveal happened, and everything made sense. You know that feeling when you are reading when you have an epiphany, and you slap your head and say "Holy crap, this author is a genius. How didn't I see that? That was divinely clever!" Well, Death Masks has that kind of ending. While Summer Knight was a bit convoluted once the finale rolled around, Death Masks makes perfect sense. Bravo, Jim Butcher. You are getting real good at these Dresden Files things.

My only complaint about the novel (besides the fact that stupid Michael wasn't in town for like half of the book. Come on! I want more of him!) was that the "final boss fight" was completely ridiculous. Here's a super minor spoiler: a bunch of dudes (including Harry) fight some Fallen Angels. ON THE TOP OF A SPEEDING TRAIN. Yes. I don't know if that is the coolest thing ever, or just completely unbelievable. I'm unfortunately leaning for the latter, but whatever, it works.

The ending itself after that is also the best in the series thus far. It leaves tons of things unresolved, but resolves the main conflict. I really, really thought it was clever, and I immediately put the book down and started the next one, because I had to keep going. This was after the head-slapping part mentioned above. I love open endings. So great.

I also loved the sexual tension between Harry and Susan. Heck, most of this book was full of memorable scenes, made even more powerful because of the previous four book investment I've had with Harry. Really, really great stuff.

I am really enjoying this series. I'm also very pleased that these books are usually between 350-450 pages long, and are very quick moving, because it means I can devour one in a day/day and a half. It's also great that Butcher is solidifying that whole "TV Episode" feeling of each of the books. Each book is self contained, but stuff happens to continuing characters that you know will come up later, making you want to read the next one. Brilliant.

Having already finished Blood Rites (the next book in the series) and working on Dead Beat, expect reviews for both shortly. Just know that I usually shy away from series knowing it contains a whopping 12 books, but now I'm seriously worried that 12 books won't be enough to contain my Dresden fever. Seriously. They are that good.


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