By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Proven Guilty
While it might not be Harry Dresden vs The World like previous installments, Proven Guilty is easily the best book yet, with how it focuses more on "close to home" problems for Harry rather than larger, broader issues. Combining real, raw emotion with moral dilemmas that help define Harry, Proven Guilty has that rewarding feeling you can only get on long book series like this.
This is probably my favorite Dresden book yet, passing Death Masks up, if just barely. As I said in previous reviews. Grave Peril was where Butcher essentially goes action crazy, and Summer Knight is the slower, more methodical version of Harry Dresden. It showed both sides of Butcher's writing, tons of action or lots of emotion, and the books since have been trying to find that magical hybrid that would make them perfect.
Dead Beat was extremely close, even though the first bits were slow. But with Proven Guilty, Butcher has completely nailed it. This is exactly the type of book I was thinking of reading when I first went into the series: great action, real emotion, exciting characters I cared and worried about, and moral dilemmas that shape Harry as a character, as well as the people around him. Also, we finally have Murphy and Harry talking about their "relationship" (or lack thereof) which this series has needed since like the second book.
The book also has the best first chapter, I think, of any of the books so far. Harry Dresden is now enlisted as a Warden of the White Council (he was last book, actually), because their war against the vampires has thinned their ranks so much they need all the help they can get. The book begins with a grisly execution of a young teenaged warlock, a boy who unwittingly used black magic. In the White Council's laws, you don't get a second chance (though Harry did, years before), and so he is executed.
As you can guess, this doesn't sit well with Harry, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Dark, personal, and full of moral conflict. The book is a rich adventure that puts the characters you've grown to know and care about to their limits.
It also has Michael, my favorite character in it. Actually, the majority of the book revolves around his wayward daughter, Molly, who has gotten herself into more than she can handle.
Seeking out a dark wizard, Harry ends up at SPLATTERCON!!!!, a horror convention partially run by Molly. It is there that they are attacked by monstrous creatures, being of fairy who feed on terror. Harry figures someone must be summoning them, so off he goes to try and figure it out.
Add tons of twisting subplots involving the Red Court, the continuing conflict between Winter and Summer (the fairy realms), and Molly just being a problem child, and you have a fantastic book. While the conclusion isn't as balls-to-the-wall as some others, (Harry riding a zombie T-Rex or fighting a Fallen Angel on the top of a speeding train comes to mind) it is on a more personal level, one that rakes up the tension and really just works. I've never felt more attached to Harry as a character until now, and I really haven't seen his "true colors" (surprise, he's a really good person) until he's thrown into the fire like this. I couldn't put the book down, literally, it was so good.
I really can't think of anything I didn't like about this novel. There was a lack of Butters, who I don't like, so that works. Michael was in it, albeit at the end. You finally figure out why Charity, Michael's wife, totally despises Harry. Actually, that's another good thing: both Charity and Murphy were being close to becoming two-dimensional. This book totally fixes that, and in the best way. Really good stuff.
So, yeah. I'd say this is the perfect Dresden book (if only it had more Michael...). After inventing me in seven of these books, I can say that this (the eighth) is exactly what I've come to expect. Here's hoping the last four can live up to that expectation (I can't believe I have only four left! What am I going to do with my life after I finish this?!).