Friday, February 20, 2009

“Small Favour”, by Jim Butcher (Orbit)


An old deal comes back to bite (and kick) Harry Dresden.

Things are going rather well for Chicago-based professional wizard Harry Dresden. No one’s tried to kill him in a while. Life has more or less calmed down, and the only thing he has to contend with is his apprentice, Molly, as she becomes more and more confident in her magic.

After a cheerful intro, with Harry teaching Molly how to create magical shields (to deflect snowballs from Molly’s brothers and sisters), they are attacked by bull-like “whatsits”. Turns out, the peace and quiet was to be short-lived, and now Harry’s back in the dangerous world of magic. The problem is, he made a deal with Mab, the faerie monarch of the Winter Court and the Queen of Air and Darkness. Faeries are tricky blighters, and under the bargain, he owed her three favours. One was paid back in Summer Knight, while two remain. It’s time for him to pay off another… What follows is his attempt to live up to his end of the bargain while also keeping himself and those dear to him alive, not least from a series of increasingly deadly Billy Goats Gruff (which Harry finds to be no laughing matter). The “small favour” of the title is anything but, as Harry finds himself dealing with one of Chicago’s most nefarious mobsters, “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, some coins linked with demon-possession, and Mab’s sister, Titania, having a different perspective on said demon-possession.

Having read the first four Dresden Files novels, I was intrigued to see how the characters had developed, and to see how Jim Butcher had developed as a writer. His imagination is still an amazing thing, and his use of various supernatural creatures and themes remains inspired and unusual. The first two novels (Storm Front and Fool Moon) were set to original and exciting premises, filled with supernatural adventure, peril and tension, and populated by strange and beguiling creatures. But the novels were let down by Butcher’s strange writing style, which at times was a little too slow, making them a frustrating read. Oddly, however, I was never much troubled by the author’s tendency not to finish each novel with everything tied up neatly in a bow: By creating many subplots, which span a number of novels, Butcher has been able to tie the series together much more easily, creating a decent sense of continuity throughout.

As the writing has improved over each subsequent installment, the novels have become more and more enjoyable, and with Small Favour (the 10th in the series), Butcher has really hit his stride – maintaining the sarcastic quips and outlook of Harry Dresden, and still keeping his character intact, only with writing and plotting that is much tighter, more fluid and assured, better paced and certainly more engaging and entertaining. This is not an unusual progression for an author – Terry Pratchett went through the same thing, all those years ago (and look how beloved and talented he is now!). The result is a novel with a protagonist that is both loveable and believable, truly heroic, and a story that hooks the reader very early on.

Bob the Skull remains one of the best characters in any fantasy series, but Butcher is able to populate his world (and Chicago) with a large cast of well-rounded, realistic supporting players to Dresden’s (mis)adventures, many of whom have appeared in previous Dresden Files novels (adding to the sense of continuity).

This is a superb addition to the series, with Jim Butcher easily joining the ranks of the better science-fiction authors writing today. The action is intense and frequent, the humour often and well-crafted. This is a great novel, with all the elements pulling together brilliantly. A great, fun read. Highly recommended.

Series Chronology: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Night, Small Favour, Turn Coat (available April 2009)

For fans of: Mike Carey, David Devereux, Kelley Armstrong, Buffy & Angel

No comments:

Post a Comment