Thursday, 10 January 2008
‘White Night’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit Books)
Conventional practice for reading a series of books clearly states that you start with the first book, then read the second and so on. Keep going until you’ve either finished or got bored and given up. However, at ‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ things are done a little differently. I read ‘Storm Front’ (the first of the Harry Dresden books) just over a year ago but never got round to picking the others up. After a long break I am starting again but with book nine…
You’ve probably heard of Harry Dresden already, he’s a private investigator/wizard for hire in Chicago and is the star of nine books, a TV series and (soon) a comic book as well. Life never runs smoothly for Harry, as is the way with private detectives everywhere, and he’s not afraid to sacrifice a lot to keep his city in one piece. ‘White Night’ sees Harry investigate a series of apparent suicides, which are anything but suicides, and before he knows it Harry is embroiled in a conflict between rival factions of the vampire community, an old enemy and Harry’s half brother…
‘White Night’ is initially difficult to get into but only if you’re like me and haven’t read the preceding books in the series. In Jim Butcher’s defence though, deft use of the flashback and ‘info-dump’ meant that I got up to speed fairly quickly. So, not a book to start the series on but it’s not a big problem if that’s what you end up doing. The story itself starts off brightly and works really well in a ‘supernatural detective’ kind of way. I’ve never been to Chicago but Butcher paints it as a pretty grim place, full of seedy bars and cheap motels, just the right setting for any kind of detective novel! Funnily enough though, I felt that the novel suffered when all the detective work was done and the big supernatural conflagration took place at the end. Harry Dresden seems (to me) to be a character better suited to detective work than ‘drawn out climactic’ battles and his choice of companions in the final pages rang a bit hollow for me (given what we already know about that particular relationship). Having said that though, it was great to see how all the individual plot lines came together (at the end) seeing as Harry had spent several chapters trying to figure it all out. I always think it’s a mark of real skill on the author’s part when they can make that happen.
The story is pretty good but (for me) the real positive points can be found in Butcher’s characterisation. Harry has a tendency for going off on long internal monologues (which I found off-putting but more or less expected based on the first person perspective) but once you get past this you really get to know him inside out which means you really feel for him when certain things happen. Supporting characters are more than just there to make up the numbers. It’s probably a mark of how long the series has been running but characters like Murphy and Marcone are well rounded and readable, certainly made the pages turn!
I think that if you’re already a fan then you will know what to expect from the latest Harry Dresden book and really enjoy it. While I enjoyed it the disjointed feel to it’s structure meant that I started to lose interest at the very point where I should have most interested! Still a good read but I’d probably choose Mike Carey’s ‘Felix Castor’ books over this one.
Seven and a Half out of Ten