Sunday, August 20, 2017

Summer Knight - Jim Butcher

   2002; 379 pages.  Book 4 (out of 15) of the “Dresden Files” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Urban Fantasy; Murder-Mystery.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Someone has slain the Summer Knight, the reigning champion of the Summer Faeries.  They stole his mantle as well, which is a source of great power.  Suspicion naturally falls upon Mab, the Winter Queen of the Sidhe (Faeries), and she’d like someone to find proof that she didn’t do the dirty deed.

    Who better to turn to than Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard that has a listing in the Yellow Pages, and extensive experience with the Windy City’s “other world”?  It also helps that Mab has just purchased Harry’s “debt” from his fairy godmother, a debt she’s willing to rescind if Harry does her three favors.

    It is hard for Harry to turn down a prospective client; he can certainly use the business.  But Queen Mab, or any faerie for that matter, is not the sort of customer anyone would want.  When you strike a deal with a member of the Sidhe, you just know you’re going to regret it.  Better to walk away from this one, Harry.

    And Mab is famed for her resourcefulness, with lots of friends on the Wizards Council.  So watch your step, Mr. Dresden.

    Oh, and one other thing, Harry.  Please note that Mab didn’t exactly ask you to find out who the killer was.  She just asked you to come up with proof it wasn’t her.  Those aren’t the same things.

What’s To Like...
    Summer Knight is the fourth book in Jim Butcher’s incredibly popular series “The Dresden Files”, and focuses primarily on the goings-on of the Sidhe (“Faerie”) Kingdom.  This is a nice variation; earlier books in the series focused on Vampires, Werewolves, and Wizards, so it’s fun to see the author develop yet another aspect of the magic world.

    Besides investigating who killed the Summer Knight, Harry also takes on a second case (and a paying one!) of finding a Changeling named Lily.  Not surprisingly, the two threads eventually merge.  There are critters aplenty to meet and defeat: ghouls, werewolves, faeries, ogres, pixies, changelings (half mortal, half faerie), a chlorofiend (say what?), trolls, sylphs, and a unicorn and a centaur that you do not want to mess with.

    As always, the action starts right away and doesn’t let up.  The story is told from a first-person POV (Harry’s), and there’s a fair amount of cussing.  I liked the concept of the Undertown; it reminded me of Preston & Child’s Reliquary.  I also was delighted to come across the fable “The Fox and the Scorpion”; it’s been a lifelong guiding principle for me.

    There was only one bout of Bob and Harry engaging in witty repartee. These conversations are probably my favorite parts of this series, but at least it was a fairly long session.  We and Harry spend a fair amount of time in the Nevernever (the Spirits’ home dimension), and that was a treat, at least for the us readers.  Everything builds to a suitably exciting ending.  This is a standalone story, as well as part of a series.

    A couple threads remain unresolved.  Harry still owes a debt to Mab (two more favors), and he still hasn’t found a vampire cure for his girlfriend, Susan.  I don’t really have any quibbles with Summer Knight.  The worst I can say is the book’s overall structure is formulaic, but since I happen to like the formula, I’m okay with that.

    “Mab?  The Mab, Harry?”
    “Queen of Air and Darkness?  That Mab?”
     “Yeah,” I said, impatient.
    “And she’s your client?”
    “Yes, Bob.”
    “Here’s where I ask why don’t you spend your time doing something safer and more boring.  Like maybe administering suppositories to rabid gorillas.”
    “I live for challenge,” I said.  (loc. 1871)

   “A guardian?”
    “Obviously,” Elaine said.  “How do we get past it?”
    “Blow it up?”
    “Tempting,” Elaine said.  “But I don’t think it will make much of an impression on the Mothers if we kill their watchdog.  A veil?”
    I shook my head.  “I don’t think unicorns rely on the normal senses.  If I remember right, they sense thoughts.”
    “In that case it shouldn’t notice you.”  (loc. 4299)

Kindle Details...
    Summer Knight sells for $9.99 at Amazon.  The pricing structure of the rest of the series is this: Book One @ $2.99; Book Two @ $5.99; the rest of the books @ $9.99.  Jim Butcher is the author of another series, The Codex Alera, which has an identical price structure.  I think it’s a fine marketing strategy for a top-tier writer.

 She was also mad.  Loopy as a crochet convention.  (loc. 5174)
    “The Dresden Files” is one of the most enduringly popular urban fantasy series out there.  The books/e-books are almost always borrowed at my local libraries, and I was lucky to snag this one for free when it became providentially available.

   Jim Butcher is a gifted writer, and that’s certainly a factor.  But so is his attention to details in the world-building.  Anyone can write in a werewolf, a faerie, or a wizard to a fantasy story.  But Butcher develops complex hierarchies for each genus of magical beings.

    Here, the Faeire Hierarchy is comprised of three sets of dual (Summer and Winter) rulers: Those Who Were (the Mothers), Those Who Are (The Queens), and Those Are To Come (The Ladies).  You also have Lord Marshals for each side, as well as their champion Knights.  I remember when I was reading Fool Moon (reviewed here) that the Werewolf society was equally complex.

   It’s got to be an art to create these intricate orders while avoiding getting bogged down in the minutiae.  The fantasy authors who can pull that off are few, but Jim Butcher is one of them.

    8½ Stars.  Subtract 1 Star if you aren’t reading the books in this series in order.  I made the mistake of reading Book Six (reviewed here) immediately after Book One, and I was at times rather confused.

No comments: