review: white night

Note: This is the ninth book in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.  Spoilers will inevitably follow.  You may want to look away now if you haven’t read the first eight books in this series.

White Night by Jim Butcher (2007)

Well hello, Harry Dresden! It’s been a long time but I have not forgotten how much I love your adventures and shenanigans.  A lot happens in White Night, book nine (of fifteen) in the Dresden Files.  Reading this book has really made me feel like it is the start of the second movement, to borrow a musical term, of the Dresden Files and Harry’s journey. Although the previous book, Proven Guilty, does a lot to further entrench Harry within the world of the White Council–the group of wizards that police users of magic to ensure that they do not break the Laws of Magic–and establish a new direction for the series, specifically that the White Council is at war with the Red Court of vampires, that book felt like it was the warm-up act, the prologue to set the table and help you get to know all of the characters on the board of this new game that will (or at least seem to) dictate the course of the books that will follow.  Enter White Night and all of the events that take place in the book.

On the surface, the basic plot revolves around a group of magical users who are part of the broader supernatural community but don’t possess as much power as others.  In other words, they are the weaker class of individuals in this world, and they are being preyed upon.  Murphy brings the case of an apparent suicide to Harry, who investigates and discovers it’s not really a suicide, and there’s a larger plot at work.  Because the series straddles the line between urban fantasy and hardboiled detective fiction (and there’s a moment where Harry refers to himself and another character as being ‘hardboiled’ and it’s great), the basic plot–discovering who is behind the murders of these magical users–is solved about two-thirds of the way into the book.  The last third of the book, then, involves chasing down the culprits but also revealing how their nefarious deeds are part of an even bigger story arc that is directly related to the White Council’s war with the Red Court of vampires, a power struggle within the White Court of vampires, and the internal threat to the White Council that Harry is sure exists but hasn’t yet figured out who the traitor is.  Beyond the plot, the supporting cast once again rallies to Harry’s aid, and like I mentioned in my review of Dead Beat, shows just how far Harry has traveled from being the loner that he was at the start of this series.  It’s been a few books but we do get treated to an appearance by Gentleman Johnnie Marcone in this book, and a mystery that had surrounded him earlier gets revealed.  The story is fast-paced and I had a really hard time putting the book down.

One striking aspect of the book is the depth of Harry’s thoughts and ruminations.  His ex-girlfriend, Elaine, reappears in his life, and he has an extended meditation on pain–why it exists, why it’s vital to the human existence, how it shapes us into who we are.  He also has similar meditations upon the nature of anger, how it can be constructive and turn into passion, as well as the nature of existence, and if a person can or cannot change.  Before our eyes, Harry is going through a kind of metamorphosis in this book.  He has been teaching his apprentice, Molly Carpenter, about magic and demanding that she think about if she should or should not use magic, why she should or should not take a certain action.  In doing so, Harry himself is becoming more of a thinker but also more thoughtful about his own actions, what motivates him, and the consequences of his actions.  Make no mistake, there is a lot of action in this book, but there’s also quite a bit of internal monologue, and it is also complicated by the presence of Lasciel–the representation of the demon within the coin that Harry touched and then buried in his basement at the end of Dead Beat. It isn’t that she is part of Harry’s conscience, and yet, she is a part of him, and her presence has impacted him and the way he views himself.

Butcher also does something different (and clever) within this book that he hasn’t done before.  At the start of this book Harry mentions to Murphy that he had been in New Mexico not long ago, helping to train new wizards to become Wardens for the White Council.  During that trip, two teenagers are kidnapped, and it has obviously left a mark on Harry.  It’s not until almost the exact middle of the story (a la The Great Gatsby) that we get to see what happened during that time in New Mexico and why it haunts Harry.  As a result of action happening in the present time of the story, Harry’s mind goes back to that moment in the past, and he narrates the events of that day over several pages before we are returned to the present.  It explains a lot about Harry’s feelings toward his adversaries, the anger that he feels, and what drives him.  It underscores the anger that he feels when women and children are harmed and his determination to mete out punishment to those who commit such crimes and atrocities. It’s a brilliant addition to the book and done really well.

The crisis and showdown of the book are also done well, bringing the unexpected even while reminding us that although Harry may be changing, he’s also still the same.  Still a badass and a smartass and still the man who will fight to the very end, where there’s no more magic to draw upon and his physical strength is exhausted.  The revelation portion of the book is a bit more extended than usual, but then I think it has to be.  We get glimpses of what Thomas, Harry’s half brother has been up to since he moved out of Harry’s basement apartment, we get some closure to part of Marcone’s story even as he is being established as a new player within the supernatural world, we find that Ramirez, one of the Wardens, is going to be a solid ally for Harry in the future, and the presence of Lasciel is dealt with, though one cannot be sure if it has been completely resolved.  Throughout the denouement, the interior monologues that Harry has been having through the book come to some sort of conclusion.  Or perhaps what I’m trying to say is that he achieves a kind of acceptance and maybe even peace, as though something in him is settling and yet maybe at the same time hardening his resolve.  His journey is definitely not over, but there’s a sense that somehow it’s going to be different going forward. Different, how, remains to be determined.

This is a great series and this was a great addition to it.  One thing I noticed that I wonder about is that so many of Harry’s allies have names starting with the letter “m”–Murphy, Mouse, Mister, Molly, Michael, Mac, even Marcone to an extent.  I wonder if that is purposeful.  Also, the women in Harry’s life that he should definitely be wary of have names starting with an “l”–Leanna (his godmother), Lasciel, Lara Raith of the White Court.  I don’t know if this is intentional or not but it’s just one more thing to make me think as I’m reading.  I typically read one of these books a year because they are so dense, full of action and emotion and depth, but this is one of the series I’m trying to catch up on in 2016 so look for a review of the next book in the series, Small Favor, in the coming weeks.

review: kiss of a demon king

Kiss of a Demon King (2009) by Kresley Cole

Kiss of a Demon King is the sixth book in Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series.  For the most part, these books can stand alone, so no need to worry about spoilers. This book features Rydstrom Woede (the fallen demon king of Rothkalina) and Sabine, Queen of Illusions.  In some ways, it’s a continuation and companion to the previous book in the series, Dark Desires After Dusk, which features Rydstrom’s brother Cadeon.  Though I say that these can stand alone, I recommend reading Cadeon’s story before Rydstrom’s for more enjoyment and because both stories are happening at the same time.  Some of the events in Cadeon’s story are spoiled in Kiss of a Demon King so do beware of that.

It’s no surprise that in a series of this length (right now, there are fifteen books in this series, so I’m not even halfway through what’s currently available) you’re going to find some books that are weaker and less appealing than others. Part of this is because of the need to write characters who aren’t carbon copies of each other, right? If every male and female protagonist were exactly the same as the ones that came before, it wouldn’t keep me invested as a reader or keep me coming back for the next installment.  Well, this is how I feel about Kiss of a Demon King.  It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t wonderful.  The characters? Meh. One of the things I like about Cole’s writing style is that she does her best to present strong female characters.  She does this successfully with Sabine, who is a sorceress that has been hunted nearly all her life and has had only herself to depend upon.  As a sorceress, she is physically vulnerable and has no “battle magic”, and she has died dozens of times only to be brought back to life by her sister Lanthe, who has the power of persuasion and uses that power to bring Sabine back from death.  It is because of her vulnerability that she and her sister agree to become part of Omort the Deathless’ court in exchange for his protection.  Omort, as it happens, is the self-proclaimed new king of Rothkalina, assuming to throne after defeating Rydstrom in battle nearly a thousand years ago.  Yes, you got it–this puts Sabine and Rydstrom in opposition as enemies from the very beginning.  Cole takes these two characters and actually does a role/gender reversal with them.  After Sabine captures Rydstrom, it is he who refuses to surrender sexually and shuns marriage (I don’t want to spoil the reasons for this but they do make sense within the context of the book) while it is she who is the sexual aggressor and the one who insists upon marriage.  For much of the book it is a battle of the sexes and a clash of wills, with each one seeking to torment the other until one of them gives in.  The thing about Sabine, though, is that I don’t really buy into her feelings for Rydstrom, and that makes the romance part of this story not work at all for me.

What does work is the adventure part of the story.  Since we met the Woede brothers early in this series, we knew that eventually it was going to come down to whether or not Rydstrom would return to his throne and his place as king.  In this book, we see more of Rydstrom’s side of his relationship with Cadeon which is satisfying after reading Dark Desires After Dusk, and we also get to see how the final showdown between Rydstrom and Omort plays out.  Since this is happening during the Accession, it becomes clear that the Woede brothers are yet another group with the potential to reap gains during this period of tumult and life-or-death stakes.  They are clearly aligned as allies with the Valkyrie, the Lykae, the Wroth brothers, and the Witches.  They are on the “good” side of the Lore.

One other interesting part of this book–we get our first introduction to Lothaire, who was spoken of but not heard from in book seven, Untouchable.  Here we learn that he was an ally of Omort, and his character’s exit from the story promises his eventual return later, a promise that the next book also continues.  Right now he’s a mysterious character who’s allegiance isn’t yet fully known, but what we know if him so far is compelling enough to make me as a reader want to know more, so I’m looking forward to his story which is told in book eleven, aptly titled Lothaire.

Yes, I intend to keep reading this series.  I almost didn’t review Kiss of a Demon King because I just didn’t feel like I had a lot to say about it.  The role reversal keeps the tension going between the protagonists, but the part that really works is the adventure and ultimate resolution of the story of the Woede brothers.  Sabine is a strong female character, but the romance between she and Rydstrom wasn’t completely believable.  Typically I would say that I’m on to the next book in the series, but I have skipped book three, and since it tells the story of one of the MacRieve clan, and book eight also is about one of the MacRieves, I’m going to go back and read that one before moving forward.

Have you read Kiss of a Demon King? What were your thoughts?

review: hard love

Note:  This is the final book in Meredith Wild’s Hacker series.  If you haven’t read the other books in this series, there will be spoilers ahead.

Hard Love by Meredith Wild (2015)

We have now come to the end.  Hard Love, the fifth and final book in Meredith Wild’s Hacker series, spends part of its time wrapping the stories of the supporting characters while also resolving some of the larger plotlines threaded throughout the series.  It does this even as it throws Erica and Blake into one final crisis that threatens their happily ever after.

The supporting cast of characters all get their lives figured out in this book.  We find out what happens to Alli and Heath, James and Simone, Fiona, Daniel, and Marie.  Some minor characters come back for a bit–Michael, Blake’s mentor, his son, Max, and Risa, the woman who worked with Max to build a rival site to Erica’s Clozpin. Without revealing how everyone ends up, let’s just say there’s a bit of betrayal, a bit of forgiveness, a bit of redemption. Although this series isn’t really about the supporting characters, they add to the depth of the series and do a good job of being mirrors and/or antagonists to the main protagonists. The thing I appreciate is that these resolutions are, for the most part, sprinkled through the story rather than in one long epilogue at the end.

The main show is what post-wedding life looks like for Erica and Blake.  After learning in Hard Limit that she may not be able to have children, this becomes a focal point in their story as they try to make the impossible possible.  There’s also the main driver of the plot–upon returning from their honeymoon, they learn that Daniel (Erica’s biological father) has won the governor’s seat for the state of Massachusetts, however, the FBI and Boston Police are investigating what they think to be election fraud/rigging (a la Scandal, but let’s not get distracted). Blake becomes the main suspect, and proving his innocence becomes Erica’s priority.

The narrative departs from its first-person point of view that has been solely Erica’s for the first four books in the series.  Normally this bothers me, but in this book I love it and it works.  We get Erica’s and Blake’s first-person narratives, and the book is about half of one and half of the other.  Although I wouldn’t say there’s a distinctive difference in their two voices, I liked being able to see events from his perspective, and of course because of what happens in the story, his point of view is necessary or the book wouldn’t work at all.  One interesting thing about this is that there is a part of the story where Blake is not the character we have come to know.  He’s almost hopeless and drowning (and paralyzed by) his powerlessness.  At the same time, though, it’s Erica that uses what power she has to prove Blake’s innocence.  The power dynamics between them switch, and there’s no doubt in your mind that this power exchange has a lasting impact on each of them individually as well as on their relationship.  Erica realizes how strong she can be and the extent of the agency she possesses.  Blake is forced to cope with a sense of powerlessness and a period of time when he has no agency, and it is the impetus for the final change in his character arc–that is, he reaches the point of revelation and a moment when he finally breaks from the demons and mistakes of his past and fully embraces the “new” man he has become.  As I’m writing this, I’m actually resolving in my head the part of the book that wasn’t my favorite part and that has made me think that it’s not my favorite book in the series.  It’s still not my favorite book, but it’s completely necessary from the standpoint of completing Erica’s and Blake’s character arcs.

There’s a lot to like in this book and it is a satisfying end to the series.  I know there are readers who don’t like what they see as a recent trend (but which totally isn’t, serial fiction has been around for centuries) toward serialized fiction that follows the two main protagonists.  If that’s you, well, this series isn’t for you.  I have said this before and I will say it again–in my humble opinion, serial fiction is the book equivalent of a television series.  Just as much as I enjoy following all of the drama between Olivia and Fitz and Mellie on Scandal, so do I enjoy spending more than three-hundred pages with the characters of a particular book.  This is all to say that though I may not have loved the final book, I have loved this series and I’m glad that I started and finished it.  I haven’t been disappointed in it at all, and it’s a series I definitely recommend if you’re a fan of the romance/erotica genre.  I’m also a little sad to be done with this series.  My goal for 2016 is to complete some series that I am in the middle and have been in the middle of for quite some time.  Well, I can check the Hacker series off my list and say on to the next but I’m going to miss Erica and Blake.