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.

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