Before we begin, let me say that I have read this book, or more specifically, I listened to it. Don’t do that. While the audiobook is done well, it meant I was listening to a man say the lines in the book, and it did entirely too good of a job at replicating the feel of actually standing next to a man who, mid-conversation, added that by the way, all women are gold-digging whores who don’t appreciate what a nice guy he is. It’s amazing how much worse that makes it.
Supposedly, the misogyny in this series is just in the first book or two, but any time I said, “Oh good, so you mean XYZ stops?”, I just got people saying they didn’t see how that was misogynistic, so from my standpoint, the series looks to be shit all the way down. And honestly, anyone who could read the first book and find it good enough to keep going to reach those supposedly non-misogynistic ones is someone already numb to misogyny.
So – that’s what we’re doing, everyone. This is going to be unpleasant for women and a hatefest for fans. The only consolation I can give is that we’re coming up on October, when I’ll also be reviewing carapace fanfic again as well as a bunch of short horror games.
Rarely has a cover quote been so useful. If you found the basic premise of Buffy the Vampire Slayer an enjoyable one, but didn’t understand why it wasn’t about a guy like all proper media, this book is for you.
Incidentally, there’s also a comics adaptation of this book.
I look forward to never finding anything else out about that, because the thought of this combined with the horrorshow that is modern comics terrifies me.
On to what’s actually inside this book.
I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual. He didn’t sound right. His footsteps fell more heavily, jauntily, and he whistled. A new guy. He whistled his way to my office door, then fell silent for a moment. Then he laughed.
Then he knocked.
I winced. My mail comes through the mail slot unless it’s registered. I get a really limited selection of registered mail, and it’s never good news. I got up out of my office chair and opened the door.
The new mailman, who looked like a basketball with arms and legs and a sunburned, balding head, was chuckling at the sign on the door glass. He glanced at me and hooked a thumb toward the sign.
“You’re kidding, right?”
The book is written in a nicely conversational first person.
I read the sign (people change it occasionally), and shook my head. “No, I’m serious. Can I have my mail, please.”
“So, uh. Like parties, shows, stuff like that?” He looked past me, as though he expected to see a white tiger, or possibly some skimpily clad assistants prancing around my one-room office.
I sighed, not in the mood to get mocked again, and reached for the mail he held in his hand. “No, not like that. I don’t do parties.”
He held on to it, his head tilted curiously. “So what? Some kinda fortune-teller? Cards and crystal balls and things?”
“No,” I told him. “I’m not a psychic.” I tugged at the mail.
He held on to it. “What are you, then?”
“What’s the sign on the door say?”
“It says ‘Harry Dresden. Wizard.’ ”
“That’s me,” I confirmed.
“An actual wizard?” he asked, grinning, as though I should let him in on the joke.
“Spells and potions? Demons and incantations? Subtle and quick to anger?”
“Not so subtle.” I jerked the mail out of his hand and looked pointedly at his clipboard. “Can I sign for my mail please.”
The problem is, of course, the person is doing the talking isn’t actually nice.
Harry gets a great deal of mileage out of how people don’t understand what it means when he calls himself a wizard. He knows people don’t know what wizards are, says there is, for whatever reason, absolutely no other wizard who’s got a phone number to call, yet insists on identifying himself as one then saying it’s mockery when they misunderstand.
He will just keep doing this. He’s an enormous guy flinging around even more enormous power, who doggedly refuses to explain anything while smugging it up about how no one else knows, and this makes him the greatest victim of it all.
You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious. But then, if you’d seen the things I’d seen, if you knew half of what I knew, you’d wonder how anyone could not think I was serious. But you wouldn’t, because all of it is secret and part of why he’s better than you – the other part being that you don’t believe him and recognize how much better than you he is. It is so hard being Harry.
We then get an explanation about how there’s been a big resurgence of magic belief at the beginning of the twenty-first century (…not really) and blames it on how belief in science failed due to being unable to fix crack babies (…who don’t exist, thank you) and exploding space shuttles (?) and how kids today watch too much TV. I assume the author of this book is not literally a ninety year old man, but he manages to be one in spirit. (Actually, Wikipedia claims he’s younger than my parents. What the fuck.)
This will be all the explanation we’re given for why suddenly there’s slightly more open supernatural stuff and a wizard can be in the Yellow Pages, even though apparently wizards have been around this whole time. The problem of the backstory making no sense whatsoever seems common in urban fantasy, because if you want the modern world to look like our modern world, but also magic has existed the whole time, it’s just not going to work. I’ll avoid harping on this issue further unless some specific plot holes come up.
He tells us that business is not booming, because apparently refusing to explain anything about yourself and hope people guess what your job actually involves doesn’t work as well as you’d think, and smugs more about how last week some guy hired him about a supposedly haunted house and he just told the guy to stop using drugs and being an idiot.
I’d gotten travel expenses plus an hour’s pay, and gone away feeling I had done the honest, righteous, and impractical thing. I heard later that he’d hired a shyster psychic to come in and perform a ceremony with a lot of incense and black lights. Some people.
And that fake psychic is the better person, because now the guy has peace of mind, which was all he wanted.
It’s easy to understand that an actual magic user with ethics wouldn’t feel like pretending a place was haunted just to drum up some cash. There’s also no reason he couldn’t have said he can’t find a ghost but if the guy wants he’ll do an exorcism anyway.
Look at it from the client’s POV – he experienced stuff he can’t explain. Some other guy is telling him whatever, he doesn’t see any ghost, you must’ve just imagined it. How exactly does he know Harry has any idea what he’s talking about? Doesn’t that sound a lot more like a lazy faker who just wanted to be paid to walk around your house and the shrug and say it seems fine, rather than spending any energy on an exorcism? Even if Harry means well, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have made a mistake and there really is a murder ghost that’s going to strangle everyone in the house in their sleep.
(Harry would be more sympathetic if he’d offered to do the exorcism and the guy complained it wasn’t flashy enough. Not misrepresenting how magic works or what it looks like would certainly fall under honest.)
Then some woman calls him and he’s again bitchy about the fact she’s not clear about the wizard thing.
She had a voice that was a little hoarse, like a cheerleader who’d been working a long tournament, but had enough weight of years in it to place her as an adult.
Also, just…why a cheerleader? How does cheerleader tournament hoarseness sound any different than any other type of hoarseness?
At any rate, she’s really nervous and almost hangs up, but he talks her to coming to see him in person to explain instead.
He then reminds us he is a ninety year old man on the inside by explaining he hates all this new-fangled technology.
Anything manufactured after the forties is suspect
“They knew how to build it back then, by plum!”
One of the ideas of the series is that magic doesn’t play nicely with tech, but what counts at high technology works on a sliding scale, so while a 1940s wizard presumably would’ve wrecked any car he came within ten feet of, a 2001 wizard can drive a 1940s car and have it work most of the time.
This actually seems like it might interact in an interesting manner with the accelerating pace of technology – is it that magic can’t work with anything invented less than sixty years ago, with the result wizards are growing increasingly out of sync with society as sixty years covers more and more tech time, or that it can’t work with the most recent million inventions, and Apple’s new iThing has finally pushed the original model iPod off that list and wizards can enjoy digital music with the rest of us?
“Harry, I need you at the Madison in the next ten minutes. Can you be there?” The voice on the other end of the line was also a woman’s, cool, brisk, businesslike.
“Why, Lieutenant Murphy,” I gushed, overflowing with saccharine, “It’s good to hear from you, too. It’s been so long. Oh, they’re fine, fine. And your family?”
This is seriously his only setting for human interaction. It’s so hard being him.
Some people have claimed that this is all a cute teasing relationship that she enjoys. At least in this book, it’s a cute teasing relationship Murphy appears to hate and tries to shut down at every opportunity. What it says about a fanbase that a woman’s visible displeasure is a sign she’s totally into it is a question best put aside.
Karrin Murphy was the director of Special Investigations out of downtown Chicago, a de facto appointee of the Police Commissioner to investigate any crimes dubbed unusual. Vampire attacks, troll mauraudings, and faery abductions of children didn’t fit in very neatly on a police report-but at the same time, people got attacked, infants got stolen, property was damaged or destroyed. And someone had to look into it.
This would have been marginally more coherent if the human resurgence in interest in magic had been in any way tied to an actual resurgence in magic, such that vampires, trolls and fairies have only recently been mucking up police dealings in noticeable quantities. There’s just way too many issues otherwise.
“I’ve sort of got an appointment.”
“Dresden, I’ve sort of got a pair of corpses with no leads and no suspects, and a killer walking around loose. Your appointment can wait.”
My temper flared. It does that occasionally. “It can’t, actually,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what. I’ll stroll on over and take a look around, and be back here in time for it.”
We’ll be seeing his temper flaring over decidedly innocuous things a lot.
But lest we think Murphy is a bitch for trying to get him to help with a murder investigation which incidentally is his job they pay him for, the book quickly shows us that she has feelings:
Her voice softened, and that scared me more than any images of gore or violent death could have. Murphy was the original tough girl, and she prided herself on never showing weakness. “It’s bad, Harry.
So while supposedly she’s tough as nails, we’re immediately shown her not being so. Incidentally, the scene that follows is really not going to warrant this sort of behavior.