Dresden Files Grave Peril Ch30

So apparently I’m less done with this godawful series than I was promised before, so, let’s keep going to at least get done with this book.

In games and history books and military science lectures, teachers and old warhorses and other scholarly types lay out diagrams and stand up models in neat lines and rows. They show you, in a methodical order, how this division forced a hole in that line, or how these troops held their ground when all others broke.

How does Harry know about this? He can’t play videogames and he doesn’t appear to be involved in the miniatures scene. He was apprenticed as a teenager at the oldest, so he wasn’t in high school getting lectured on history. I don’t think he’s referenced a single book he’s read, and he similarly has never referenced going to some free lecture down at the library or the local college. This all sounds a lot like it’s referring to the sort of things you see in documentaries, but Harry can’t watch TV.

Anyway, Harry’s presumably thirdhand knowledge of what other people say war is like is, he insists, totally inaccurate because, and you may need to sit down because Harry has one hell of a hot take on this, real fighting is messy, fluid, difficult to follow, and also it’s scary and people scream a bunch. Thank god Harry is here to explain this to us.

This book is getting tiring to even be sarcastic at, so, my father is someone who enjoys history books and military science lectures and hearing old warhorses talk. One of the many books he enjoyed was Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, a nonfiction account of his own time spent during the Spanish Civil War. He said that Orwell was great at describing all the absurdities of human thought during a war, like when he writes, “In the daytime the guns thundered fitfully. Torre Fabian, now our cookhouse, was shelled and partially destroyed. It is curious that when you are watching artillery-fire from a safe distance you always want the gunner to hit his mark, even though the mark contains your dinner and some of your comrades.” And here’s the chapter where, among other things, he gets shot and painstakingly describes it.

But anyway, Harry babbles for a bit about how serious and chaotic this all is as a swarm of vampires lunge at him and yet he’s able to describe everything clearly and actually watch a whole attack/counter-attack play out with Thomas while not getting attacked at all, because inverse ninja law.

“Their bellies!” Thomas shouted. “Without the blood they’re too weak to fight!”

“I know,” Michael snapped back, flashing Thomas an irritated look.

Michael please, you both know Harry needs to be told these things.

For some reason, it’s Michael the vampires swarm atop, because when you’re picking your targets, obviously everyone goes for the one who burns you on contact.

I tried to push toward him, but found myself jostled aside.

I think you could make this work if, instead of it just suddenly being fight time, Bianca had announced that Michael violated hospitality with the earlier holysplosion and Susan’s invite was a fake so she never had any. None of them can attack Harry yet, so he’s watching the attacks and trying to push them aside without getting insta-gibbed for it. That’d also mean we no longer need Lydia to be in this story at all – instead of a still unclear plan regarding her specific murder and not all the other murders on a sword they couldn’t have known would be in play, Bianca’s master plan was just “invite Harry and a +1, assume the +1 will fuck up some aspect of our byzantine laws and lose protection, watch Harry violate hospitality trying to defend them, kill him too”. Betting on the very specific sword fuckup is ridiculous, but betting on some fuckup in relation to Harry? That makes complete sense.

Finally, at least one vampire remembers supposedly this is about murdering Harry. It’s Kyle, because I guess vampires just don’t follow orders and instead attack whoever they’re most mad at and Michael, as befits the party tank, auto-pulls most of them by wearing crosses.

He bared his fangs at me, and lifted a semiautomatic, one of the expensive models. Gold-plated.

So pre-super Bianca could tear through fully-powered Harry’s magic shield like it wsan’t there, while Harry’s repeatedly deflected bullets. But guns have the additional advantage of…being really likely to misfire around Harry?

Honestly this is starting to look like it’s not actually meant to kill him. First everyone ignores him in favor of the guy who pissed of Mavra, now the one vampire who is bothering to attack had to wander away and retrieve a terrible weapon first. It seems a bit like an amped up version of giving Thomas a ticket – trying to generally give off the air of death being imminent but actually leaving a very clear way out.

Because I guess the author is bored of writing about shields, Harry is not doing shields tonight, though! Instead, apparently the sword in his cane is covered in earth magic runes, so he is now Magneto. Meanwhile, Michael is doing some Latin shouting:

“Iesu domine!” Michael’s voice rang out from beneath the vampires like a brass army bugle, and with a sudden explosion of pressure and unseen force, bodies flew back and up, away from him, flesh ripped and torn from them, hanging in ragged, bloodless strips like cloth, showing gleaming, oily black flesh beneath. “Domine!” Michael shouted, rising, slewing gutted vamps off of him like a dog shakes off water. “Lava quod est sordium!”

Now, when I googled that, it’s just him asking the lord to clean the unclean. But in googling it I found some much more awesome stuff! Personally I think something fitting but not too hard to place might be Pie Iesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Dona eis requiem sempiternam. but if Michael wants to be more of a dick about it, and people do seem to generally want to be more of a dick about it, he could use one of the lines about eternal light as well as eternal rest.

“Bianca!” Thomas shouted. “Our only chance is to take out their leader!”

I’m starting to think Thomas may be a plant.

“Make sure you take them out nonlethally with a belly strike, everyone! Okay, now instead of running away we need to charge deeper in, directly at the most powerful vampire, you know the one who wanted to personally make Harry suffer! Hey, Harry, I think you should lead, because, uh, you’re so much better than the rest of us! Try to expose your throat as much as possible as you do so!”

A knife flew out of the dark, too fast for me to see. But Thomas did. He reached out and flicked the blade of his sword across its path with a contemptuous swat, deflecting it out.

Also look at how much Thomas is enjoying being on the right side of the inverse ninja law.

You can also see it in how, apparently, stabbing these vampires who have recently gorged on food in the belly disables them, but Thomas who as far as we know hasn’t fed at all tonight is at max power.

Harry then lampshades the terrible plotting by saying there’s no way they could actually do all this before one vampire with superspeed finishes stabbing one helpless drugged human.

But we were. The carnage had evidently drawn Mavra’s attention, and she stared at the blood, withered lips pulled back from yellow teeth. She looked at me, and her expression twisted in malice. She spun back to Lydia, sword held high.

Yeah, she just stood around waiting. And somehow got so distracted watching Harry and company fighting she didn’t notice their approach. Nothing suspicious about that!

Now, why did the author decide for Harry to suddenly become Magneto? So he could magneto the holy sword.

“Wait, then why the fuck did he run up there? Was he trying to make sure Mavra had enough time to kill Lydia?” Yeah, probably. Harry even admitted last chapter that he fucking hates women “taking advantage” of him by “being about to die”, the hussies, and that not hating Justine and wanting her dead was a rare exception to his usual feelings on the matter.

Since vampires have super strength, yanking on something doesn’t mean they lose their grip, so we get slapstick instead:

the vampire found herself lifted clear of the ground by her grip on the sword, and flung like a beach ball toward the courtyard below. She smacked into the stones of the courtyard hard, brittle popping sounds a gruesome accompaniment. The sword exploded in another cloud of vengeful argent sparks and went spinning away from Mavra, the blade flashing where hit the ground.

Also, I guess as a magical object it can’t be damaged by any normal wear and tear? That or the reason we aren’t hearing anything from Michael at the moment is because he’s too busy staring in horror.

A wave of exhaustion and dizziness swept over me, and I nearly fell. Even using a focus, the rune-etched cane, that effort had nearly been more than I could manage. I had to clench my teeth and hope I wouldn’t simply pitch to one side. I was getting down to the bottom of the barrel, as far as magic went.

Let’s pause to talk about the whole sue thing.

This time is actually pretty good, a far cry from the first book’s “because I was so exhausted, I couldn’t summon my stuff, because I might have accidentally pulled down the whole building.” And he makes a point he’s doing it through a focus instead of just pulling infinite power out of his ass. But notice all those qualifiers. He nearly fell. Nearly more than he could manage. And he’s saying it after he successfully and in fact flawlessly did what he meant to do.

The problem is Harry’s spectrum ranges from effortless success to effortful success. His injuries make him more likely to describe what he’s doing as super hard but don’t actually hinder him in getting whatever that is done. The closest to true weakness we’ve had, I think, is him saying earlier he tried to call for rage to power his magic and finding nothing, but he was just trying to prepare then, so no spells have actually fizzled. And after several books of Harry supposedly being exhausted to the bone and hideously injured and just continuing to truck, it’s harder and harder to take the mention of exhaustion as a real impediment. Yeah yeah you’re nearly passing out like you are every other chapter. I appreciate that he’s getting the shit beaten out of him and not solely because I hate him, but when it barely factors into any of his decisions, it’s pretty easy to tune out.

Since Harry just trying and nothing happening isn’t too interesting to read about either, I think what we should’ve got is partial spells. Harry tries to yank the sword out of Mavra’s grasp right at the start of the fight and manages only to jerk it enough to the side that she misses the swing, say, and maybe doing this makes his shield spell fizzle/contract so the vampires lunge at them, but it gets Mavra’s attention and she forgets Lydia in favor of attacking the person throwing a spell at her, etc. And all that nearly weakness isn’t going to stop Harry from picking Lydia up like she weights nothing.

It doesn’t help that we’ve spent the whole party sequence building Michael up as an unstoppable badass who trumps Harry in both power and knowledge. It’s actually a bit odd – that isn’t how their relationship was presented across the rest of the book, and it means the fight seems to much less desperate.

Michael strode forward, one hand holding a dagger up reversed, point down, a cross extended toward Mavra. The vampire flung her hands at Michael, and darkness spilled out of them like oil, splattering toward the knight. It sizzled and spat against him, going up in puffs of steam, and Michael came on forward through it, white fire gathering around the upheld cross. Mavra let out a dusty, hissing scream and fell back from him, forced away from me.

See? I mean, this all sounds pretty cool, but it also establishes that Michael was never in all that much danger from a vampire party. The questions now are more if Michael can really singlehandedly kill every last one of them, or if he can do so before they murder one of the weaker party members. But he’s obviously the one carrying this fight, not Harry.

But speaking of weaker party members, the rest of them are dealing with the rest of the vampires who are half transformed into angry bat monsters. Susan tries to ward one off with her cross again but nothing happens this time.

Faith magic isn’t always easy to work, even on vampires

Okay but it’s faith, and she just saw it work amazingly well, which should create a feedback loop where her belief that crosses are both generally real magic and specifically harm vampires should be sky-high at the moment. I can see faith magic being unreliable over a broader period of time, because if something else makes you doubt then it sputters and then your doubt gets reinforced, but seriously, holy light just blazed out of her cross. God is real and hates vampires apparently.

and the Red Court, creatures with a more solid hold on reality than the more magical denizens of the Black, were not so easily repelled.

This element, on the other hand, I do like.

Vampires are kind of a mishmash in popular culture, and if we’ve got courts of different species, it makes sense that they might not even be related branches off the same ancestors but something closer to convergent evolution instead. The vampires we’ve seen so far actually seem more werebat than undead. They transform, they’re prone to fits of rage, and addictive saliva is exactly what you’d expect a supernatural upgrade to the vampire bat’s existing painkilling saliva would be. There’s even the explanation for why they’re social yet not human-styled social in that bats are often actually rather chummy creatures. And I stand by my statement regarding werewolves being the least magical – they’re made up of normal things and magic is just the facilitator for being one and then being the other. Applied to vampires, it’d make sense the shapeshifting animal subtype would be the most grounded. And while Harry’s not too reliable, it sounds like he thinks they’re not even true shapeshifters but are just giant bat monsters with a glamour on top, which would mean they’re completely functional without any magic at all. (Now, blood being so low in calories, their metabolism would indeed need to run on magic, but turning off their ability to convert blood into stored energy is unlikely to do much in the two-three seconds you have to live during a fight with one of them.)

Ignoring White, which we don’t know about, I said that Mavra’s eyes suggest that her senses themselves must be magical. All her description is focused around her being an animate corpse, with Harry emphasizing how when she moves it sounds like something with rigor mortis somehow getting pushed into a new pose, but that would suggest stiffness, a slow and clumsy opponent, and Mavra is even more clearly emphasized as being no such thing. She in fact appears to be far faster than the Red type of vampire. So the physical thing we see and call “Mavra” is a slightly decayed corpse, but that has no bearing on how she interacts with the world around her. That’s clearly a very high magic creature, possibly even glitching reality to keep the corpse intact given it should be getting torn to pieces in normal use. And again, her complaints about the food do suggest whatever she’s supposed to feed on, it’s a more abstract than just blood, if she even eats blood at all.

…where were we? Right. Susan can’t manage faith magic, somehow the vampire doesn’t just eat her in one bite but grabs her and howls, foaming slaver spattering Susan’s red hood which somehow does not in any way trigger the narcotic effect (and why is nobody else just spitting on them?) and then it waits patiently as she thrashes a bit and eventually chucks a jar of holy water into a hot lamp, creating holy steam. That actually seems like a super bad idea given poor Thomas is right there. As the vampire gets their skin eaten off – what is with this series and people losing their skin to something caustic – she shoots them in the belly a bunch, and for some reason Harry thinks this means that vampire’s dead. Maybe? It could absolutely be that if you badly injure them and then remove their blood, they can’t regenerate that injury. But all Harry does know about them is they can survive getting skin ripped off and they evidently also survive belly injuries.

At this point Bianca is apparently just so embarrassed that everyone’s just, like, standing around when she clearly said kill them, so she just grabs Justine. (…and it would be interesting if actually yeah, the vampires were posturing and waving their claws around, but nobody wanted to be the one who definitely killed the wizard. It’d explain why in the first book and even all of this book up until now they’re super fast and pretty much unstoppable as individuals, but suddenly they’re just standing near and snarling a bunch.)

Bianca says well, that’s it then.

“You haven’t taken us down yet,” I shot back. “Smart for you and your people to get out of my way, before I get cranky.”

This is totally reasonable! Like I keep saying, he’s doing so ridiculously better than anyone could expect, so it doesn’t make sense for any of this to have cowed him. If he was willing to open the fight when it was obviously doomed, he’s definitely going to be willing to keep trying now that they seem to have a chance.

Bianca says this is a dumb bluff and he’s obviously about dead. Yeah, Michael the actual powerhouse will probably kill lots of vampires on the way down, but he’s not going to manage all of them by his lonesome.

Your whole Court, Bianca, and you couldn’t take us down.” I swept my eyes back and forth over the vampires below, and said, “All of your little minions here have eternity laid out before them. Eternity is a bad thing to lose. And maybe you would get us, eventually. But whichever one of you would like to lose eternity first, please. Just go ahead and step on up.”

And yeah. I want to be on your side, Bianca, but god this whole plan was even stupider than Harry’s bluffs could ever be.

Bianca decides she’s done talking with Harry and goes to Thomas. Hey, turn on the guy I hate way more and you and your girlfriend live?

Thomas shoves Susan into the vampires.

Yeah, Harry totally deserves that. Thomas apologizes and that’s about as much as Harry was owed, really, when Thomas and Justine had to beg for the right to aid Harry’s own escape attempt.

Of course Bianca immediately orders Thomas killed too. Dammit, Bianca. You wait until the main targets are dead first! It’d be one thing if Thomas was going to run for it, but you’re holding Justine, he has to stick around and find out if you’re going to honor your deal.

At this point Harry gets very upset at how doomed they are.

Michael and I couldn’t possibly fight them all alone. They’d taken Susan. The help we thought we’d found had turned against us.

I mean, you didn’t so much find it as it came to you and then you made it beg for a while, then had it apologize to you for the imposition of aiding you.

Harry decides to zero in on his failure with Susan in particular, which, fair! Michael had his own reasons for being here, and his swordy charge was his own decision on top of that. Meanwhile, Susan sacrificed a chunk of herself to save Harry.

And it was my fault. I hadn’t listened to her, when I should have. I hadn’t protected her.

Unfortunately, like usual when Harry is accepting women-related blame, he’s got to be weird about it. What didn’t he listen to, exactly? Isn’t the bigger issue him not telling her things? Even if he’s got to stick to generic hero type angsting, the fact he’s the sort of person to enrage a vampire and then forget about it leading to this inevitably spilling over to those around him would work. It’s not so much about failing to protect as it is that it’s his fault she’s in the line of fire to start with.

…and there’s about to be more fire thanks to Harry.

I don’t know how that realization would make someone else feel. I don’t know if the despair, and the self loathing and the helpless fury would crumble them like too-brittle concrete, or melt them like dirty lead, or shatter them like cheap glass.
I only know what it did to me.
It set me on fire.

So basically, you can never beat Harry because he feels emotions about being beaten.

I don’t remember the spell, or the words I said. But I remember reaching for that pain. I remember reaching for it, and thinking that if we had to go, then so help me God, weakened or not, hopeless or not, I was going to take these murdering, bloodsucking sons of bitches with me.

Now, while this is a terrible idea when your magic officially runs on “energy” because it establishes that “energy” flows out of your “ass”, I do think you could have something like this that wasn’t overpowered if, instead of being able to break the established rules by just saying power of heart or whatever, the magic system was built around that.

See, while at the moment it might seem like magic = emotions means Harry can always pull out more, the fact is, even emotions have limits and someone like a wizard, who’s habitually burning emotions for spells, should actually have a significantly lowered capacity at any given time. They might be able to partly offset this by encouraging extreme overreactions to everything, in the reverse of normal emotional control, but that would mean they’re way more likely to channel that extra emotion into extra spells because they’re feeling really strongly that’s necessary right now. I’d guess the longer-lived, established wizards do the opposite and keep a really tight lid on their emotions in regular life so that when they’re backed into a corner, they have reserves.

If we say that Harry’s been burning up his fear for himself and his love for his friends and his hate for vampires this whole time, then it is impressive for him to be able to dredge up anything more (and it makes more sense that he has to be pushed into absolute despair to manage it, he already used up all the emotions for less horrible situations). While I’m not sure how literal emotions being neurotransmitters should be, that would mean that burning up absolutely everything like this has a good chance of wrecking his brain’s functioning. We’re about to see that also, Harry can’t aim for shit at this point and is probably lucky he even managed to make the fire be external from himself instead of doing a really awesome if shortlived Human Torch cosplay. And while “hero wins because supposedly intelligent villain just can’t stop gloating” is not exactly the best plotting, it’s entirely passable, and you could argue that Bianca expects Harry to have been worn down by now. She didn’t just spring a trap and then get blown up, she’s had him chasing ghosts and getting into other spats with her vampires, then gave him time to get into fights with her guests, then really drew out this whole reveal as much as possible. I could see this being a valid way to kill the average wizard, and maybe we could emphasize more how unstable the power he’s using at this point is – maybe something about how it actually does light him up for a second, but then he reflexively chucks it elsewhere using the same sort of skill as he used against the glamour of just reject everything without thinking twice.

Now, in the case of what we get in this book, there’s also a boatload of regular old arrogance in play:
I would show them that they couldn’t play lightly with the powers of creation, of life itself. That it wasn’t smart to cross a wizard of the White Council when someone has stolen his girlfriend.

Like, yeah, they’re getting revenge for a specific reason, but Harry is going to be outraged at the very idea of someone opposing him because he is ALL OF MOTHERFUCKING CREATION AND LIFE ITSELF, EVERYONE!

But then, is it arrogance if it’s maybe true? Because it’s not just that Harry manages one last spell, he lights absolutely everything on fire in one instant.

The tree-towers of the topiary castle exploded into blazes of light, and the hedge-walls, complete with their crenelated tops, went up with them. Fire leapt up into the air, forty, fifty feet, and the sudden explosion of it lifted everyone but me up and off the ground, sent wind roaring around us in a gale.

So yeah, we’re back to “I was so tired I lost control of my awesome and boundless power”.

The young people of earlier lay about, out in the darkness near the hedges, near the fires, pathetic little lumps. Some of them twitched. Some of them breathed. A few whimpered and tried to crawl away from the heat – but most lay dreadfully, perfectly still.

Harry insists that definitely those motionless ones are dead, even though it sure sounds like he’s not close enough to see any motion more subtle than flinching away from the heat. And this enrages him further, even though the assumption this whole time was that the vampires were killing them and honestly that the bodies are still there, as opposed to being removed completely, actually suggests they may just be anemic and drugged up. Harry didn’t even lose any blood and was only licked once on intact skin, and even with his magic powers he was still barely able to move around.

And that would actually fit so much better with what we’ve seen of Bianca. These aren’t her people, sure – vampires probably have difficulty maintaining enough people to feed on personally. But she is so, so upset about the woman she killed. And she was upset about the other people who got heartsploded, even the guy who was not by any stretch one of her people. And the basic mechanism of feeding…however much Harry chants that drugs are bad, these guys are obviously not feeding on pain.

Trick teenagers into party where they get roofied and lose a pile of blood is plenty upsetting while being the sort of thing you can easily see wizards being totally cool about. Harry keeps a rapist skull who’s done way worse to people for way less of a reason. It’s even hypothetically possible that these guys consented to what’s happening – everyone agrees vampire spit is awesome, we know Harry sees them taking pills so this isn’t a world where only super evil people use recreational drugs, and not one of them seems to notice/care that other people are passing out even though it seems like that doesn’t happen all at once. Harry says they don’t know what they’re getting in for, but he didn’t bother to speak to a single one of them.

And if that’s so, it adds another layer to this. Given how super, super addictive the spit is, exposing a large number of people to it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be good (although I guess it’s not clear if this is normal addiction or magic addiction – Harry doesn’t exactly seem to be feeling withdrawal). But it’s only Harry and friends she was actually gunning for, and it seems like there’s way more snacks than there are vampires. If the vampires didn’t kill them, then it’s Harry who’s getting them all killed to save his own skin. But of course it’s Bianca that put him in this position. But it’s Harry who responded with unfocused rage and damn-the-consequences mass flames. But it’s Bianca who intentionally packed the place with people knowing she was going to attack someone who slings around unfocused rage flames. Etc.

Having done magic, Harry repeats his “nearly fell” trick from last time, but like, more, because this time his heart totally stopped and that’s why he’s swaying on his feet. Poor Michael, already carrying Lydia, now has to help Harry remain standing…but, as Harry does remain standing, we avoid the question of what would happen if Michael was forced to pick.

“Lord!” Michael coughed. “Lord, I know that Harry hasn’t always done what You would have done!” He staggered forward, carrying me, and the girl. “But he’s a good man! He’s fought against Your foes! He deserves better than to die here, Lord! So if you could be kind enough to show me how to get us out of here, I’d really appreciate it.”

Now, you might wonder why I’m quoting Michael’s generic paladin speech. What’s so interesting about this? Well, if you think about it…he didn’t do that generic paladin speech other times. Each and every time his family was in the line of fire, there was no respectful pleading for God’s mercy. Then he had anger – but only for his opponents, not his god who failed to intervene.

Is Michael even capable of anger at his god? Of doubt, of wavering faith, of demanding something in return? Is he capable of shouting not “Please, this man deserves better, so your intervention would be welcome!” but “You must do this, for it is not right that he should die here!”

Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s what you have to sacrifice to be a proper servant. Does it still count as free will to freely choose to give up that capability?

Suddenly the smoke and fire part! But the temperature change makes Harry collapse, and I guess we do find out who Michael chooses:

Michael dropped the girl somewhere near me and tore the cheap tuxedo open. He laid his hand over my heart and let out a short cry. After that, I don’t remember much more than pain, and a series of dull, hard thumps on my chest.

It seems like there’s an angel standing on the other side of the tunnel, but it turns out it’s Lea. Also, Harry mentions they’ve lost Susan and Michael says he’ll got get her later, because yeah, like there’s going to be any later for someone thrown into a pack of vampires and then abandoned in an inferno.

Also, Lea refers to Bianca as a hussy. Rude, Lea! The both of you need to think long and hard about the words you use. She explains that Harry has successfully fucked himself over into something unusable to her. Apparently the dog thing is powered by those neurotransmitters Harry just lit on fire or something.

We end with Harry and Lydia being piled into the truck. He asks for Susan again. Michael says he’ll “try”. An unknown amount of time passes, then the truck drives off. I expect the idea is that Harry actually passes out for a while there, but given Harry’s supposedly had an actual heart attack, I’m suspicious the time thing went the other way. The thing is, if you black out you black out, you can’t tell how long it’s been. If he only did so for an instant, he wouldn’t realize that actually, all that happened was Michael walked around to the driver’s seat.

I don’t know if that’d be wrong, honestly. I think you could make a good case that Susan was dead as soon as the vampires grabbed her – maybe Harry or Thomas might be important enough that she planned to torture them a while, and Michael probably has to be handed to Mavra alive so she can do the honors, but Susan was just a wrong place wrong time situation. And if they didn’t kill her, Harry went on at length after lighting the fire about how the fire burned the vampires. It’s unclear if they can survive that, but again, Susan was grabbed by them. If they’re lighting on fire, so is she, and humans are nowhere near as durable. And on top of that…well, they only even got out because of Lea, and she has no reason to hold that door open longer. Michael doesn’t even need to try, he knows there’s no getting through the wall of flame to look for Susan, let alone a way to get her back out if she were alive.

But also…he sets down Lydia to try to save Harry. And maybe that’s not wrong either, maybe you can argue that Harry’s life really is worth more than anyone else’s because without his power, all sorts of things would have killed people so without him, the next time they will. Michael knows that right now, his wife and newest child are apparently cursed by the ghost or something. Harry is not only the only one who can stop that, but at the moment the only check on it is that it’s bound to kill him first – if he dies, it gets to run all over mangling people’s souls again. (And all signs point to Michael knowing that, whatever god he serves, it isn’t one that’ll intervene to save his family.)

There are a lot of practical reasons you could argue that the best course of action is to just tell Harry you’re on it and then drive him to the hospital instead. It’s just not the sort of thing you should be seeing from a paladin.

53 Comments

  1. Socordya says:

    In games and history books and military science lectures, teachers and old warhorses and other scholarly types lay out diagrams and stand up models in neat lines and rows […] real fighting is messy, fluid, difficult to follow, and also it’s scary and people scream a bunch. Thank god Harry is here to explain this to us.

    I’m gonna go ahead and assume Butcher has never served in the military a day in his life, because that’s generally the case with people who lecture others on What Real Fighting Is Like.

    Also, that’s basically another iteration of NOT LIKE THE MOVIES!!!, where the trope being criticized has been thoroughly discredited long ago (or, really, never existed to begin with) and bitching about it IS the cliche.

    1. GeniusLemur says:

      Let’s not rag on NOT LIKE THE MOVIES!!! here, it’s just once. It’s not like in the first book Harry hit somebody with a chair and then stopped to explain that when you hit somebody with a chair, the chair doesn’t dramatically shatter like in the movies as though Harry/Butcher is so amazing for knowing this and the reader would… be… shocked…

      Uh, nevermind.

      1. Roarke says:

        The best part was in Book 2 wherein Harry says werewolves are NOT LIKE THE MOVIES and then the werewolves were exactly like the movies. 

        1
        1. illhousen says:

          To be fair, they’re not like good movies.

          1
    2. CrazyEd says:

      Let’s not forget just how fucking irrelevant it is to be comparing the situation he’s in to the pre-battle lines of skirmish formed by mounted soldiers in medieval and early modern warfare in the first place.

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  2. Keleri says:

    Harry has one hell of a hot take on this, real fighting is messy, fluid, difficult to follow, and also it’s scary and people scream a bunch.

    I guess he can’t be in the same room as a computer, but hell, have you ever seen a Starcraft match, Harry? Yeah duh war is messy. lol

  3. EC says:

    It doesn’t help that we’ve spent the whole party sequence building Michael up as an unstoppable badass who trumps Harry in both power and knowledge. It’s actually a bit odd – that isn’t how their relationship was presented across the rest of the book, and it means the fight seems to much less desperate.

    It’d be fine if the role reversal began with the vampires – they are, after all, undead(ish) abominations and therefore firmly paladin territory. As written, his sudden competence up is too generalised.

    I think this would be a good opportunity for some character growth. Have Harry struggle to argue Michael down from his initial plan of smites fall, everybody dies – succeeding due to the fact Michael’s become used to deferring to him. Maybe have something bad happen to someone during the party for the protagonist to feel guilty about later, as self pity is one of his chief passtimes. Then, when they start fighting and Michael goes all march-of-the-ents on the vampires, Harry can learn a valuable lesson about, uh… his own capacity for ignorance, and listening to others’ professional expertise. That kind of thing.

  4. illhousen says:

    “Their bellies!” Thomas shouted. “Without the blood they’re too weak to fight!”

    “I know,” Michael snapped back, flashing Thomas an irritated look.

    Thomas: Also, without their heads they’re completely powerless!

    Michael: I know!

    For some reason, it’s Michael the vampires swarm atop, because when you’re picking your targets, obviously everyone goes for the one who burns you on contact.

    Aggro moves.

    You can also see it in how, apparently, stabbing these vampires who have recently gorged on food in the belly disables them, but Thomas who as far as we know hasn’t fed at all tonight is at max power.

    You can’t see it, but he’s getting off on showing off, which empowers him. Such is the nature of the White Court.

    That’s clearly a very high magic creature, possibly even glitching reality to keep the corpse intact given it should be getting torn to pieces in normal use.

    It’s interesting to note here that in the original novel Dracula had a sort of ephemeral quality that he mostly lacks in adaptations. He was closer to a fae or a demon than to what we commonly think of as a vampire. His prime associations are mist and fevor dreams, his arrival is foretold by madness and mystery and, from the narrative intention point of view, he brings out the best and the worst in people who encounter him.

    It makes sense for beings he’s supposedly modeled after to be highly magical and otherworldly.

    But he’s a good man! He’s fought against Your foes! He deserves better than to die here, Lord!

    It’s kinda interesting that his evidence in favor of Harry being a good man is “he fought your enemies.”

    Hail Pelor of the Burning Hate!

    1
    1. Farla says:

      It’s kinda interesting that his evidence in favor of Harry being a good man is “he fought your enemies.”

      Well, there’s different sorts of good men. Harry’s the good man to have in a fight kind.

      Also, Michael’s got no other reason to call for godly intervention but “forgiveness is godly, right Lord???”

  5. It’s been interesting to read your litanies of hate on the Dresden Files. A friend of mine recommended it to me a ways back, and I never had the chance to read it. But yeah, I can see a lot of the points you’ve been making. So how does this thing work, anyhow? Are you recommended a book and then you review it in detail?

    1. Cerrie says:

      Its called bullying.

      1. illhousen says:

        So, who’s the victim here?

        Like, are you worried about Butcher leaving DF fandom were he to stumble upon this blog?

        1. Act says:

          TBH that would probably improve the whole thing.

          1. illhousen says:

            He’s discovered much harsher criticism before, though, over whitewashing of Chicago, and his response was to dismiss it on account of tone.

            1. Farla says:

              Actually, have we had any black people besides that one guy in the cell who got werewolf murdered?

              Reply
            2. illhousen says:

              I don’t think so? certainly no prominent named characters.

              Reply
            3. CrazyEd says:

              Not until we get to the animalistic repenting knight later on, I don’t think.

              Reply
            4. Act says:

              This is phenomenally unsurprising.

              Reply
            5. K says:

              Henry Rawlings is black, but he has such a minor role in most of his appearances its pretty much blink and you’ll miss it. He shows up more later on in Dead Beat and Proven Guilty, and very briefly in a few other books. He’s either mentioned briefly or has a few short scenes. He knew Karrin Murphy when she was a little girl and was a friend of the family/Karrin’s father, for whatever that’s worth.

              Reply
            6. Cosmogone says:

              Hey, come on, don’t say you really want to see Butcher dealing with black characters. His descriptions of Susan are already somewhat suspicious; I’d rather not see further depth this guy can sink to.

              Reply
            7. Cosmogone says:

              …Butcher will always find new ways to disappoint me, huh?

              Reply
      2. Farla says:

        Is anything not called bullying in your dictionary?

        1. SpoonyViking says:

          The crap they spew in here, apparently.

    2. Farla says:

      It starts with someone recommending a book, then there’s some combination of personal interest and voting. I should probably get up another poll for what’s next.

      1. illhousen says:

        Btw, I’ve noticed some time back that comments from the suggestion post don’t show up on the side panel. Must be some kind of bug or a settings error.

        1. Farla says:

          I think that’s a distinction between pages vs posts.

        2. Act says:

          You have to toggle each ‘page’ manually while posts are automatic. If there’s one that doesn’t show, I likely forgot to turn it on. Just flag it if you notice it.

    3. illhousen says:

      There is a post for book suggestions to Farla, which you can find in the menu on top. Just write the title of the book and the reason you think it would be a good readthrough/review material, maybe a short synopsis.

      Note, however, that we’re stuck with DF for now due to Farla’s commitment to get to the DF books that are actually considered good by the fans, so you probably won’t see new series for a while, and there is a lot of books already suggested.

  6. Definitely Not The Reeds of Enki says:

    @Illhousen Gotcha. I have to wonder if it’s admirable or insane on Farla’s behalf to so thoroughly go over a series she clearly despises.

    @Farla Why did you start doing this, just out of curiosity? I’d go insane if I had to give a whole slew of book reports over a series that I actively hated. Oh, and this is Enki by the way. Too lazy to sign in.

    1. Act says:

      Why did you start doing this, just out of curiosity?

       

      Oh god I’m so used to people finding us via Hunger Games I’d forgotten you came for fanfic!

      http://www.dragon-quill.net/category/books/the-hunger-games/hunger-games/

      This all started when Farla ended up doing a Let’s Read of the Hunger Games in her livejournal. If I remember correctly it wasn’t supposed to be a full let’s-read, just kind of a oneoff examining of a real book + a taste at what it looks like when she’s purposefully harsh, and then it was so bad she kept going, and then it blew up so we moved it offsite, and then at the end everyone was like… so what’s next?

      1. Huh. The more you know, I guess. Just how many people come here for Hunger Games? Like you said, I came here for the fanfic aspect of it, so I’ve been under the impression that fanfic was the main draw. That being said, most of the people I’ve interacted with here have been obsessed about said fanfic side and various issues, and I really haven’t strayed too far from that hive of drama. It’s pretty interesting to check on other sides of the site though. I like the list of keywords on the side of the main page that I assume categorizes topics that are talked about by a size-to-relevance ratio. I had to stop by the Sword Art Online Abridged piece for a moment just to see what was said there. 

        1. illhousen says:

          Well, I came here for Hunger Games reviews, being linked from another blog. I’m honestly on the periphery of the Pokemon fandom, so readthrough of professional works interest me more here.

          I like the list of keywords on the side of the main page that I assume categorizes topics that are talked about by a size-to-relevance ratio.

          It’s a standard tag cloud. Size indicates how many posts were marked with the tag in question. Long readthrough like DF stuff tend to be larger, small size typically indicates single-post reviews and discussion posts.

        2. SpoonyViking says:

          As I said a long time ago, I came for the F/SN readthrough, I stayed for the FioS one.

        3. Act says:

          Back before Google made search terms private, most of our search volume came from Hunger Games stuff, thought I’m not sure about the regulars. I would guess it’s a mix between that and Fate for biggest referrers.

          Farla sets aside a whole month for fanfic reviews, so during that month everyone tends to be talking about fanfic, but outside that I think the draw is largely the let’s reads of novels.

          1
    2. Farla says:

      Reading bad books is similar to reading bad fanfic. Just because it’s failing at its intended purpose doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting there! With great writing, it’s enjoyable but it’s often hard to see how it’s put together. It’s all polished up nicely and the pieces fit together so seamlessly you can’t even tell it was ever constructed. With bad writing, it’s easy to get your fingernails into the gaps and pull it apart to see the gears.

      Sometimes, there’s also more novelty to be found in the work where no thought at all was given to how things are supposed to be. When talking about the Bechdel test, one of the things movie people often point out is terrible movies actually pass with surprising regularity. Why? Because one of the most basic rules of screenwriting is to remove all irrelevant dialogue, which, it turns out, includes any time women aren’t talking about guys. A lot of bad movie scripts are by people who didn’t follow any of the rules for good scripts. It’s in seeing those rules get competely ignored that you get a better feel for what’s really important and what’s just getting copied because everyone else does it.

      7
      1. I will say that your reviews have been an excellent source of “what NOT to do” while writing a book. I’d like to think that what I’m writing right now steers clear of most disaster zones, but it’s nice to see what people’s opinions of what went right or wrong with popular series are. I don’t agree with everything you say, for example, and I think some of it is taken out of context, but a good chunk of it is pretty spot-on, regarding the Hunger Games section specifically, from what I read. It’s certainly helped me be a bit more paranoid when looking for plot holes. So in essence, this is kind of like reviewing on a grander scale, or at least to me. 

        2
        1. Act says:

          So in essence, this is kind of like reviewing on a grander scale, or at least to me. 

          It is! Fanfic reviewing was how I started down the career path I’m on right now, and I know that a lot, if not most, of the people I knew as heavy critters during my teens went on to be editors and educators, so it’s a really great venue for people who want to develop those skills!

        2. CrazyEd says:

          Meanwhile, Farla has broken my ability to write and I’m still trying to force myself to stop listening to the little niggling voice in the back of my head telling me I’m as horrible a person as Jim Butcher is.

          1. Roarke says:

            Luckily for me, I broke my own ability to write before I came here, so now I can just sit back and laugh. 

            1. CrazyEd says:

              Why not blame Farla anyway? All the cool kids are doing it.

              Reply
            2. Roarke says:

              Good point! 

              Damn it, Farla! *shakes fist*

              Reply
      2. Act says:

        With great writing, it’s enjoyable but it’s often hard to see how it’s put together. It’s all polished up nicely and the pieces fit together so seamlessly you can’t even tell it was ever constructed. With bad writing, it’s easy to get your fingernails into the gaps and pull it apart to see the gears.

        Ooh, this is a good metaphor I will be stealing in the future.

  7. SpoonyViking says:

    And I stand by my statement regarding werewolves being the least magical – they’re made up of normal things and magic is just the facilitator for being one and then being the other.

    They’re in-betweeners! They’re human and animal, civilisation and the wild, Order and Chaos, all at once. Plus, the reason for the change is important: they can vary from sorcerers to those cursed by God / empowered by the Devil to shamanistic defenders of the people! And they can also have a relatively varied power set in addition to the basic enhanced physical abilities.

    All of that said, I can see how the restless dead damned for their sins and who may be possessed by literal evil spirits are considered more magical.

    1
    1. Farla says:

      Yeah, but we’re already animals and other animals can have complex social structures and behaviors. Without the belief man is made in the image of divinity and set apart from the rest of the world, and with the knowledge that wolves aren’t demonic beasts who exist to persecute humanity but just high strung doggos, changing shape from one creature to another isn’t such a huge deal. Harry’s fireballs are a bigger manifestation of chaos.

      That’s why you’ve got to plug in a lot of other stuff found in neither creature to make the resulting thing actually unnatural feeling. The fears that informed the original one are virtually nonexistent.

      1
      1. Roarke says:

        high strung doggos

        Wow, I never need to say the word ‘wolf’ again. High-strung doggo is much better…

        “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone high-strung doggo dies but the pack survives.”

      2. Act says:

        high strung doggos,

        Well, to be fair, wolves aren’t just unsocialized dogs — puppy/cub-raising experiments have shown that after the 8-week critical period, no matter what you do, wolves become wild animals, while dogs become social companions.

        Which isn’t to understate the complexity of wolf societies, but the idea of wolves as just spirited dogs leads to things like dumbasses trying to raise wolves as pets.

  8. Cosmogone says:

    The weather is too hot for me to form a coherent thought on this book, so I’ll ask the most important question of this book instead:

    >>Michael dropped the girl somewhere near me and tore the cheap tuxedo open. He laid his hand over my heart and let out a short cry.

    Why does the fandom always ships Harry wwith Marcone and not Michael? Tbh, anyone would probably fit better than Marcone.

    Also:

    >>Vampires are kind of a mishmash in popular culture, and if we’ve got courts of different species, it makes sense that they might not even be related branches off the same ancestors but something closer to convergent evolution instead.

    Hey, that’s a really good idea! i feel like a lot could be done with it.

    1. Rhysdux says:

      Oh, there’s a substantial number of Harry/Michael shippers. The main obstacles is Charity. Michael definitely loves his wife, and most people aren’t fond of the notion of a paladin cheating. In fact, a lot figure that would instantly disqualify him, and they can’t see Michael being happy about God firing him. Michael and Charity are also relentlessly Christian (though less in a Roman Catholic way than a fundamentalist Protestant one), which makes it hard to picture either willingly opting for divorce. That means that Charity tends to get killed off for the sake of the ship. 

      Disposable Wife Syndrome is common enough in slash ships, of course. But Michael is a package deal; he has seven kids. And while I have seen curtain doc where one of them gives up his job (either as a wizard detective or as a construction company owner and holy knight) to become a stay at home parent, it’s hard to picture either one playing out Charity’s role permanently. (Michael is the one who is actually making enough money to support himself, his spouse, and his seven kids, so it doesn’t make sense for him to quit and have the family rely on Harry’s inconsistent income. On the other hand, Harry is widely seen by fans as a kind of magical superhero. Superheroes aren’t often viewed as domestic. Harry certainly isn’t a natural homemaker.) And Harry could be dangerous to the Carpenter kids because his many enemies might well be willing to hurt, maim or kill them to get to Michael and him.

      And let’s not forget that Michael canonically dislikes magic and wants Harry to give it up because God, in the Bible, considers magic a sin.

      But the biggest problem with Michael is that he’s bland. He is the suburban dad of the series—respectable and unexciting. (He gets worse later, but in a way that is easy for fans—and Butcher—to ignore.)

      Marcone, on the other hand, is pure wish-fulfillment fantasy: single, rich, good-looking, powerful, influential. He has a secret (that shows up in future books).  His enemies hate and fear him; those loyal to him would die for him. He’s a criminal, but a criminal who has managed to cut down on crime in his territory. (Not to mention that we rarely, if ever, see his victims.) Like Michael, he is a Muggle—but one who sees magic as potentially useful, not as a sin. In fact, he eventually shifts from minor villain to anti-villain—or a typical alpha male love interest from mainstream romance.

      Also, Marcone shows up a LOT in the middle of the series, so there are many interactions between the two. Then he stops appearing save in cameos…I think because Butcher found out that people were reading his bantering with Harry and Harry’s near-constant assessment of his looks (not to mention many, many canonical details that I am trying not to spoil) as “These two are really attracted to each other.” Given Butcher’s later portrayal of cismale homosexuality as loveless sex with strangers, I think he was horrified.

      2
      1. Act says:

        But Michael is a package deal; he has seven kids. 

        That poor woman. This completely unsurprising, though.

      2. Cosmogone says:

        This is such an elaborate answer to my half-joking question; I really appreciate this sort of insight on the inner working of fandom. <3

        >>Given Butcher’s later portrayal of cismale homosexuality as loveless sex with strangers, I think he was horrified.

        Butcher is hilarious in his predictability but even more so in how readily he gives any potential troll just the right tools. If I was more 4chan-minded I’d spam his mail with slash fic of Harry as a payback for all the dumb shit his books exposed me to.

        1
  9. W says:

    I was wondering, why are we getting all these Dresden chapters all of  a sudden? I’m hardly complaining, they’re my favorite review series in this blog, but I had just quietly assumed it had been abandoned some time ago.

    1. Farla says:

       Just been really busy/tired. The January reviewing, the post-January requested reviews, the writing my own fanfic, and actual IRL stuff that needed doing.

      1

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