So, we didn’t get a very good Part Where The Detective Gets Beat Up, but we now have a pretty good The Detective Feels Like Shit aftermath!
Harry is in pain from his many burns and general manhandling, and then he realizes that also, he totally roasted all the vampire snacks.
Oh, God. What had I done?
Exactly! And he even sounds like he’s feeling bad about the general horribleness of the deaths for the vampires – towering up in walls of solid flame, reaching out with hungry arms to drag the vampires screaming back into the pyre I had made – though I may be reading too much into that given this is followed by him saying Those children had been helpless in that. so it may be just the fact that the vampires were screaming and dying means the humans were definitely suffering the same.
At any rate, horror’s a very reasonable way to feel. Harry didn’t intend this…I think. He does specifically scream that he wants the bat-faced bastards to burn and it’s not like he was doing anything to save the other people before then, but he was under a lot of stress right then, and I think you can easily read it as him wanting to retaliate in the moment but regretting it when the actual results happened.
I had never even considered the consequences of unleashing my power that way.
That said, this is at least the fourth fire Harry’s been a part of. First there’s the burning of Shadowpants’ lair, then we learn that apparently Harry burned his mentor, at the start of this book Dream-Chicago goes up, and now he lights Bianca’s place on fire. At a certain point maybe he should’ve been considering consequences, you know?
But he is now, at least. He’s all upset because magic is life and creation and having it make death is particularly upsetting, and he throws up a bunch and then sobs until eventually Michael finds him.
Michael, naturally, is going to ruin this. Well, partly Michael, partly the story at large. Harry wants to know the death toll, and hey, confirmation Michael didn’t go back for Susan!
“After I got the pair of you out, I called the fire department and let them know that people needed a rescue.
Anyway, long story short there’s eleven dead, which is a pittance considering how many should’ve died, and it’s followed by something obvious, annoying, and an idiot ball.
They’re checking dental records. They said the heat was so intense that the bones hardly look human.”
I let out a bitter laugh. “Hardly human. There were more kids than that there – ”
“I know. But that’s all they found. And they rescued a dozen more, alive.
“It’s something, at least. What about the ones unaccounted for?”
“They were gone. Missing. They’re … they’re presumed dead.”
I closed my eyes. Fire had to burn hot to reduce bones to ash. Had my spell been that powerful? Had it hidden most of the dead?
“I can’t believe it,” I said. “I can’t believe I was so stupid.”
I can’t believe you are so stupid.
So yeah, pretty obvious that “hardly human” bones are actually the vampires he burned and more plot fiat has kept Harry from actually causing harm to any real people who count. Doubly so when Harry specifically sees the fire burn up vampires, and so he knows that at least some of the bones people are going to find will be vampire bones. If all of the bones are the same, then all of the bones are vampire bones.
This sort of misdirection would be acceptable at the start of a mystery. For example, say Harry had gotten into a fight with Bianca not realizing she’d buffed her previously human-only forces with a lot of other vampires, so he has no reason to question who the bones belonged to. In that case, it’d be plausible he and the average reader might interpret “hardly human” in the same way as the police while allowing a more attentive reader to get an important clue.
Michael rationalizes that maybe the vampires killed them first so it’s not their fault, because it’s not like he walked into that party saying that they had a moral obligation to not just stand there watching people die while hiding in the fact that technically it’s the vampires killing people.
God, I was so arrogant. Such an idiot to go walking in there like that.”
And now we’re back on more familiar territory. Harry will wallow in guilt at times, but he tends to seek out the stuff where other people can say, “No! That wasn’t your fault!” Remember how supposedly he had no choice but to go to the party because of a super ghost? Unless he’s referring to taking the time to try to insult them via dressup, in which case, I mean, I wouldn’t so much go with “arrogant” as “why the hell are you wasting time on this in the first place?!” but I guess after that, arrogant is maybe a distant second.
Harry reiterates that those poor, stupid kids are dead because of him, to which Michael the paladin says hey, but it killed vampires too! And Pelor jokes aside I do feel like we’re slowly narrowing down what thing he’s really worshipping. I think that bit about asking for God to save Harry for smiting God’s enemies wasn’t said just because Harry had nothing much else to recommend him for. It’s that it’s the only reason his god might care at all.
And you know…here’s the thing. If you say the reason the sword would’ve broken is that God made it so his artifact breaks if you use it for evil, like stabbing innocent people, it sounds reasonable on first pass. But it’s a little weird to empower an artifact and then say it can only be destroyed if your enemies are willing to use it to murder an innocent person. (And this after Harry illustrated it can react to just being swung for the wrong reasons – if the goal is not to kill innocents, it wouldn’t be hard to make it not require your enemies to sheath it in an innocent person’s blood.)
We then find out Harry’s been asleep for almost two days, and by extension that the lazy ass of a ghost failed to eat him during that time. (Also, didn’t Harry have fast healing last book? Maybe the ghost ate that, though.) Michael was scared to bring him to a hospital because he expected vampires to find out. Also, Murphy’s still in her magic coma and out of the story, plus the city’s not going to investigate the fire and Michael assumes it’s because Bianca has that much pull. And yet, not enough pull to do jack shit to Harry before this through mundane methods? There is no way he has a valid permit for that gun. Or the sword-cane. (Actually, Chicago flat out bans ownership of anything not under three inches!) Or his fire-hazard of a home. Or his car which couldn’t possibly be passing inspection. Or…
Also, Charity is furious because Michael hasn’t been by because he’s guarding Harry so the guy doesn’t die, because marriage is hell.
Also, Lydia is there, and Michael, maybe because he isn’t staring fixedly at her tits the entire time, can identify her as one of the kids Kravos had kidnapped. Boy, that’d have been helpful to know, Harry. If only you could’ve thought with anything other than your dick.
“Try not to wake her up,” Michael said, his voice soft. “She wouldn’t sleep. I think they’d drugged her. She was panicky, gabbling. I just got her quieted down half an hour ago.”
…I’m pretty sure Harry explained how the superghost works.
I can accept them not thinking anything of that early bit where she mysteriously disappears after falling asleep. They’d had no reason to think back to any of that and reevaluate things in a new light. But they already know the superghost came after her and they already know the superghost can attack during sleep, and Michael knew she was connected to Kravos. Now, Harry just woke up himself and promptly had a breakdown, plus he’s still missing pieces of himself. I will accept it’s completely reasonable he doesn’t process any of these facts now. But Michael’s had nothing to do but sit around thinking. It should occur to him that sleeping people are in danger.
We then get the bible quote about reaping the whirlwind. I am actually a big fan of whirlwind reaping myself, which I admit is missing the point.
Michael lifted his eyebrows. “I didn’t realize you’d read much of the Bible.”
“Proverbs always made a lot of sense to me,” I said.
How has this not come up? Christianity is this guy’s entire thing to the point he wears bible shirts, he’s constantly talking about what the bible and God want, and supposedly they’ve known each other for some time.
Plus, as I said when he was talking about how other people talk about war, there’s been no sign Harry’s a big reader. While you could say that’s consistent with the idea he’s focused on a few areas like Proverbs, the other way of looking at it is that if he’s willing to crack open a bible at all, he doesn’t really have anything competing with it, especially since it’s not like TV is an option. Admittedly, it’s maybe for the best we don’t get into this, because the actual bible is a weird, obtuse text and someone just reading it on their own is going to come to conclusions with little resemblance to mainstream belief. Most discussion about religion is discussion about commonly accepted interpretations you’ll hear in church. If Harry did that, it’d be inaccurate. If he didn’t, it’d be near unintelligable, at least when restricted to the brief asides that’s all a book with an unrelated plotline has room for.
…so instead we’re going to get an inaccurate near unintelligable vaguely Wiccan thing about the law of three, where first Harry says what he did will come for him, but then when Michael exposits that Harry’s claimed to not believe that, Harry says yeah, he’s a sadsack noir detective and there is no goodness in this world but what man imposes upon it!
“I didn’t. I don’t. It’s too much like justice. To believe that what you do with magic comes back to you threefold.”
“I don’t know. All I know is that there’s going to be justice, Michael. For those kids, for Susan, for what’s happened to Charity and your son. If no one else is going to arrange it, I’ll damn well do it myself.”
We can be charitable and say this is an agnostic stance – he doesn’t believe in it, but he fears it. But the whole bit about enforcing justice still doesn’t connect up.
I think this works if we accept that “magic and only magic comes back threefold” is not, actually, justice. Somebody shoots Harry with a gun, Harry fireballs them back, law of three says that’s a three fireball backlash for self-defense, have a nice day! That allows Harry to fear he’s going to suffer for what he did but reject the idea any similar punishment will balance things with Bianca. He goes on to say,
“I just hope that if I’m wrong, I can dodge karmic paybacks long enough to finish this.”
Just remove the “if I’m wrong” part. Harry already uses faith magic with his faith in magic, why can’t he believe this too? Have Harry know he’s damned for what he did but feel obligated to somehow finish this before he’s taken out by his own sins. It combines nicely with the fact he is viscerally pained by what he did. What if he resolves that, if it comes to it, he’ll kill with magic again even though doing so pains him, since he’s sure he’s already signed his death warrant and all he can do now is try to save others?
Imagine a version of this where there was no “humans-only” clause on magic murder. It’s all the worst blasphemy Harry could commit. Michael isn’t callously saying that maybe it was worth it to kill innocent people in such a horrible way if it meant killing vampires in such a horrible way, he’s baffled Harry is a sobbing wreck over killing monsters at all. And Harry trying to prepare himself to do that again, because it’s needed.
Either way, after Harry dramatically says he’ll finish it, Michael’s all wait I thought we were basically done.
Do you think she’s going to keep pushing it?”
I gave him a look. “Of course. And so do you. Or you wouldn’t have played watchdog here for the past day.”
This is basically the novel version of an actor getting their forgotten line hissed at them. “Oh right, my motivation was that! Right, yeah, that is definitely my reasoning.” Most annoyingly, it isn’t necessary, because Michael has a second reason he wants to wiggle out of discussing their next attack, going to see his wife and dying infant son. Why couldn’t he just say he needs to do that? He was guarding Harry because Harry is defenseless. Harry is now awake and therefore unstoppable, so he can leave and hang out elsewhere until Harry decides he’s needed again.
Harry takes this with good grace, and instead starts to almost cry about how Michael the good friend gave him the good advice about telling the super gone Susan he loved her. And yeah, that’s got to be particularly upsetting in connection to Harry believing it wasn’t jinxed so long as he didn’t say the words, and how if he was going to lose Susan no matter what he should’ve spent that time with her knowing how important she was…
Michael then reiterates that the loss of the sword for realz this time proves God doesn’t want him to have it.
And then Harry brings up our WC friends!
“Look, I’ll be all right, here. The Council will probably give me some help.”
I think perhaps it makes the most sense to assume Harry has absolutely no way of contacting them. He knew they wouldn’t show up earlier because it wasn’t impressive enough – god knows a werewolf on a rampage wasn’t enough for them – but figures vampire inferno after murder attempt on wizard will get them…though, it’s been almost two days. But then, long-distance teleportation must not exist because Harry’s never done it, so maybe it actually does take a day or two for them to get somewhere.
Harry then tells us that this is assuming they don’t know the fire killed anybody.
If they heard about that, that I’d broken the First Law of Magic, they’d take my head off my neck faster than you could say “capital offense.”
How the fuck would they not have heard about it? “Enormous fire kills people” is the entire story. No one reporting it has any idea there’s any nonhumans to acceptably murder who could possibly be the victims instead. Are they completely cut off from all muggle news? Is Harry banking on the idea they get their newpapers exclusively from the fairie press and that those fuckers won’t even think to mention humans existed there, let alone what happened to them?
A thought occurred to me, and I didn’t hear what Michael said next.
Now, Harry’s been doing this a lot, but this time is pretty good. The “thought” isn’t something he’s refusing to vocalize to the reader for dramatic irony’s sake, it’s something he himself can’t put into words.
I … something feels off about this to me. Doesn’t it to you?”
I hate idiot balls, but I love realization dawning too slowly. Harry’s been put through several wringers. It speaks well of him that he’s even coherent enough to be registering there’s something he’s missing.
Now, as I said earlier, the fact Michael just blinked at me is less forgivable. I’m thinking maybe this could’ve worked if their skillsets had been more clearly defined as non-overlapping. Michael could know a hell of a lot about stabbing enemies of God but know absolutely nothing about how magic worked otherwise, not even sanctuary magic. Then you just need Harry to not explain anything because he’s worried the WC won’t like it and anyway for once he’s partnered with somebody who doesn’t want to hear anything about the Satanic workings underpinning these events but just what Harry’s worked out about where they need to go to stab someone. Harry already loves not explaining himself! If Michael doesn’t know who the ghost is or how it works, and indeed has made it explicit he doesn’t even think about those things because that is an ungodly line of reasoning, then that he has no idea what Harry could mean makes perfect sense as does the fact that he didn’t put the pieces together in the two days he’s had to ponder.
Admittedly, this would have to be handled carefully to avoid the blind zealot cliche. He’d still know all about the beasties at Bianca’s party, but I’m thinking also he should be really good at the mundane side of the investigation to establish he’s fine at putting things together in other circumstances.
Anyway, then Thomas shows up.
He carried a rifle case made of black plastic, and he smelled of sweat and feminine perfume.
Is this insulting him as wearing girly perfume or the result of women hanging off him so much? Would that second part still be an insult because no amount of sex is worth smelling like a girl? It’s hard to navigate toxic masculinity.
Michael stepped forward, put his work boot on the back of the intruder’s neck, and pressed the glowing tip of the poker close to his eyes.
D&D friends! Aside from Pelor the Burning Hate, what actual D&D gods are cool with torture but could be mistaken for the Christian god?
“Jesus!” he gasped.
Also, believe that is confirmation that Christianity itself does not harm vampires. Michael’s faith magic is the same as Harry’s. If his crosses are holysplosions and his holy fire sears the ghosts, that’s what his faith says should happen, not a universal trait of religion.
His full lower lip had split, and was smeared with something pale and pinkish, not much like human blood.
Interesting…now, we know he’s White, so it could be they’re named for what comes out when you crack them open. Yeah, it’s not actually milk blood, but with Red already taken and nobody wanting to be the Pink Court… On the other hand, it could instead mean he’s starving and this is what magical digestion of human blood looks like. That fits with how people often describe well fed vampires as flushed and starving ones as pale, especially given we never see signs vampires expel waste or otherwise lose the blood they’re taking in.
Thomas attempts to say that no no we’re friends let’s team up again. Harry tries to be angry and threatening, no doubt expecting Michael to hold him back, and…
“I don’t want to listen to him, Michael.”
“He’s a vampire,” Michael said. “And he betrayed us. He’s probably come here to try to trick us again.”
“You think we should kill him?”
“Before he hurts someone,” Michael said. His tone was flat, disinterested. Scary, actually. I shivered a little, and drew my robe closed around me a little more tightly.
Anyway, either because Harry has more of a conscience than the paladin or just because he’s incredibly contrary, he begins to chat with Thomas. The conversation meanders around. Thomas claims he was totally going to help them after betraying them because Bianca would think he was on her side, which is such complete bullshit but Harry believes that and not his previous statements that at least theoretically could be true. What’s all the more irritating is Thomas is doing this after being all hey I totally admit I’m a liar see you can trust me because I say I’m untrustworthy!!! thing.
The actual solution to the puzzle is this:
Bianca turned on Thomas as soon as he did what she asked.
Thomas has no reason to think she’d honor a deal the second time around.
Thomas, therefore, cannot be planning to betray them to Bianca for Justine.
That’s all. He doesn’t need to assure them he was secretly planning to save them. The simple fact is there’s reasons why backstabbing people all the time is a dumb idea and even more reasons why even if you insist on backstabbing everybody you still need to do them one at a time. Even if Bianca wants Harry dead more than she wants Justine, by establishing she won’t honor an agreement once she has what she wants, she can no longer use Justine as a trading piece.
At very worst, Thomas may abandon them midway through if he and Justine can escape. That’s still better than no help, and even in escaping they’d probably attract attention and remove a few vampires to pursue them.
Also, he refers to Susan as “Dresden’s woman”. It’s not like, pure misogyny, since Thomas actually doesn’t know anything about Susan beyond that she joined the party while he wasn’t looking and Harry was invested in her continued survival, but it’s still a pretty loaded phrase, and it’s not like this is a by the word telegram or something, he can say “the woman with you”.
“Okay,” I said to Michael. “Kill him.”
“Wait!” Thomas shouted. “Dresden, please. What do you want me to pay you? What do you want me to do? I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
I studied Thomas’s expression. He looked weary, desperate, beneath the cool facade he was barely holding onto. And beneath the fear, he looked resigned. Determined.
“Okay,” I said. “It’s all right, Michael. Let him up.”
I feel like this is what all of Harry’s dickery is supposed to be. His cool dismissal has an actual tactical purpose, and is being aimed at someone who he owes nothing and who deserves poor treatment.
On the other hand, given the endless gender issues, it’s hard to say if this is just happening to finally work out properly or if the distinction is that Thomas is male.
It’s at this point that Thomas pulls out the sword. How did he get out with the sword? The same way he claims to have been able to hang out the whole time and see what was going on when supposedly Bianca wanted him dead too, namely: “There’s more to a good liar than meets the eye, Dresden. I was able to keep an eye on things for a while.” Which is to say, the book wants to tell us what’s going on and of our various bullshit options Thomas is least bullshit.
But what is going on? I’m glad you asked!
Bianca and the Court had retreated into the mansion. Bianca had ordered the other vampires to each carry one of the helpless mortals out. One of them had brought Susan. When the police and fire crews had arrived, most of the action was over, and the fire marshal had been worked up into a lather over the deaths. He’d gone inside to speak to Bianca, and come out calm and collected
So obviously, somehow Harry’s fires just happened to not get close enough to even one helpless immobile human while murdering tons of perfectly mobile superpowered vampires. We don’t get any speculation on what happened with the fire marshal – was that regular political power, did she use her magic powers, or does she just have to lick people to make them cool with her? Or maybe, given that this is a world where the police somehow can arrest people for magic crimes even if they can’t admit that’s what they’re doing, the higher ups actually know what’s going on and “of course I didn’t have any open fires, I respect fire safety rules but this fucking asshole wizard lit everything up!!!” is a valid answer.
Thomas goes on to say that, “I think they’re turning some of them,” Thomas said. “Bianca has the authority to allow it, now. And they lost too many in the fight and the fire.
I believe we’re done with the angst moment, so Harry is unlikely to consider if this is still him getting people killed.
Because again…everything we’ve seen before this suggests the vampires don’t kill people they feed on, and Bianca ordering her people to rescue all the party snacks would appear to confirm it. If the vampires are not actually human, then you have to kill a human to make a vampire. If they’re only doing so because Harry killed a whole bunch of them… Well, it’s marginally more indirect than burning them to death directly, but still the same outcome of Harry setting everything on fire because he didn’t care about the consequences so long as he could get some kills in.
Also, I’m intrigued by the bit about “authority to allow it”. Does that mean all the vampires we’ve seen have been made by someone other than Bianca? Did Bianca make some/all earlier, but needed permission/vetting from someone else to do so while now she can do so immediately? And how are these decisions usually made? I think it’s significant that Bianca is doing so to replace the ones she just lost, not just as a normal celebration of being able to do so thanks to her new rank. Are there limits to how many vampires are allowed in an area? If this is getting inspiration from V:tM, then the vampires themselves are the ones policing their numbers and trying to keep from being noticed by humans. And in that case, you have motivation for vampires to kill flunkies who aren’t pulling their weight and try again, which in turn suggests it is super unlikely that you’d have some toddler vampire like Kelly around for very long unless there’s more to it – so, she’s either got to be just turned and all vampires go through this stage or she was more normal and doing magic is fucking her up. If only Harry wasn’t a misogynist he’d realize it doesn’t make sense for her to be a sexy baby and that something more must be going on.
Oh yeah, also Mavra turned some people and took them with her. How hard is it to make people vampires? Harry’s been asleep two days and Mavra left at sunset, so evidently it doesn’t take more than a day. How, in that case, could any of the courts be endangered? It should be trivial to counteract high turnover with high turnings. It’d certainly weaken that court to have a low average age, but actually wiping them out should be terrifically difficult. Maybe the high death rates just mean that their habitat is being overtaken by the other courts, but if the others have a far higher population, then Black loses the incentive to keep the overall vampire population manageable – they’re no longer the ones who stand to lose. (Also, Bianca and Thomas’ tug of war over Justine aside, if they all eat different things they may not need separate territories. A Red who keeps a brothel and a Black who chows down at a nursing home should be able to coexist just fine.)
Thomas then goes on to say that just attacking the place directly isn’t an option because She’s brought in mortal security. Guards with machine guns. It would be a slaughter.” Of who? The only reason Harry can’t deflect bullets all day is because the guns won’t last nearly that long before jamming thanks to the techbane being more of a blessing. And honestly, Thomas can ninja his way all around a packed mob of fellow vampires but can’t handle a couple muggle guards? The only thing that makes any sense is this is more like putting on a suit of babies, where Bianca is loading up on mortals specifically because she knows killing them to reach her is breaking the only rules the magical community at large cares about, but again, Harry literally deflects bullets. This isn’t a situation where the only way to get past them is to be better at killing them than they are of you, because Harry has loads of non-murdery options, even if he doesn’t seem very interested in using them. For that matter, last book he even had a potion of don’t-notice-me. Whip up three of those and just walk in.
At this point, Thomas’ info runs dry because suspense. He doesn’t know anything about what the inside of Bianca’s mansion looks like, let alone where people are in respect to that unknown layout. In what honestly feels like a meta bit, while Michael is freaking out because they only even have a chance of success if they can go straight for where the captives are, Harry takes this well:
I shook my head, and glanced over at the sleeping figure of Lydia, who hadn’t stirred in all that time. “We just need to talk to her. She was inside. She might have some useful insights for us, in any case. She’s got a gift for it.”
Because obviously that’s why Lydia’s here, right? Harry must have started to realize stuff often just kinda works out around him, like someone’s trying to keep the plot moving despite his utter apathy, so he just assumes that’s where the script goes next. Thomas showed up to inform them of everything they missed when they left the party, now Lydia will provide the necessary exposition for the next event. Sure, she seemed to be completely out of it both times you saw her so it doesn’t make any sense she’d know the layout, but why else would she be here if not to tell Harry where the only woman he actually gives half a damn is? See, Michael, nothing to worry about. It’s Ch31, clearly she’s just here to wrap up the last couple chapters, it’s not like there’s all that much story left to go or anything…
Also yeah, he’s telling Michael that she has Cassandra’s Tears. It seems too anticlimactic for him to suddenly realize everything she said is true and only say it as an aside, but if you look at it from a slightly different angle where the point of her having this curse was so it could be useful to Harry, then that’s about as much attention as it needs, isn’t it? Harry’s successfully recognized a tool introduced earlier in story and is now able to take advantage of it. Why, if you think about it, isn’t Harry the real victim here, since she maliciously was cursed to not let Harry believe her when she said she has this useful ability?
They hang out for an entire hour waiting for her to wake up, at no point realizing the obvious. Finally, again after an entire hour, Harry brings up that in addition to that something being wrong he mentioned an hour back, isn’t it weird things have been going so well?
WTF, says Michael.
And he’s all yeah but I mean, why wouldn’t the vampires have attacked again in the last two days? Or the nightmare?
“Poor kid,” I commented to Michael.
“At least she got a little sleep. I don’t think she’d had any for days.”
Michael’s words froze me solid.
So like I said, I do really like dawning realizations, but god this took for-fucking-ever! Harry was told she hadn’t gotten any sleep at the start and he was told that she’s connected to the demon ghost case. He had a lot to process at the time, but he’s had an entire hour of sitting around waiting for her to wake up now, all while feeling like something weird is going on.
The pale girl opened her sunken eyes, and they were flooded with blood, all through the whites, scarlet.
Now, this interests me because while we tend to just apply various special effects to eyes to look creepy, Harry isn’t saying that her eyes are supernaturally glowing red but that it’s blood, which in turn suggests either a great deal of damage is being done to her eyes (and quite possibly all sorts of other important internal bits) or, given I’m pretty sure he didn’t get a chance to examine her before, had already been done by whatever vampire drugs she was on and has persisted this long. In either case, the main concern is not really that it looks spoopy.
Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed.
Actually, if you’d woken up earlier this wouldn’t have happened.