Dresden Files Grave Peril Ch33

Last time, Harry enters fairyland. This time, Harry is shocked, just shocked, that his sexy godmom has shown up just like last time. Who could have foreseen doing the same thing having the same result?!?!?!?!?!

It only takes a couple of these rough little episodes of life to teach a man a certain amount of cynicism. Once a rogue wizard or three has tried to end your life, or some berserk hexenwolves have worked really hard to have your throat torn out, you start to expect the worst. In fact, if the worst doesn’t happen, you find yourself somewhat disappointed.

I dislike this. I think it gets back to what I said at the end of the previous chapter, where I can see how this could work with rising stakes but it’s botched due to the stakes not properly rising.

I wonder if this book would be functional if we’d ended with everything on fire. Things were extremely tense back there, but even more importantly, the resolution completely killed any ability to have suspense by being both a complete asspull and a deus ex machina (maybe it seemed like having Harry do everything would’ve been worse, but having Harry do everything except for the thing someone else does for him is just compounding the problem).

Also, Harry goes on for a while about how of course this happened:

So really, it was just as well that Godmother had caught up to me, in spite of my best efforts to avoid her. I’d hate to find out that the universe really wasn’t conspiring against me. It would jerk the rug out from under my persecution complex.
Therefore, working on the assumption that some sadistic higher power would make sure my evening got as complicated as it possibly could

Which is actually pretty fucking weird, isn’t it? He’s acting like there was no reason this should’ve happened. He even opens with nonsense about “best efforts to avoid her” when he walked into and through fairyland. He didn’t even mention stealth or magic to hide that fact! The only action he took to avoid this was he tried physically moving fast in a place he was just told does not actually function on physical rules. How much less could he have done?

And yet, look at him talk about a “sadistic higher power” and “persecution complex”. None of this is the result of decisions he made. Nor is it the result of Lea’s own power and competence! It, in fact, was so completely unpredictable that the only reason Harry’s patting himself on the back is that he knew to assume bad things would happen to him just because in complete defiance of what sense supposedly said.

Why is this? I don’t know. It’s yet another thing that really isn’t helping with tension, since “I’m genre-savvy and see the plot twists too!” wouldn’t be even if it was true. And honestly, it doesn’t even make Harry look better, since actually predicting things using evidence and cleverness is more impressive than saying you just assume the worst will happen for no reason and proceed from there.

Anyway, point is he has a plan for this completely unforeseen event and tells his buddies to do the thing. His buddies throw nails at Harry.

While my initial response is to wonder why they didn’t drop these while fleeing, Lea reacts by implying fairyland has no-iron rules and that bringing it in will lead to a massive overreaction from the queen herself, which is quite reasonable, therefore as is also reasonable, it turns out this was a bluff and these are aluminum nails. (…and if the book ever realized technology includes more than wires, it would be a good reason why it had to be the other two carrying them and not Harry).

But…

The faerie hounds let out startled yelps and leapt away. My godmother’s horse let out a scream and pranced back several steps, putting distance between us.

I guess we’re supposed to believe they all recognize nails and flinch from it, but if it’s against the rules, how often does this come up? Maybe the horse is another immortal intelligent faerie and had time to learn all about this, but the hounds are former humans. Whatever they can remember from their former life no longer applies and they don’t seem particularly intelligent in this life.

Also, Lea explicitly accuses him of defiling the soil doing this, and yeah, shouldn’t the very substance of this place react to iron? If they’re not paying enough attention to notice these nails are doing none of the things iron nails should be doing, how are they so observant they can definitively identify them as nails? Lea will go on to need to actually pick up and consider the nails after being told it’s a trick, because apparently even knowing they’re fake and taking a second look at the pile of them sitting there not reacting with stuff isn’t enough to be clear.

I realize tricking fairies with mundane materials is a trope, but usually a major component of a bluff is not actually carrying the action through because that’d make the difference between the real and the fake obvious.

Part of the issue may be that this all plays out over a whole conversation so Harry can be smug about what a great idea this is. If they’d just chucked the nails and used the flinch while the nails were flying to accomplish things, followed by the fairies realizing it was fake, that’d have been fine.

Also Godmother had to let out on the rope that had looped about my throat as her horse backed away, giving me a bit of slack. This is super not how ropes work, and also super not how evil grasping fairies would react to what looks like a barrier being put in place. Why would she politely respect his throat and leave him amid the protective iron when she already has a way of pulling him out?

Then it’s the second part of Harry’s plan: secretly swallow poison then tell her to turn him into a dog, it’s cool.

There is absolutely no reason for everyone to start telling Lea to turn him into a dog. Given Harry and company are dicks, and giving they just did such a stupid bluff where the only point was to make her hesitate, there is a pretty good chance she dogs him first and investigates what their plan was second.

Well, I suppose not really – in this series at least, there is zero chance she does anything but stand there so people can quip. But it’s pretty shitty plotting to make a plan based around the fact you’re a sue.

Anyway, we go on and on and fucking on about how he ate deadly mushroom (and how apparently healing poison is more impossible than healing physical injuries, as shown across oh wait that’s not actually true and being able to magically heal poison is in fact unspeakably common across all mythologies) but his friends over there have an antidote, sort of, except he’ll still need medical care.

Why exactly they picked a poison that doesn’t have a proper antidote is unclear. At first it seems like the idea is to make sure she doesn’t go back on her word somehow because she has to let Harry go long enough to reach a hospital, but in that case the same could be accomplished by just not having the antidote on hand and saying he’ll have to go to the hospital. And they use the antidote to bargain for an actual sworn agreement to leave Harry alone:

“The extract only offers Harry a chance at life. That’s all we’d ask from you. You’d be obliged to let him go – and bound for a year and a day to do no harm to him or his freedom so long as he remains in the mortal world.”

In which case involving the hospital is irrelevant.

Also, to continue my complaints about tone and suspense and all that, this is supposed to be the desperate last-ditch attempt to save their friends and instead it’s solving Harry’s other problem completely.

Harry even continues with, “That’s the deal,” I said. “As a faithful pet, I should point something out: If I die, you never get me, Godmother. If you let me go now, you can always give it a shot another night. It isn’t as though you have a limited number of them, is it. You can afford to be patient.”

Which is bullshit. Harry’s already cheated her of payment for years – if he’s supposed to be thirty, then he’s spent half his life not paying up already. And he’s almost died multiple times in each book so far. The fact she’s immortal is irrelevant, the issue is his lifespan.

For that matter, given how dead easy it’s been to just not go into the Nevernever thus far, the only bargain actually needed here is to let him go long enough to deal with the vampire thing. That makes emotional sense. It’s already somewhat of a suicide mission so that he’d be willing to die just to get there is completely plausible, and given their escape route is back through the Nevernever it’s a lot less of a demand (but given they’re not on a time limit they might be able to take the very long way around that doesn’t cross into fairyland, or cross it in shorter bits, or just shoot their way out of Bianca’s house again).

But demanding a year and a day? Plus this establishes he can just chug poison any time he likes. Lea has no reason to let him go. She can have fun with him for a little while or she can not have him at all, plus I can’t imagine getting yanked around by this dipshit is doing her reputation any good.

Instead, Lea does the whole thing where she can’t believe Harry is soooooooo self-sacrificing to bargain to free himself from out from under her thumb for the foreseeable future, wow he’s so awesome and totally not acting in his own benefit to avoid getting turned into a dog and he’s just like his mom somehow!

“Harry,” Michael said, watching Lea. “Are you sure you’ll be all right?”
“If I get to the hospital soon,” I said. “I’ve got somewhere between six and eighteen hours. Maybe a little longer. I drank all that pink stuff before we left to line my stomach. It might slow down the rate of digestion on the mushroom, give the extract a chance to beat it to my guts.”

Not sure why vomiting isn’t on the table here. Especially because the easiest way of eating a poison mushroom is to just eat a chunk of mushroom, which won’t release all the poison until it’s fully broken down. Yes, vomiting will also clear out the antidote he just took, but given this was all supposedly planned out, they should’ve just brought a bunch of it.

Also, the way to slow down absorbtion is with activated carbon (…the thistle is supposed to be intravenous and it’s not actually slowing absorbtion at all), which, maybe Harry didn’t have on hand but given all the potions he makes and the fact there’s magical creatures with poison effects, seems like a really good idea to have. Activated carbon is about as close to a universal cure as we’ve got and most of the things Harry runs into that could poison him probably don’t have any known antidotes. (Also, Harry doesn’t have a proper refrigerator and lives off steak, so he should really have something on hand for all the food poisoning he definitely gets.)

Oh, and Thomas is shocked to discover that Harry actually ate the mushroom despite a major component of the conversation being that Lea checked and could not only smell the poison in him but identify it as the specific mushroom. This is even more bullshit than usual.

“So you really could die. Your godmother is right, you know. You are mad as a hatter. Nutty as a fruitcake.”

Attacking the vampires’ stronghold is already a death sentence. Nothing about this is out of character or even meaningfully different than what was already happening. And yet, people are going on and on about how omg omg wow Harry.

Oh yeah, also there’s a bit discussing more about how dangerous the mushroom plan is in which they get pretty much every detail of how it works wrong. In fairness, I think this predates the more recent studies in how to survive mushroom poisoning with thistle juice, so I’m guessing research probably was done but he looked up the survival chance for mushroom poisoning alone, then found something else saying thistle juice might help somehow maybe and combined the two.

While this is going on – because of course they’re not fucking leaving but are standing around like idiots – Lea has been doing some ritual magic with chanting and waving a knife.

“Wizard!” she called to me. “You have made bargain with me tonight. I will not seek you. But you have made no such bargain with others.”

I really don’t think that’s kosher but honestly everything about this has been such bullshit I could see her just snapping and doing it anyway. I don’t think we’ve had much evidence that fae can’t break agreements, only that they don’t want to, and probably the more you screw up your end the more furious they get until they want the rule-breaking to stop more than they want to not break the rules.

Anyway, previously Harry was literally yanked backward before he could land on the bridge that led to a new area, but now there’s a mile of walking to get to where they were going. A ton of talking commences – Michael, who Harry pointed out actually outran him to the bridge, now says he can’t run at all thanks to his injuries, but if they leave him to guard the bridge the fae will tear him apart probably, but like, he killed a dragon and just touching him does completely OP damage to vampires. He can guard the bridge by just standing there and not moving because no one can fit past him without touching the outfit and going up like a torch. Also, the way he originally talked about how he couldn’t use the sword to protect Harry from Harry’s own stupid bargains sounded very much like there’s some accord between his god and the fae, which suggests that the fae will be similarly unwilling to initiate violence against him.

Harry decides that actually no, Michael will die if they leave him, therefore Thomas should stay. It’s actually pretty interesting how his reasoning goes, in fact:

He could still lose his life. And I didn’t want another life on my conscience.
I glanced over at Thomas. The handsome vampire managed to wear my castoff clothes and make them look like some kind of fashion statement. Slouch nouveau. He returned my glance with a perfect, shining smile, and I thought about what he had said, about what a good liar he was. Thomas had sided with me. Mostly. He’d been friendly enough. He even, apparently, had every reason to want to help me and work with me to get Justine back.
Unless he was lying to me. Unless she hadn’t been taken at all.
I couldn’t trust him.
“The two of you are staying here,” I said.

“Michael could die. Thomas looks better than me in my clothing. Thomas’s hot smile means he’s probably a liar who’s going to backstab me. Thomas should stay with Michael to protect him.”

This kind of thing is illustrates why I really don’t think we can ever believe Harry when he says he’s doing something for a reason. Harry spends very little time on Michael being in danger and a lot about how the enviously hot dude is untrustworthy.

And there might be some wolf/sheep/cabbage setups where there’s reason to believe Thomas would betray them to his fellow vampires but wouldn’t to the fae – maybe the fae just aren’t likely to honor an agreement with vampires, maybe it’s better for Thomas to stay apparently friendly in case Harry pulls it off after all. But we’re really not given one. We are given an extended conversation where Thomas objects to staying behind to get killed instead of saving his favorite soda and Michael threatening him and saying they don’t trust and also hate him.

And then the first monstrous thing, like a mountain lion made all of shadows, bounded past Lea, and a set of dark talons flashed toward me. Thomas shoved me out of the way of the strike, crying out as the thing tore into his arm.

It’s really hard not to feel bad for Thomas, honestly. Whether or not he’s good he appears to be loyal, and it’s always super disconcerting when that just gets alternately taken advantage of and spat on by supposed heroes.

So Harry heads off. Suddenly, Bob starts to try to get his attention, saying something’s wrong. Because Harry is currently crushed beneith the ever-growing idiot balls that have now fully replaced all other elements of a story, he ignores this, because when you’re in enormous danger heading toward more danger, of course your response to a warning is that you don’t have time to hear it.

He pops out into the real world to be surrounded by vampires, because of course the way was guarded. The rest of the vampires are in batmonster form while Bianca is still sexy and half naked.

It’s at this point Harry gets gang-raped by the vampires, although it’s all vagueness and implication instead of a blow by blow of groping a kid because clearly this is where it was important to be tasteful.

11 Comments

  1. illhousen says:

    “If I get to the hospital soon,” I said. “I’ve got somewhere between six and eighteen hours. Maybe a little longer. I drank all that pink stuff before we left to line my stomach. It might slow down the rate of digestion on the mushroom, give the extract a chance to beat it to my guts.”

    The paragraph’s not italized.

    Well, anyway, things are actually fucking happening in this chapter, which is better than the usual slog. They don’t make much sense, which is bad, but I’d take it over boredom.

    It’s at this point Harry gets gang-raped by the vampires, although it’s all vagueness and implication instead of a blow by blow of groping a kid because clearly this is where it was important to be tasteful.

    …Wait, what? Well, that is certainly a way to end the chapter.

    1. Farla says:

      Yeah, it’s pretty definitely rape (and then even more definitely next chapter when the ghost pops in to talk about what happened) though it’s got plausible deniability in that it doesn’t call it that or say any specific act, so possibly Butcher was concerned that readers would react badly and wanted to leave an out for Harry to clarify later that actually when he’s talking about being stripped naked and then pleasure and revulsion and screaming he just meant it was gross getting licked because they’re a bunch of ugly bats.

      1. illhousen says:

        Huh. Well, that’s a thing. Honestly wouldn’t have expected Butcher to go there.

      2. Act says:

        That is… a weird shift in tone for the book.

      3. Act says:

        Addendum: given what we know about Butcher, are we supposed to read this as Harry secretly wanting it?

        1. illhousen says:

          Hm, well, Butcher definitely did indulge in dub-con bondage fetish in his descriptions of godmom:

          …But I kinda feel that hardcore gang-rape by monster bats is a bit out of his comfort zone.

  2. Roarke says:

    Honestly almost any scene involving Lea at this point feels like some kind of sitcom. The books can’t actually let any of the things Lea wants come even close to happening, so it’s painfully obvious from a narrative standpoint that she’ll never get her way. That character needs a whole new set of motivations and different levels of ‘success’ to let her actually be a threat. Villains are some of the hardest characters to write for basically that reason, imo. 

    Her biggest success this book was, what, stealing Susan’s memory? If you were to rewrite her character around that part, maybe she’d be interesting. She doesn’t want to keep Harry as a dog; she just likes screwing with him and messing with his interpersonal relationships, with the side benefit of forcing him to trade favors like his mother did so she can have some more influence in the mortal world. Instead of the cougar godmom bullshit, say he’s on the hook for something his mother promised that Lea has realized he’s now strong enough to make good on.

    And then the chapter shifts to gang rape? Haha, wow.

    1. illhousen says:

      A good advice on writing villains is that they should be allowed to achieve a great number of low-end goals and a limited number of mid-end goals, even if the high-end goals are barred to them.

      The problem with Lea is that her sole goal is to turn Harry into a doggo, and her method to achieve it is to bodily grab Harry and work her mojo on him, and that is not something the book would allow, so in every encounter with her, Lea has to lose. Essentially, she can never become a credible threat because things set up such that doing so would end the book on a downer note.

      There is a number of ways to fix it, depending on how much you’re willing to change the narrative. The least intrusive of them would probably be for Lea to decide that Harry resists her due to his attachments to the world and start severing them. The book can afford for Susan to forget him, it can afford for a couple more characters to do the same or die. Add in willingness to seriously fuck up Harry (because she doesn’t need him whole, just alive) and a near-success of her plan when she seemingly leaves and restores the status quo only for it to be revealed as an illusion, and her credibility as a villain could be established.

      1. Roarke says:

        Yup, that’s why I recommended framing Lea around the only real, tangible effect she was able to have and making things like that her motivation. In a series like DF, where there are so many villains and antagonistic characters, it’s actually a mistake to make every villain’s conflict with Harry a life-and-death struggle.

        There’s a place for characters like Lea who are much stronger or cleverer than the hero, and definitely not benign, still having relatively moderate goals that lower their overall threat level compared to the actual villains.

        It’s been a while but I think Winter Queen Mab is actually treated somewhat the right way for that. Like Lea, she’s stronger than Harry and wants him under her thrall. Unlike Lea, she succeeds at things.

        1. illhousen says:

          Well, the big difference between Lea and Mab is that, while Mab can be considered a villain, she is not an antagonist. In her first appearance she is, in fact, a quest giver. That allows the book to establish the credibility of her threat more easily than that of Lea since her victory over Harry is not intimical to the narrative but, in fact, supports it by generating more plot. As a result, she’s allowed to just win without the careful balancing of her threat against the narrative promise of victory for the good guys and not ending the book too soon.

          A more fair comparison would be to Victor von Onewizardindustrialrevolution here since he’s also an antagonist but is allowed to accomlish a lot more over the course of the book, killing several people, distributing the drug around town and getting Harry’s hair, pushing him into a corner and forcing him to actually do something.

          Much like Lea, he’s not allowed to actually kill or significantly hurt Harry, but his threat feel more tangible since he does have effect elsewhere and accomplishes some of his goals even if he’s doomed to lose at the end due to narrative conventions.

          (Part of the problem with Lea specifically, though, is that this book is fairly crowded, actually, so she’s delegated to the role of a random encounter, a bump in the road that doesn’t affect the overall narrative because it’s already occupied by vampires and the superghost. She doesn’t have the room to actually do something plot-relevant.)

          1. Roarke says:

            (Part of the problem with Lea specifically, though, is that this book is fairly crowded)

            This is what I meant by it being a mistake to have every villain be in a life-or-death struggle with Harry, yeah. I did ignore the fact that Mab is basically not an antagonistic force towards Harry at all. She just strong-arms him around, which automatically grants her villain status in Butcher’s world.

            Victor was definitely easier to write as a villain because he essentially had no competition. Marcone had one alpha moment over Harry, then lost villain cred basically immediately. Morgan waved his naked steel around threateningly, but was ultimately a good cop.

            To really compare how badly Butcher juggles multiple antagonists between books, I think you have to look at Fool Moon. The Streetwolves and the FBI agents were two competing villain groups with different motivations, both of which involved eating parts of Harry.

            The FBI succeeded at almost everything they wanted except for killing Marcone (and later Harry/Murphy). Even Parker’s beef with Harry was one of the FBI’s victories, technically. Harry triggered their hostility while pursuing something else, like he did with Lea, but unlike her they managed to be a threat and do quite a bit of damage.

            So, despite the werewolf pileup being a huge fuckup that dragged the book down, I think it actually did better with multiple/competing villains than this one.

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