Dresden Files Storm Front Ch21

Last time, Harry decided everything was a woman’s fault and forced his way into her home.

“You know Jennifer Stanton, don’t you. You’re related to her.”

Hey look, Harry actually worked something out on his own. It’s not really something the reader should’ve been expected to work out because it’s based on visual similarity and so should’ve been brought up long before the reveal period, but whatever, we know this isn’t a detective novel so I’ll take Harry at least being intelligent.

“My little sister was always the rebel. She ran away to become an actress, but became a whore instead. It suited her, in her own way. I always wanted her to stop, but I don’t think she wanted to. I’m not sure she knew how.”

God, this would’ve actually been decent if it could’ve just stopped one line earlier.

She explains to him that she went to Harry because “my husband used black magic to murder my sister” is not something police can act on, because Harry wore out those brain cells connecting the two and now needs the blindingly obvious explained to him.

That or it’s just all on giant power trip, because-

“And tell me what, Monica?” I asked. I kept my voice soft. “Who killed your sister?”
Wind chimes tinkled outside. The friendly cow clock went tick, tick, tick . Monica Sells drew in a long, shuddering breath and closed her eyes. I saw her gathering up the frayed threads of her courage, knotting them up as tightly as she could. I knew the answer, already, but I needed to hear it from her. I needed to be sure. I tried to tell myself that it would be good for her to face such a thing, just to say it out loud. I wasn’t sure I bought that-like I said, I’m not a very good liar.

Throughout this book, Harry likes to control others. He doesn’t like to micromanage things, doesn’t actually have any goal in it, he just likes to make people jump when he wants it. I think he prefers the ones who struggle, honestly – he’s so much more alive here than he was with Bianca following his script.

Whatever Harry claims about needing to know is even more of a lie than claiming this is for her own good. He already knows and if he really did have the slightest doubt, he could’ve asked the question directly. He just wants to watch her squirm. He likes how real she is, how beaten down, and the idea of getting to personally control her, that’s even better.

Harry then claims that the idea was to send him there so that her husband would see him and try to kill him. We still have no evidence that’s what happened, because Harry was very publicly running around asking heartsplosions questions and the murder attempt happens after he talked to Randall.

My voice was quiet, not quite angry, but the words pounded around Monica Sells like sledgehammers throwing up chips of concrete. She flinched from each of them.

I tried to look on her with compassion. But I wasn’t sure I felt anything but fury, that someone, anyone should treat his family that way-or anyone else, for that matter. My feelings must have showed on my face, because Monica quickly averted her eyes, and huddled down in fear. She spoke in a hurried voice, as though to put off my rage, in the voice of a woman who has put off rage with desperate words more than once.

That’s chivalry for you. Note that the woman in front of you is expecting to be beaten any time now and just keep scaring her. But hey, part of your rage is really on her behalf, so the fact it’s doing nothing but hurting her further doesn’t change what a great guy you are.

Anyway, between those two sections, we get gems like

He didn’t start as a bad man, really, but he kept getting worse and worse, and I was afraid.”
“For your kids,” I said.
She nodded
, knowing full well daring to suggest she benefited was unacceptable. Husband’s an abusive monster? Suck it up lady, marriage is a sacred covenant. Kids have value, you don’t.

So she runs through the standard battered wife bits with the twist that some of the crazy and abuse was related to magic.

Unlike our worthless detective, this guy seems like an actual magic geek. He seems to have accidentally turned on “third sight” and not known how to turn it back off, something that will not be stated outright or feature further in the plot in any way. He then figures out how to make a drug that lets other people see it too. She informs us the drug is somehow straight up addictive and it’s got nothing to do with if what you see is horrible, because everyone knows all drugs work like that. And then while angry he can’t mass-produce the stuff, he realizes you can power this with emotion. Then he realizes he can power it with other people’s emotions. And finally he finds that lust is the best one. And for the record, wouldn’t powering stuff with lust mean you shouldn’t actually be having sex? Just hire someone to flash some boob and ankle at Harry and use that to power it. If the feeling didn’t disappear, I could see using the sex to work out the lust when you were done with it, but it’s quite clear the magic consumes the emotion.

So he starts getting other people to help him with the sex/lust part, and presumably from there he also learns to tap storms. This guy is like a one-wizard magic industrial revolution.

Once again – this all works so, so much better if we establish the rules have changed recently and that’s why all the established wizards aren’t already familiar with this. Otherwise we’re asked to believe this guy is some sort of supergenius inventor.

Anyway, he’s also crazy and she says no matter how much he had he wanted more.

And I saw him start … start looking at the children, Mr. Dresden. It made me afraid. The way he looked at them, sometimes, I knew-” This time she buckled and doubled toward the floor with a groan. She shuddered and wept, out of control. “Oh, God. My babies. My babies.”

I can’t believe how many more chapters we have until this is done.

But you know that thing where the detective puts the pieces together? Yeah no she’s going to explain it all. See, she decided to take the kids, and she told her sister. Her sister decided to threaten to expose her husband if he didn’t let her leave, because forewarning the crazy psycho his wife wants to leave makes sense. Given everyone in this book is an idiot, I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be any sort of slur on the intelligence of prostitutes.

At any rate, the entire thing with Bianca and Marcone was pure coincidence.

Harry then thinks about what sort of material was used to heartsplode her sister, because he is a class act. Also not clear why those would work when blood has such an astonishingly short shelf life.

Having explained everything, she begs him to leave before he explodes on her.

I wanted so badly to tell her that everything would be all right. I wanted to dry her tears and tell her that there was still joy in the world, that there was still light and happiness. But I didn’t think she would hear me. Where she was, there was nothing but an endless, hopeless darkness full of fear, pain, and defeat.

Maybe she’d feel a little better if you didn’t make it a point to defeat and then terrorize her yourself here.

The little girl reappears and now, perhaps because he’s finally satisfied by her mother’s broken sobbing, he graciously avoids soulgazing her and traumatizing her with what’s inside him.

Which is kind of a shame because I’m not actually sure she’s a little girl:

“My daddy used to be one of the good guys, Mr. Dresden. But I don’t think that he is anymore.” Her face looked sad. It was a sweet, unaffected expression. “Are you going to kill him?”
Another simple question.
“I don’t want to,” I told her. “But he’s trying to kill me. I might not have any choice.”
She swallowed and lifted her chin. “I loved my Aunt Jenny,” she said. Her eyes brightened with tears. “Momma won’t say, and Billy’s too little to figure it out, but I know what happened.” She turned, with more grace and dignity than I could have managed, and started to leave. Then said, quietly, “I hope you’re one of the good guys, Mr. Dresden. We really need a good guy. I hope you’ll be all right.” Then she vanished down the hall on bare, silent feet.

I’m just saying, kids aren’t usually precious yet insightful angels reaffirming your importance. My guess is that this is a shapeshifted monster of some sort encouraging Harry in the hopes it’ll be freed to wreak havoc upon its master’s death.

Options include: memory cuckooing and there never were two kids, only the boy; dad accidentally killed the girl and then bound this thing to cover up the mistake; still human girl but possessed by something; dad’s taken the girl for something and left this behind so the mom won’t realize; and the relatively cheery option that this is some sort of protective doppelganger and the actual girl is hiding in her room right now.

Not only do these seem more plausible to me than this coming out of a real kid’s mouth, but I think they’re all objectively more interesting than yet another twee little girl to remind the main character of what he’s fighting for – triply so when we all know the real answer is still “himself”.

He heads back to the waiting cab. Not sure where all this money is coming from. Then he’s driven to a payphone. Kids, payphones were a wonderful public utility where you could put money in and then call someone, but they are gone now, like the noble and useful mammoth. We mourn their loss. Wizards, presumably, mourn their loss even more.

Maybe I’m stupid or something, but I hate to see people like Monica, like little Jenny, hurting like that.

Yes, Harry, you’re so very special for that. No one else in the world cares and you are so much better than them.

Murphy. Murphy might be able to help me. I could tip her off about the lake house and send in the cavalry. They might find a stockpile of ThreeEye there. They could then arrest Victor like any other dealer.
But there were too many holes in that plan.

By which Harry means none.

He tries to say that it’s hypothetically possible this won’t work, but he loses absolutely nothing by trying it. He also claims to have no idea if the drug is actually at the place, because of course the place you manufacture the drug would have absolutely no trace of the drug.

If this was any other time, if I was held in less suspicion by the White Council, I would report Victor Sells to them and let them handle the whole thing. They’re not exactly soft on people using magic like Victor used it, to call up demons, to kill, to produce drugs. He had probably broken every Law of Magic. The White Council would waste no time in sending someone like Morgan to wipe Victor out.

The specific fantasy universe these books take place in being the one where giant organizations can do precisely one thing at a time.

Also, further evidence for my theory wizards don’t take the word of non-wizards, because the fact Harry has people to back up his story apparently means nothing.

And note that if Harry had informed them initially, this might be done with already. It’s only because he kept quiet that they only heard it when Morgan found out and reported it himself, saying it was Harry’s doing.

So, I concluded. It was up to me. Alone.

Nope.

I had to confront Victor Sells, as strong a practitioner as I had ever gone up against, in his own place of power-the lake house. Not only that, but I had to do it without breaking any of the laws of magic. I
couldn’t kill him with sorcery-but somehow, I had to stop him.

Harry, there’s still one powerful piece in play, namely, the guy with the fuckoff wizard-killing sword.

Call Morgan and say you found the real killer. You’re you, so I assume this is blown off with “but he won’t believe meee!” but it doesn’t matter if he believes you or he thinks you’re about to falsify the shit out of some evidence, either way he has to show up. In the event that, somehow, author fiat says that won’t work, you take a page from your adversary’s book and say ha-ha I’m heartsploding your ass safe from my lake house! I think he’d show up.

“But further fiat says that Morgan can tell my exact location at all times, although not in a way that could prove I wasn’t involved in stuff, so I can’t give him a false location!”

Okay, then actually go to the lake house, call your stalker with your lakehouse threat, and do whatever the wizard equivalent of disarming yourself is. Maybe strip totally naked. When he gets there five seconds later, explain the actual situation.

It’s impossible for Morgan to both be a terrifying wizard-murdery threat constantly dogging your every move AND to be totally on your own with no way of getting support.

Moreover, the fact Morgan is stalking Harry means he should know there’s entirely decent odds of Morgan just showing up by chance.

Now, obviously the author doesn’t want that. So:

Harry should state that he has no way of contacting Morgan (this is still pretty stupid, but whatever, fine. Maybe there’s a way of wizards blocking tracking/communication and as Morgan is supposed to be guarding Harry, this is up to prevent Harry using it for something nefarious). He should then hope that Morgan does show up just for stalking reasons, but that he won’t have time to wait. If it’s really important to make it about Harry being sure he’s alone, say that since Morgan called the council for his murder, Harry figures he probably isn’t bothering to stalk Harry further, considering the matter a done deal. I’d think Morgan would want every scrap of evidence he can find, but Harry is all about the laziness and it’s what he’d do, so you can see Harry assuming Morgan would do the same.

Now that I knew who he was, I understood the magic I had run into outside of my apartment a little bit better. It had been potent, deadly, but not sophisticated, not well controlled. Victor was powerful, strong, a natural mage-but he wasn’t practiced. He didn’t have any training.

Apparently the part where Harry directly insulted the fact he was untrained didn’t tip off Harry to the fact he was untrained.

Harry thinks that maybe he could use some chunk of the other magician to reverse the spell, and remembers Chekhov’s scorpion from way back in the third chapter or so.

He then decides to call Murphy just in case he dies, because obviously he wanted her off the case so she’ll live but in the event he dies he wants her to die avenging his death instead. Incidentally, apparently it only takes a quarter to use a pay phone in 2000 Chicago.

For the first time in the entire book, Harry’s magic messes up the phone line and it’s so Murphy’s partner can’t hear him trying to talk and thinks he’s someone else, who he tells that Murphy is out searching his office where Chekhov’s scorpion currently is.

Harry promptly calls his office and finds the connection fixed, of course.

“I know who the killer is. Look, you’ve got to keep out of that desk. It could be dangerous.” I thought I had been going to tell her a lie, but I realized as I said it that I was telling the truth.

Well, no, it’s still functionally a lie, since you’re saying it only to keep her from messing with the thing you want to use.

If I may digress a moment…

What the fuck is with all the dialogue in this book? No one seems to ever actually talk to each other, just around each other. The dialogue is always related but generally at some sideways angle. Like, Harry doesn’t say specifically “There’s a dangerous item in there that might kill you if you touch it!” despite the fact the next line is him explaining he just remembered the talisman twitching in the corner of his eye. It’s just vague “might be dangerous” about the desk as a whole. Everyone is always talking like that, refusing to give any concrete statements.

“Dangerous,” Murphy growled. I heard her scattering pens out of the top drawer of my desk, moving things around. The talisman was in the drawer beneath. “I’ll tell you what’s dangerous. Fucking with me is dangerous, Dresden. I’m not playing some kind of game here. And I can’t trust what you say anymore.”
“Murphy,” I said, trying to keep my voice even, “you’ve got to trust me, one more time. Stay out of my desk. Please.”

See what I mean? “I have a magic item that belongs to the killer in there and it might kill you.” Nope. Not in this book.

Also, if Harry wanted to make it about trust – “Just don’t open (specific drawer) yet. I’m coming in a few minutes, wait for me to be there when you open it. Please trust me enough to wait.” Trust is not about demanding everyone else make concessions to you, forever. And the fact is, she’d be wrong to trust him. He’s not telling her the real reason, which is he wants the scorpion for something he’s doing. He explicitly tells us it’s sheer chance that his instinctive lie turned out to overlap with a different truth. He’s not even giving her enough information to know what he’s talking about.

Murphy, oddly, is not convinced by being asked to keep trusting the person she doesn’t trust who’s just telling her to stop touching any of his stuff at all. She opens the drawer and there’s screams and gunshots and now Harry has to rush off and save the day.

22 Comments

  1. Socordya says:
    I wanted so badly to tell her that everything would be all right. I wanted to dry her tears and tell her that there was still joy in the world, that there was still light and happiness. But I didn’t think she would hear me. Where she was, there was nothing but an endless, hopeless darkness full of fear, pain, and defeat.

    She doesn’t care about the light in the world, Mr Poet, she just want to not have an abusive husband.

    “My daddy used to be one of the good guys, Mr. Dresden. But I don’t think that he is anymore.” Her face looked sad. It was a sweet, unaffected expression. “Are you going to kill him?”
    Another simple question.
    “I don’t want to,” I told her. “But he’s trying to kill me. I might not have any choice.”
    She swallowed and lifted her chin. “I loved my Aunt Jenny,” she said. Her eyes brightened with tears. “Momma won’t say, and Billy’s too little to figure it out, but I know what happened.” She turned, with more grace and dignity than I could have managed, and started to leave. Then said, quietly, “I hope you’re one of the good guys, Mr. Dresden. We really need a good guy. I hope you’ll be all right.” Then she vanished down the hall on bare, silent feet.

    Prim is that you???

  2. actonthat says:
    Jesus tapdancing Christ, I hope the author of this abusive shit isn’t married.
    1. EdH says:
      Good news, from what I checked up he’s not. The bad news is how he got published is worth a look itself.
    2. Roarke says:
      From the blurb at the end of my paperback: “He lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife, his son, and a ferocious guard dog.”
      1. EdH says:
        Damn it. I have failed research. Thanks for catching that, Roarke.
        1. Roarke says:
          Well, my paperback might be old, and maybe he’s divorced now or something.
          Yes, it is old. He was divorced in 2013. So I’m willing to split the difference in error if you are XD
          1. guestest ever says:
            I’m thinking this dude was a stereotypical henpecked husband and these books were his revenge fantasies. Then one day his wife actually bothered to read them and divorced him.

            I have nothing to base this theory on but that won’t stop me from assuming this is the objective truth.

  3. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
    If Dresden had looked properly at the crime scene for magical methods, instead of going all oblique about magic and mostly focusing on bare prostitute, he’d have known from the git-go that the killer was self-taught. In any field, the self-taught have tells in their methods, even when the outcome is totally standard and flawless.

    ETA: Victor Sells would be a much more interesting character if he hadn’t been Evul from the git-go. Let him actually be one of the good guys, go down an ever darker path as he explores magic, and then redeem himself (so somebody else would have to do the heartsploding, and he’d have to stop short of habitual abuse).

    1. Farla says:
      Also, the parallel with Harry and all the stuff about how dark magic is seductive and corrputing is completely fucked up by the guy being always evil.

      Really, having him be the heartsploder would be fine. It’s “he was beating his wife even before going magic crazy!” that completely ruins it.

  4. EdH says:
    Now I wonder, how would you change this scene Farla? I mean, if some of Dresden’s asshole remarks were toned down, would that be enough? I mean, weak women is rife with problems, but they exist in life, so I wonder how this could be navigated. True, the author needs to ask why they want to write weak women, but assuming they choose to, what’s the right direction to go?

    In other news, since Dresden Files has graphic novels now, I believe people are allowed to say COMICS for horrible things now.

    1. Farla says:
      Well, the attitude is most of the problem, but I rolled my eyes a little at the child abuse too. That does happen, but it adds nothing here.

      All she needs to be is a wife who isn’t very assertive. Her husband became abusive and rapidly got worse, she’s not sure who to turn to for help and oh shit now he’s got magic that can kill you anywhere if you make him mad. And she doesn’t even know how it works, so she doesn’t know if he can hear her talking to people or anything. There, we have a perfectly good reason for her to be circumspect about things.

      Then just have the detective character respond with legitimate concern and not “oh so that’s why you’re broken and worthless to me, let me push you around a bit”. And not making it solely about her kids.

      In other news, since Dresden Files has graphic novels now, I believe people are allowed to say COMICS for horrible things now.

      I actually dared peek at them and while they’re not identical they balance the parts they make worse by other parts that are better. More tits and ass, but now you have Murphy calling him a chauvinist for saying women hate better so that exchange reads like a sane person wrote it.

      In other words, this is such misogynist shit even comics improved some of it.

  5. illhousen says:
    “Okay, then actually go to the lake house, call your stalker with your
    lakehouse threat, and do whatever the wizard equivalent of disarming
    yourself is. Maybe strip totally naked. When he gets there five seconds
    later, explain the actual situation.”

    No, Morgan would just assume Harry is happy to see him summoning another demon. Because being naked is obviously and unquestionably leads to summoning demons and has no other purpose, honestly.

    It all makes so much sense if you assume that the Council (or at least part of it) is evil and concerned only with its own power and secrecy. Victor von Madscienstein isn’t a threat for them, he doesn’t even know they exist, and he’s going to implode sooner or later since using storms is supposed to be super-dangerous, those neatly solving the problem. Sure, he’s going to take a few people down with him, but so what?

    And it was established that a part of Council wants Harry dead, and now Victor wants him dead, too, so there is even more reason to let Victor do as he pleases.

    Morgan should either be an enforcer rather than a cop, doing what he is told, or his investigation should be intentionally obscured.

    1. Farla says:
      No, Morgan would just assume Harry is happy to see him summoning another demon. Because being naked is obviously and unquestionably leads to summoning demons and has no other purpose, honestly.

      Even still, Morgan will then berate Harry about how he’s failed to summon a demon and the demon wouldn’t have stopped Morgan and blah blah laws blah rights of sapient beings blah mind control is evil and then Harry can point at the house seething with magic and explain actually, the problem’s over there.

      It all makes so much sense if you assume that the Council (or at least part of it) is evil and concerned only with its own power and secrecy.

      Regardless of what the books will say, I think they’re confirmed as evil when Harry says they’ll kill Murphy and anyone like her for knowing about them. It’s not like knowledge of a wizard council summons Cthulhu or anything, they’re not doing it for any sort of greater good justification, they just don’t view mundanes as people.

  6. Roarke says:
    So he starts getting other people to help him with the sex/lust part, and presumably from there he also learns to tap storms. This guy is like a one-wizard magic industrial revolution.

    He also works out the ingredients for ThreeEye without the aid of Skully McRapeface. Harry mentions when he hears the aggressive rap music or whatever that Victor must have experimented a lot to get the song just right to fit with the other ingredients. Which brings me to another thought that I’ll have to wait to the proper chapter to make, if I can remember it that long. Oh, fuck it.

    Victor doesn’t know how to turn the third sight off. When Harry has his sight on in the house, he sees that all of the ingredients for ThreeEye, including the music, are shaded the same color (purplish, I think). So that would have been a much better way to learn how to make a potion: use your third sight (goddamn it I hate typing that) to find corresponding items and get a feel for what is missing depending on your intentions. This would also fit with how Harry says that both exact details and intentions are important, since your intentions determine what you’re looking for in a potion, which affects whether or not seeing a potential ingredient triggers a Yes or No signal.

  7. sliz225 says:
    “Just hire someone to flash some boob and ankle at Harry . . .”
    But Farla, the shock would kill him! The woman would only be able to flash some discreet wrist, perhaps a hint of racy elbow, or even tug at her neckline to flirt with the idea of revealing her scandalous collarbones–or else I fear our beloved Harry would have a stroke from the indignation. Women’s bodies must only be revealed when Harry deems it appropriate THE WAY GOD INTENDED.
    1. Roarke says:
      Put Harry flat on his back, naked, on your roof with a Playboy Magazine during a storm. Lust/Lightning combo, very efficient potion making, only works once.
    2. Farla says:
      But Farla, the shock would kill him!

      So?

  8. SoxyOutfoxing says:
    Why is the little not-girl’s sad expression said to be sweet and unaffected?

    “Thankfully, the little girl was not faking sadness about her father going off on a magic rampage and murdering her aunt. It was really sweet how genuinely upset she was, everyone.”

    Who thinks that kind of thing? Is Harry’s misogyny so deep that he’s sub-consciously thinking “Ah, a potential woman; She must be monitored for signs of deception at all times, though this one doesn’t seem to have reached the stage of faking sadness in order to cause me manpain?” Yergh.

    And it’s kind of hilarious word usage considering how utterly unnatural her behaviour actually is. Maybe Harry never actually listens to what people say and just goes by their facial expressions. It would make as much sense as anything else at this point.

    1. Roarke says:
      Seriously, the kid still saying “momma” and “daddy” while making that speech is terrifying.
    2. Farla says:
      It’s important to have a particular script kids have to use when asking for help, because that way when they go off the script, you can refuse them.

      For similar reasons, it’s important for that script not to resemble actual scared kids asking for help. Take something wholly insincere, label it unaffected and true, then you’ll be able to dismiss any real kid.

  9. guestest ever says:
    “Still a better mystery than Dresden” can give “Still a better love story than Twilight” a run for its money.

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