A Faerie Queen. A Faerie Queen was standing in my office. I was looking at a Faerie Queen.
Talking to a Faerie Queen.
And she had me by the short hairs.
Boy, and I’d thought my life was on the critical list already.
Here we get into the problem with escalation.
This really doesn’t seem like it’s worse than Lea. What just happened with the letter opener was far worse, but instead of pointing to this as a sign of Mab being more dangerous, Harry instead said this was proof Mab had the same control over him as Lea.
So far, Mab wants him to do a thing while Lea wanted him to be a thing. And given how very badly he did against Lea, the year-and-day thing was just delaying the inevitable, so this is a huge step up for him.
Harry spends a paragraph on the metaphor of fear as icewater moving through your body and making it so you can’t even move. No snark. He really is scared and not being a dick about it.
my eyes on the poisonously lovely faerie standing on the other side of my desk.
Mostly not being a dick about it.
“poisonously lovely” has nothing to do with that icewater metaphor. “Chillingly” would’ve fit fine, maybe expand it into the stark, brutal beauty of a glacier. To stand there, to see that, is to risk your life. And the glacier will kill you without ever caring about you, or even that you were there.
Lovely poison, in contrast, is very interested in you. A poison that tricks you into eating it, which is where the metaphor with women generally goes, a poison that’s sweet, and what about the Winter Queen of Air and Darkness is pretending to be sweet only to kill you? Even the lovely poison of bright colors, where it’s a human misinterpretation of something that was meant to be a warning sign, still involves some attempt to communicate, some connection between you and it. And as Harry said last chapter, what upsets him is she is not concerned about his feelings. She exists on her own terms and not in relation to him.
Mind you, she does care about understanding him way more than he’s claiming. The first real thing she said to him was to ask how he worked out she was a fairy. But Harry can’t conceive of someone understanding him without prioritizing him. She’s not doing what he wants, so the only possibility is she doesn’t know what he wants.
And this issue of understanding continues:
“Yes,” she murmured. “Wise enough to be afraid. To understand, at least in part. How does it feel, to know what you know, child?”
My voice came out unsteady, and more quiet than I would have liked. “Sort of like Tokyo when Godzilla comes up on the beach.”
Mab tilted her head, watching me with that same smile. Maybe she didn’t get the reference. Or maybe she didn’t like being compared to a thirty-story lizard. Or maybe she did like it. I mean, how should I know? I have enough trouble figuring out human women.
Harry is being forced to understand her, and he’s resentful and backpeddling. She’s smiling and nonaggressive, but, probably she doesn’t get his movie reference (it must burn not to be able to call her out for being a fake fan) and if she did she’s probably (hopefully) insulted, but hey maybe she’s not who the fuck knows Harry throws up his hands and claims such knowledge is impossible.
He explains she’s soulless, but her request to eyefuck earlier would still have done something because soulgazing isn’t the only thing that gets you through your eyeballs. Harry keeps his eyes on her chin and just seethes to have been put in the position he likes to put everyone else into.
I hate being afraid. I hate it more than anything in the whole world. I hate being made to feel helpless. I hate being bullied, too, and Mab might as well have been ramming her fist down my throat and demanding my lunch money.
I think there’s a lot of conflation with Harry that he’s never aware of.
For the most part, it’s not obvious – Harry the ever-increasing-in-poundage gorilla simply does not have much that can hurt him, so something usually has to be explicitly bringing their power to bear before he has to care about it. That’s what makes the dragon so interesting last book. It’s one of the only instances we have Harry choosing to bug someone else and the other person not wanting to deal with him, but Harry still flips out and screams he’s being bullied by the dragon existing while being more powerful than him.
And there is, of course, the sheer childishness of referring to this as bullying.
Harry made a deal with Lea.
Lea did not force him into the agreement, she didn’t even coerce him into taking it – as far as we know, she had nothing to do with things going bad with Harry’s apprenticeship.
We also have no idea what her deal cost her. If it was something extremely easy, you could try to make a moral argument that to ask for far more than you’re giving in return is unfair, but that’s rather shaky. Moreover, there’s no sign fae run monopolies – if Lea was asking something unreasonable, what prevented Harry from making a deal with a different one? By all appearances, the significance of her being his godmother is that he actually got a discount. And given Harry managed to beat a far more experienced wizards hopped up on black magic with her help, Lea’s aid most likely involved a significant personal sacrifice. (As well as potentially making an enemy of the guy if Harry’s attempt failed, or even the White Council at large.)
Lea was not only cheated of any payment at all but brutally assaulted by Harry.
Ultimately, the only real point against Lea is that what she’s asking for is somewhat between slavery and death. And that’s an extremely valid one. Our courts wouldn’t allow for a contract that involved getting parts of your brain cut out to make you a dog. And while there’s some space to argue that people should have the free choice to decide if they’d rather be a dog than be killed/possessed by a demon/whatever exactly Harry’s specific fate would’ve been otherwise, ultimately, allowing for such deals to be made creates incredible disincentives to ever improve things such that people stop needing to make them. America’s founding talks about the pursuit of happiness, not the preservation of property, and while much can be said about how well we’ve ever lived up to that, the distinction is a meaningful one.
Harry is not wrong to try to avoid payment when the payment is being turned into a dog.
But that’s no longer the payment. And so we see that what Harry considers bullying is being asked to pay at all.
Mab might as well have been ramming her fist down my throat and demanding my lunch money. Harry says. And yes, I suppose you could see it that way, if in this metaphor she’s cafeteria staff because Harry absolutely got his lunch, knew exactly the cost he was expected to pay, booked it before anyone could get money out of him, and then committed assault when he reentered the cafeteria and was reminded that he still had an outstanding bill.
And I really can’t overemphasize that last point given that’s still what Harry wants to do:
I could have thrown a magical sucker punch at her, could have tried to take her out, but even if we’d been on even footing I doubt I would have ruffled her hair. And she had a bond on me, a magical conduit. She could send just about anything right past my defenses, and there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it.
Bullies make me mad—and I’ve been known to do some foolish things when I’m angry.
Harry wants to assault her for demanding he pay his actual legitimate debt by doing his normal legitimate job and the fact he can’t attack/kill her with impunity to avoid that is “bullying”. Moreover, he is now working up to justifying whatever comes next by saying that he can’t be held responsible, other people should know better than to make him angry by being so unreasonable as to ask him to do the thing he promised to do in return for the things he absolutely got.
Of course, like so many people who make such an excuse, it’s not really a matter of him being out of control. It’s a performance. And so Harry does not lash out like a trapped animal might. Harry does nothing that would actually harm him.
What he does is claim he doesn’t care. Fuck it, kill me because I’m not going to do what you ask, he tells her, but there’s no way he expects her to call his bluff. She’s no use to him dead and he has so many other uses alive – even just dragging him back to the NeverNever and trading him back to Lea with interest. Indeed, given how very many enemies Harry has by this point, the fact she’s talking to him at all instead of opening bidding elsewhere suggests she really needs whatever it is from him.
Mab tries complimenting him, then I guess realizes he’s too stupid to understand that “I purchased your debt so you can do a thing for me” means “The thing would pay the debt” and if he would just shut up and do it he wouldn’t have to deal with any further fae bullshit.
Wait what, says this dumbfuck.
“Free,” she said, wrapping those frozen-berry lips around the word so that I couldn’t help but notice. “Free of Sidhe influence, of the bonds of your obligation first to the Leanansidhe and now to me.”
“The whole thing a wash? We go our separate ways?”
I looked down at my hurting hand and scowled. “I didn’t think you were much into freedom as a concept, Mab.”
“You should not presume, wizard. I adore freedom. Anyone who doesn’t have it wants it.”
Honestly, I feel that’s not even ‘presume’ that’s ‘intentionally misinterpret all of fae culture’. Deals and freedom go hand in hand, because someone without the freedom to act has no ability to offer anything. You can’t lose what you never had.
Harry then thinks that he really super wants to just shoot her, because Harry is really just fundamentally a bad person. He holds off because he very grudgingly admits this is against his own self-interest.
Mab was on the level about her offer. I could feel that, sense it in a way so primal, so visceral, that there was no room left for doubt.
Also there’s the part where she can’t lie. But feel free to go on about how it’s just your keen senses that let you work that one out!
And so Harry decides to put his effort into pretending things are going his way.
I could feel Mab watching me, Sylvester to my Tweetie Bird. That thought kind of cheered me up. Generally speaking, Tweetie kicks Sylvester’s ass in the end.
He decides to view her as Sylvester, then pretends this is some sort of objective observation, then decides that wow, it’s sure good she’s objectively an incompetent buffoon because it’s not like he’s making this up himself, it just congealed out of the air telling him he was super cool and definitely badass.
Harry then follows this up by being even stupider than he’s been before. She tells him he must complete three tasks.
“Okay,” I told her. “I’m listening.”
“Three tasks,” Mab murmured, holding up three fingers by way of visual aid. “From time to time, I will make a request of you. When you have fulfilled three requests, your obligation to me ceases.”
Silence lay on the room for a moment, and I blinked. “What. That’s it?”
“Any three tasks? Any three requests?”
“Just as simple as that? I mean, you say it like that, and I could pass you the salt three times and that would be that.”
Okay, so I did say I don’t think what Lea did counts as coercion, but Harry is really making a good case now that his deal shouldn’t stand due to mental incompetence. Just wow. I think even fae would agree this is just mean.
You don’t need to explain to her that if she chose she could burn the requests on harmless things to free you! That’s supposed to be her line, and it’s supposed to be an obvious trick.
Incidentally, she does not respond with “yes” to that, which I think strongly suggests that no, the deal won’t even allow for her to accidentally make an innocuous request.
The correct thing to ask is what sort of requests she’s actually planning to make. Now, yes, the most likely answer is that the specifics are still up in the air, but she opened by saying she wanted him to find something, and that’s presumably the first request. Also, again, fae can’t lie, so if she does have three specific things she’s already decided on, she can’t pretend otherwise.
Instead, Harry follows up “hey, so maybe this will be not terrible and you’ll intentionally ask for absolutely nothing and then free me forever” with
“I decide which requests I fulfill and which I don’t?”
“And if I refuse a request, there will be no reprisals or punishments from you.”
She tilted her head and blinked her eyes, slowly. “Agreed. You, not I, will choose which requests you fulfill.”
There was one land mine I’d found, at least.
That’s not a land mine, you fuckhead. That’s your reality warping powers getting her to agree to an unenforceable deal. And it’s not just that this is a ridiculous and absurd power dynamic, it’s that Harry specifically refused to honor the original deal and, just in case that wsan’t clear, responded to her showing up saying the deal had moved to her with FUCK YOU I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’RE ASKING I WILL NEVER FOR ANY REASON.
At this point, the only leverage she has is she could trade off his soul again to someone worse, so naturally, the next thing he says is also she can’t do that, and she can’t have anyone else mess with him in any way.
So Harry is now completely free. In some ways, he’s more free than he would be if he ever fulfilled the agreement, since his soul is no longer even in play.
And bear in mind, we know from Michael last book that you can make a deal that is “I’ll agree to do anything for you that isn’t morally wrong”. That’s still a huge request compared to doing anything no question while leaving plenty of freedom for the other party to still get uses out of you. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was considered pretty reasonable and common in these sorts of deals, because that’s a great way to have a lot of flexibility about what might come up so the other party doesn’t feel they have to have the specific tasks chosen in advance. Most of the time these deals are probably practical ones instead of being all about making the other person suffer.
I licked my lips, thinking hard. Had I left her any openings? Could she get to me any other way?
She said there would be no punishment for not taking a request. She also just made him stab himself in the hand. If she decides to show up every week to make him stab himself for the lulz, her doing so is unrelated to whether or not he refused a request. For that matter, she can stab him for insolence every time he follows up his refusal with a completely unnecessary insult and/or attempt to harm him, and it’s not like Harry could just be polite so he’s going to be stabable every single time she asks him to do anything.
Now, to do so would absolutely be a monstrous abuse of her power over him. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t expect someone to think of this. But the point at which they’ve cheerfully agreed to ask you do to things that you can refuse infinitely with no consequences is the point it’s no longer normal circumstances – even a normal person, and even dealing with another normal non-fae person, should be suspicious as hell. And even that aside, Harry has spent the conversation saying all that stops him from using lethal force is that he can’t manage enough force to be lethal. That’s only understandable if he expects her to abuse her power over him. If he doesn’t – if he does not think the mere fact she can make him stab himself is reason to expect it from her, if he doesn’t think her simply being near him will lead to being hurt and that this is something he must defend against – then why would his first impulse be assault and murder?
The book makes an attempt to say that however Harry actually is going to get screwed over, and we know it won’t be anything as legitimately terrible as this, is not his fault:
I gave myself a second to wish I’d been less tired. Or less in pain. The events of the day and the impending Council meeting this evening hadn’t exactly left my head in world-class negotiating condition.
But this doesn’t really work.
Harry’s definitely said he’s in pain and scared, and he’s even been nicely elaborate about how very very much he is. But there’s no sign of it actually impacting his decisionmaking process. That may be because as a first person narrator he’s expected to stay engaged short of a complete breakdown, but in that case there needs to be less ass-covering about how you can’t hold Harry accountable for any of his screwups because he’s under a lot of stress.
But I knew one thing for certain. If I didn’t get out from under Mab’s bond, I would be dead, or worse than dead, in short order. Better to act and be mistaken than not to act and get casually crushed.
Hm. So Harry does seem aware that he needs to get this resolved and himself fully free in order to be safe, but he doesn’t seem to have connected that to how every time he refuses a request, he delays that. In fact, it seems like he’s convinced himself that simply the act of agreeing to the new terms counts as getting out from under the bond.
Now, if it were explained differently, this could actually be how it works.
Right now it’s not clear what he’s giving up and what he’s gaining by agreeing to a new deal. I would have assumed at the moment, the deal is to get turned into a dog, but what we’re seen her do through that deal doesn’t match anything we saw Lea do, and we know the year-and-day amendment to the deal didn’t transfer, so possibly it’s blank.
In that case, Mab is dangerous because she got the soul debt passed to her without any deal attached to govern what she can do with it, but once the terms are formalized she can only affect him in relation to it. In that situation, you actually are safe from random acts of violence and don’t need to specifically prohibit it because she’s got no power outside of requesting distinct tasks. And presumably the flipside would be that when there’s no deal in place, her ability to get specific actions out of him is extremely limited – but in that case, it needs to be better explained, and also get into why “I will make you stab yourself if you don’t get this done.” isn’t already a perfectly valid way of getting him to do whatever she wants. (I wonder if she can make him stab other people? If we’re looking at this from a purely mechanical standpoint where she’s puppetting his body, then she can take any action, but if it’s more about the concept of ownership, then it could be more that she can decide what’s done to him – she may not be able to compel him to damage something she doesn’t own.)
And this is badly hampered by the fact the deal Harry just “negotiated” by making demands while offering nothing is that she can’t take any action on the basis of her requests. If the benefit of a deal is she can’t take any action outside of it to screw with him, and the deal’s terms are that she can’t take any action within it to screw with him…how exactly does this work?
There are no answers, but whatever the hell is going on, when Harry formally agrees to the deal, he feels the deal kick in. He doesn’t say he feels it replace another previously active deal, which is presumably because that’s very specific and what we’re supposed to focus on here is just creepy tingle, but, given the entire premise of this is that you can trade deals piecemeal, what if the first agreement’s still active? Lea could hand over the metaphorical chokechain she’s got on his soul to make him easier for her to control when she goes after him, but still have the ability to turn him into a dog if she can catch him anyway. (And the dog would still have to do three jobs for Mab.) For that matter, if that part of it’s still active, that could be the part that fucked him up when he kept spitting in magic’s face by forswearing the deal over and over. Maybe all Lea has to do is pop up and ask him to be her dog and after a few refusals and booking-its, he’ll collapse again?
You know that look on Wile E. Coyote’s face, when he runs at full steam off the cliff and then realizes what he’s done? He doesn’t look down, but he feels around with one toe, and right then, right before he falls, his face becomes drawn with a primal dread.
So, my guess is that Harry managed to figure out how to hook up cable without it exploding and he’s been binging Cartoon Network.
What’s frustrating here is that this is such a good idea but it’s gutted by the middle when Harry explained he would only agree to a deal that was unenforceable where he could just do what he liked without ever facing any consequences, forever.
Anyway, it’s time for her first request. The one that again, Harry has no reason to care about.
Somebody died (Harry doesn’t care). The guy is an artist (Harry doesn’t care and is actively a dick: “Creator of worlds of imagination, it says. I guess now that he’s dead, they’ll say all kinds of nice things.”). Harry then tries to turn his own vicious disregard for all others on her.
“And why should you care?” I asked. “It isn’t like the cops are after you.”
“There are powers of judgement other than mortal law. It is enough for you to know that I wish to see justice done,” she said.
Yeah she definitely does not understand Harry.
“I’ll think about it.”
Mab assured me, “You will accept this request, Wizard Dresden.”
I scowled at her and set my jaw. “I said I’ll think about it.”
I mean, I guess it’s very Harry to go straight for the lol fuck you nothing will make me do my job without making any attempt to feel out if this is actually a safe thing to do.
“Your hand yet pains you?” she asked.
“What do you think?”
Mab placed her gloved hand on my wounded one, and a sudden spike of sheer, vicious cold shot up through the injury like a frozen scalpel before lancing up my arm, straight toward my heart. It took my breath, and I felt my heart skip a beat, two, before it labored into rhythm again. I gasped and swayed, and only leaning against the door kept me from falling down completely.
“Dammit,” I muttered, trying to keep my voice down. “We had a deal.”
“I agreed not to punish you for refusing me, wizard. I agreed not to punish or harass you by proxy.”
Mab smiled. “I did that just for spite.”
OMG IT’S EVERYTHING I WANTED
MAB IS NEW BEST CHARACTER I LOVE HER
Harry, being a total dumbass, responds with, I growled. “That isn’t going to make it more likely that I take this case.” and Harry, I think you really need to consider that this isn’t about this one particular task. I don’t know how long it’d take her torturing you to get you to agree to whatever her nest request will be, but she’s immortal, so the only issue is if you can put up with this for the entire rest of your own life.
You know what’d really be interesting? If the entire task thing was a feint. The real goal was to get him to make a deal that gave him absolutely no direct protection from her. Maybe Lea means to swoop in once Harry gets broken down enough, maybe Mab really wants him to do something he’d never agree to now but will once this goes on long enough (if she’s good enough at manipulating him, she won’t even need to make it an official task – so now not only has Harry burned down the orphanage, it hasn’t even moved him closer to escaping her), maybe someone in the White Council is paying her to kill Harry, maybe the vampires are paying her to keep Harry alive and suffering as long as possible, maybe some brand-new faction looked at how much Harry’s fucked things up and is hoping another explosion will lead to him aggroing more supernatural critters toward the whole White Council…
It’d also put a very interesting twist on how Harry talked about the assassination attempt being so un-subtle, how they acted like movie mooks, if the real point of the opening attack was to make it seem like the vampires definitely aren’t behind something like this, no, why everyone knows they’re just taking direct potshots at him and definitely there’s elaborate revenge plan where he’s slowly hollowed out by the Winter Queen herself.
But that’s not necessary. The thing is, even just the regular non-twist agreement would be pretty cool if it was actually the way it is in this instant. A character bound to a monster? Wonderful. And the balance where any task must be judged by how much harm it does vs how much suffering she’ll inflict in the time before she comes up with another one!
And while I don’t expect this to really use it to its full potential – Harry is just too into playing snarky alpha badass, and the writing’s not good enough to really get into his breakdowns – it has had some quality shit happen to Harry. The only question is if it’s willing to let Harry actually be under Mab’s sadistic thumb or if that’s a step too far and she’ll back off now, leaving future iterations of “the part where the detective gets beat up” to his opponents. Probably she’ll stop hurting him once he inevitably agrees to take the case, but maybe not. Maybe he’ll get ice-scalpeled every time he sees her!
Mab then states that he’s her emissary and that he’ll be meeting Summer’s emissary shortly, so it does occur to me I may have been too quick to be pleased by the title – all of them so far have been about his opponent, so if the main plot is a conflict with the Summer Knight, then it’ll be no different than the rest.
As Harry continues to refuse, she asks if he knows the story of the fox and the scorpion. He says he does not and for once I can’t make fun of him – I can’t find any non-retelling versions where there’s a fox with a quick internet search. The most common is a frog, the oldest was a tortoise, and there’s been some turtles. My guess is that Butcher only remembered the scorpion part of the story and then assumed the other animal was a fox because it’s often a fox in other popular fables, ignoring the fact foxes aren’t defined around swimming or being tricked.
ANYWAY. The story of the FROG and the scorpion is, a scorpion asks a frog to take it across a body of water, the frog is concerned about being stung, the scorpion says it won’t because to sting the frog halfway across would mean it’d drown, then it totally stings the frog halfway across. “Dude wtf!” shouts the dying frog. “Turns out not even my self-interest could change my dickish nature, whoops!” replies the scorpion as it drowns.
Mab laughed, velvet ice, and it sent another shiver through me. “You will accept this case, wizard. It is what you are. It is your nature.”
Now, this book did just deliver on Mab fucking Harry up because he forgot she could do that just for fun, so, let’s assume there’s a reason that of all the stories, she picked one where the point is a creature will follow its nature to the point of self-destruction.
Harry is the scorpion.
He’ll obey his nature to his own detriment, so taking the case will result in his own harm.
And he’ll harm others in the process – Mab is clearly not the frog, but there doesn’t have to be a specific frog in mind for there to still be a frog who’s going to get screwed by Harry. The point of the story is the scorpion always acts the same. Any time a scorpion gets on a frog’s back, it stabs it by agreeing to take a case.
Now, there is very much reason to question the idea Harry’s nature is to take cases – even allowing retconning of all previous books, this very one opens with Billy-the-worst-werewolf saying Harry hasn’t been taking cases. But I suppose Mab didn’t actually say that what Harry is is a person who takes cases, she said that he’s a person who will take this particular one.
And while the narration has insisted Mab is alien and there is a fundamental gulf between her and a human like Harry, it has not made any claim that her judgment of Harry is wrong.
So perhaps, for once, this book might involve Harry actually doing his damn job instead of doing every other possible thing until the universe gets fed up and hands him the next part.
Mab walks off.
I glowered after her for a minute before I shut the door.
Maybe I’d been shut away in my lab too long, but Spenser never mentions that the Faerie Queen has a great ass.
So I notice these things. So sue me.
…if we go with the theory that Harry burns lust for power and so in response to an immense threat he does everything he can to find something sexy, then this becomes not-terrible! Thank you, lust theory, I will cling to you as long as possible.