When last we left off Dresdening, Harry’s previous fridged girlfriend, Elaine, turned up apparently alive! And now this, like her and some dude, returns from the dead.
Now, the nature of fandom is that people will spoil plot elements. For longer running things, I tend to ignore that because I’m of the opinion there’s a lot of soft-retconning going on. While there were so many problems with Grave Peril and its plots that I would hesitate to point to any one thing as the core problem, I do think an element of what was going wrong was that it was written as if it was following through on what was set up in the first book but the first book was not written with the idea it was setting anything up.
At what point did the author decide to have this twist about Elaine? Who knows. A really good author who adds in new elements can sometimes be betrayed by their own craft, because they don’t have piles of things they throw in without meaning to go anywhere to hide things in and so looking carefully you can find when they start setting up for the twist. And they’ll also have a firm enough worldbuilding that if this ends up introducing an incongruity with a previous element, you’ll know that element was from before the decision.
So yeah – no clue when this happened. I’m going to default to that the books are probably best assumed to be pretty self-contained. I’m not sure if that’s going to shift going forward as the author gets more used to the idea he’s writing for a long-running franchise or just shifts to a genre he likes better, but the past three books would seem to follow the rule and Grave Peril in particular was a clusterfuck of nonsense, so I don’t think anything much was set up in advance there.
Elaine walked past me, making a circuit around my apartment. It wasn’t much of a tour. The place consists of a living room and a tiny bedroom. The kitchen is pretty much just an alcove with a sink and a fridge
Speaking of a total lack of consistency! Harry lives on the bottom floor of a building and also has the entire basement to himself. Now it’s possible we’re talking about a building that’s pretty narrow, but two and a half rooms? This is sounding more like it’s one of those buildings dropped into an alley than a regular building, and yet it’s taking at least enough room on the street that Harry can park outside easily. (And it sure doesn’t sound like it’s packed tightly with other buildings given no one ever sees anything when the building’s attacked. I realize now that I’ve been mentally picturing this as outside of Chicago itself in order to have the space and cheaper rent, which doesn’t make sense with Harry being able to walk to his office but how exactly do you have no witnesses and large open space outside for a demon fight in a cramped apartment in the middle of Chicago?)
Also the place is a mess because Harry’s sad and not cleaning.
Elaine walked through it all like a Red Cross worker through a war zone and shook her head. “I know you weren’t expecting me, Harry, but I didn’t think I’d be overdressed. You live in this?”
Harry’s going to be wondering if this is real and for some reason only thinks “I thought you were dead!” is a reason not to believe it, as opposed to the fact no human being would act this way showing up on the doorstep of someone who thought they were dead. She continues to act not just weirdly chill but weirdly unapologetic, and when he expresses his confusion out loud.
“No. It’s me. If I was something out of the Nevernever, could I have crossed your threshold uninvited? Do you know anyone else who knows how you set up your wards?”
Lady, a demon knows almost his whole name because he didn’t want to look up publicly available info by hand. A dragon not only knows his truename because he introduced himself to a stranger that way, but he got mad when the dragon tried to avoid saying it further in a room full of vampires who hate him. Also, this is the same dumbass who at one point said no mirrors because they let things in and then later was staring at himself in his bathroom mirror. Not only do I expect everyone knows how he sets up his wards by now, not only do I expect anyone with even a passing familiarity with him to know getting info on his wards is probably easy, but there is no way he’s still using the same wards as when he was sixteen even if he wanted to, because he’d have been constantly updating the wards to get around the fact he’s the wizard security equivalent of saying his passwords out loud all the time.
The correct argument would be that she got across because anti-supernatural wards do nothing against humans and only the natural threshold magic would even compromise a fellow wizard’s abilities, and Harry’s threshold doesn’t work these days.
In other words, this makes no sense for actual Elaine to say, so this is something out of the Nevernever.
Does anyone else know that you failed your driver’s test five times in one week? Or that you sprained your shoulder trying to impress me going out for football our freshman year? That we soulgazed on our first night together? I think I can still remember our locker combination, if you like.”
“My God, Elaine.”
Multiple other people have soulgazed with Harry too, and that seems to let you see memories. Failing a driver’s test is probably on record, as is both trying out for football and spraining his shoulder. Soulgazing each other is an easy guess. The only one of those things that is precise but unlikely for someone to easily know is the one she says she knows but doesn’t actually provide.
This is without getting into the other issue that his fairy godmother is good at mindwhammies and could’ve gotten this info back when she first had him, just in case she needed it later. It’s also the sort of things he might’ve shared with his next wizard mentor, who based on the events of the WC meeting appears to have been subverted by the Nevernever.
(Also, Harry’s actual upbringing continues to make no particular sense. Why would wizards be sending their apprentices to get a modern education?)
Convinced now, Harry asks for why she’s back and why she never contacted him and so on.
“At first because I didn’t even know if you had survived. And after that …” She shook her head. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to. Wasn’t sure you’d want me to. So much happened.”
This is a horrible excuse, but Harry is willing to do his best to make it work by deciding that wait yes he’s totally angry.
To get back to what I said at the start about retconning, previously Harry’s described the situation as his mentor trying to turn/control them, and Harry managing to escape but by the time he came back Elaine was his willing servant. Now, Harry is yelling at her about why she chose to help their evil master mind-control him, and is shocked when she says that yeah that was because she was mind-controlled, this having now never occurred to him because he’s a moron.
I saw her dim shape bow its head. “Justin caught me about two weeks before he sent that demon to capture you. That day I stayed home sick, remember? By the time you got home from school, he had me. I tried to fight him, but I was a child. I didn’t have enough experience to resist him. And after he had enthralled me, I didn’t see why I should fight anymore.”
Now, this might seem to make sense – might, in fact, be really confusing why it wasn’t everyone’s first assumption. But you forget:
“So you’re telling me that you didn’t have any choice,” I breathed. “He forced you to do it. He made you help him.”
“Why the hell should I believe you?”
Harry just really fucking hates women, so it’s a hard sell.
I rose and paced back and forth restlessly. “I can’t believe you’re trying to tell me that the devil made you do it. Do you have any idea how lame that excuse sounds?”
Incidentally, yes, he just finished yelling at her about how he’s mad she tried to help Justin mind-control him, because mind-controlling people is a well known magic and he knows Justin was trying to do to him right then, but the idea a woman wasn’t to blame for her actions? No way.
Anyway she says the reason he couldn’t find her was because she escaped to some sort of sanctuary, which is presumably the fae because that’s what topic this book is, and the price is coming due and she’s in trouble.
My answer came out at once. For me, chivalry isn’t dead; it’s an involuntary reflex. It could have been any woman asking for help, and I’d have said the same thing. It might have taken me a second or two longer, but I would have. For Elaine, there was no need to think about it for even that long. “I’ll help.”
This is such a lie I’m even more sure this is a fae construct.
Titania wants you to be her Emissary. She wants you to find the killer and prove that the Winter Court is to blame.
Oh no! That……is conveniently what Harry was already working at so it’s not even a whole separate favor he’s doing. And now he’ll have backup, which, if it’s anything like last book, will be basically her doing all the work for him.
Now, we’re obviously supposed to think that these two orders are opposite. She was ordered to blame Mab, he was ordered to blame Titania. But no. To jump back to the exact wording, because exact wording is important even normally and this is fae:
“My request,” she replied. “Within are the details of a man’s death. I wish you to vindicate me of it by discovering the identity of his killer and returning what was stolen from him.”
1) It’s not even clear if “I wish you to vindicate me of it” is the actionable part, because the actual action demanded appears to be specifically “discovering the identity of his killer and returning what was stolen from him” – Harry could, hypothetically, discover the real killer and get the item, then turn around and tell everyone else she did it.
2) Elaine said she just needs to blame the Winter Court. Harry can vindicate Mab in particular by blaming someone else in the court, which would satisfy Elaine’s requirement.
That said – Harry, I guess because he actually did know Elaine as a person, actually takes time to try to think what he can do. He’s not only genuinely distressed, but he doesn’t at any point slip into blaming her for putting him in this position. Not only that, but as he thinks about just how bad his own position here is he assumes without needing evidence that Elaine’s in as much trouble, rather than finding excuses for why the piles of evidence he has that she’s in trouble are probably fake.
So I’ll likely regret this, but so far, Elaine has heralded good things! Thanks, Elaine!
“Okay. I’ve got it,” I said. “Get your stuff and come with me.”
Elaine reached back to the shadows beside the fireplace and withdrew a slender staff of pale wood, carved with swirling, abstract shapes. “Where are we going?”
I pushed myself up. “To talk to the Council and get their help.”
Elaine lifted her eyebrows. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Harry, but are you crazy?”
So Harry has whined and whined about how mean the WC are, but here he seems momentarily aware that they’ve been mostly on his side.
Harry claims that going to the WC when you’re in over your head is normal (despite never trying it before) and that they’ll totally side with humans by virtue of being humans (which is something I could see him believing because they do seem to normally be that sort of asshole, but he just got back from people telling him that they wanted to throw Harry to the vampires. It feels like this scene would’ve made a lot more sense happening right before he heads to the WC.)
Elaine claims that what she’s heard is that the WC are awful, because clearly a bunch of fae with vested interests in keeping her cut off from a wizard’s usual source of protection should be trusted over someone who’s been a member the whole time she’s been gone. She them pushes harder on the idea they’ve just been waiting for Harry to screw up, and Harry does not point out that the fact he didn’t have any witnesses to back him up is the only reason anyone in the WC is treating him like this. Elaine not only is a witness, but the fact she thought she’d be safer with the fae than running to another wizard is pretty damn good proof that Justin went super ultra mega evil.
Harry stammers that okay they’re mean but he deserves it, as if the author has finally figured out that’s way more sympathetic than them not being mean but Harry whining about how horrible they are.
“Elaine, when they find out about you, it needs to be from you. If you come forward, it’s going to cut down on any uneasiness or suspicion they might feel.”
And this actually works really well either way! That he thinks an innocent person could easily get in trouble doesn’t speak well for the WC, but at the same time, tensions are currently super high and if the WC isn’t actually malicious, it is suspicious she wants to keep her survival a secret.
But I was thinking how much trouble I was going to be in if one of the Wardens heard I was associating with someone who might be a violator of the First Law, and one of Justin DuMorne’s apprentices at that. With the cloud of disfavor I was already under, adding that kind of suspicion to it might be enough to sink me, regardless of how the investigation turned out.
We’re speeding back to Harry just being a whiner. The main reason for that cloud of disfavor we saw this book is people not believing Justin was evil, therefore Elaine being his apprentice shouldn’t be a point against her unless her extra testimony is enough to convince the holdouts that Justin was evil. But if it’s accepted that Justin was evil, then her claim she was mind-controlled and innocent stands up, and that perfectly matches her fleeing in a panic and being so scared she went to the fae of all people to beg for safety, and unlike Harry she doesn’t even have a kill hanging over her head that they need to debate.
Then right after he finishes reminding us/her that he’s actually got some really powerful friends on the WC now so she shouldn’t worry…
“Dresden,” Morgan growled from the other side of the door. “Open up, traitor. There are questions I need you to answer.”
Yay, it’s Morgan! I hope he’s brought his sword.