Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, #3)
It's near Halloween, and Harry Dresden is being rushed off his feet trying to deal with the sudden uprising of vicious and violent ghosts. He enlists an old friend, Michael Carpenter, to help him on his missions, but as they desperately try to determine who is stirring up the spirits before they can further threaten Chicago, things just keep getting more complicated. A girl who comes to Dresden for help abruptly disappears. A vicious spirit, aptly dubbed The Nightmare, starts stalking Harry with a vindictiveness that seems due to a personal grudge. Harry's creepy fairy godmother is once again after him, claiming his life as forfeit for past favors to both Harry and his mother. Harry's old antagonist, Bianca the vampire, has gained new status and is suspiciously eager to have Harry come to a party celebrating her rise in stature. And to top it all off, Harry is trying to understand and come to grips with his feelings for his girlfriend, Susan Rodriguez, while still protecting her from all of the chaos around him.
Despite its paramount importance in terms of overall plot arcs, this was my least favorite book in the series, bar none. That's actually not saying much given how much I enjoy these books, but if you're just about to try the Dresden Files and have been warned off of the first two, consider skipping this one, trying a later one (#4, Summer Knight, makes a nice starting place), and coming back later.
So what's not to like about the book?
First, I feel that this is the darkest book in the series-- both in terms of unrelenting pain and despair and Dresden's ventures into antihero status-- of any book except perhaps #11 or #12. It is a book in which all of the characters make stupid mistakes that have devastating consequences. I spent most of the book inaudibly shouting at the characters, and for all that their shortsightedness was incredibly frustrating [(for example, when Dresden tries to call up Murph and she hangs up on him, why not call other numbers in the police station? She's in the station! There are tons of numbers he could have called to reach her!!!)] my emotional involvement certainly speaks to Butcher's skill as a writer. Second, I felt that the prose lacks the polish Butcher later develops, and that the characters were much less endearing and rounded than in the later books. Harry is finally back on good terms with Murphy, but she plays the damsel-in-distress role and doesn't get her standard badass awesome moment. Michael Carpenter, one of the most genuine, loveable characters, is introduced, but he feels more judgmental and self-righteous than in later incarnations. Charity Carpenter, Michael's wife, is shrewish and irritating.
For me, the greatest flaw was Susan Rodriguez, the reporter who continues as Dresden's love interest. Starting out as a one-dimensional femme in Storm Front and continuing as a supportive and relatively likeable character in Fool Moon, Susan has suddenly become egocentric, willful, arrogant, petulant, and selfish. When Harry is forced to spend his nights in life-or-death matches against relentless and vicious spirits, Susan complains that he has missed several dates with her, and comments on what a forbearing girlfriend she is. Uhh...priorities, hun? When Harry gets an invitation from the vampires that he feels is potentially fatal, she attempts to wheedle and manipulate him into taking her, despite any danger to him or herself, because it will give her a story that will aid her career. She whines about the commonplace despite knowing about the risky and dangerous situations Harry is involved in. And unfortunately, Harry's internal struggles with his feelings about their relationship is central to the plot.
Although I couldn't put it down, I found this to be a very difficult book, emotionally, to read. One of the major themes of the book, intentionally or not, is rape. We have vicious Red Court vampires who feed sexually off of their victims, the introduction of White Court vampires, succubi who emotionally ensnare their prey, Harry's disturbing fairie godmother, who apparently raped him (or at least made disturbing sexual advances to him when he was 16 and in her power) and claims literal ownership of him, and the Nightmare, who forces itself into peoples' heads and makes them see and relive terrible things for its own sick enjoyment. There is a lot of angst and a lot less humor than in other books, and Harry makes some terrible choices that cast him as antihero. I was on the edge of my seat, but I'm not sure that I precisely enjoyed the book.
Overall, this is a must-read if you want to really get into the Dresden Files, as events that take place here have ramifications that drive the plot of the remainder of the series, but not a good reflection of the characters, depth, and humour that really makes the rest of the series great.
Believe it or not, I've written a review of every single book in the series. I may have addiction issues. Links to the complete set are below. The starred ones are my faves.
[#1] Storm Front [#2] Fool Moon [#3] Grave Peril [#4] Summer Knight* [#5] Death Masks [#6] Blood Rites [#7] Dead Beat* [#8] Proven Guilty [#9] White Night [#10] Small Favor* [#11] Turn Coat [#12] Changes [#13] Ghost Story* [#14] Cold Days