Proven Guilty - Jim Butcher
Yeah, just keep telling yourself that, Dresden.

 

~~Moved from GR~~

 

Proven Guilty

by Jim Butcher

 

One reason I like these books: these nametags really do get worn at one point.

After a disastrous meeting of the White Council of Wizards, in which a child warlock is executed for crimes against humanity, Harry definitely isn't in the mood for work from the Council. Unfortunately, he's been assigned two jobs, both in secret and both potentially dangerous. First, he must discover why the faerie courts are not responding to attacks from an enemy that also threatens the wizards. Second, he has to find and capture a warlock who is about to start terrorizing Chicago. And if that isn't enough, Molly Carpenter, the teenage daughter of an old but currently estranged friend, calls him up and begs for help, forcing him to investigate foul deeds at a horror convention.
Apparently, there's just no rest for the wicked.

One of the aspects that I love about The Dresden Files are the characters and relationships. This one is chock-full of recurring cast, introduces some new characters, and gives others more than just a one-time walk-on role. After her hiatus in Dead Beat, Lt. Karrin Murph is back in full force, ready to alternately bicker with and stand back-to-back with Harry. Harry is still trying to come to grips with his relationship with his half-brother, Thomas. Charity Carpenter, Harry's most feared ally from previous books, is as uncharitable as ever, but in this book, her motives and background are explored a little, making her more than just Michael Carpenter's shrewish and overprotective wife. Harry is also more bemused than ever by Charity's teenage, goth-dressing, horror-watching, argumentative daughter, Molly. Rawlins, the phlegmatic detective from Dead Beat, is on the scene, and it turns out he knows Murph from way back when. (He calls her Karrie. She is not pleased.) As far as I can tell, Rawlins is the only African-American character in the series, and although he is somewhat stereotypical from, say, old cop shows, it is at least encouraging to have a POC with a speaking role. Father Forthill, the only positively drawn example of a priest I think I've ever encountered in fantasy, is still full of patience, tolerance, and wry wit. I've always liked him as a character, but this book upgraded him to one of my favourites.

Some of Dresden's entertaining antagonists from previous books also make an appearance. As Harry explains to Murph,

“Big-time bad guy. Wants to eat me.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Well. I met him.”

Dresden is still trying to deal with the tempting whispers of the shadow of a fallen angel which has taken up residence in his head. He must also continue with his standard political gymnastics with the leaders of the White Council of Wizards, but after being forced into the ranks of wardens, the stakes are even higher. If that wasn't enough, to discover why both the Summer and Winter courts are strangely dormant, Dresden must become even more deeply embroiled in faerie politics. One of the issues I have with this book is the plot; basically, I have no idea what happened or why. 

[Neither does Harry, which is a redeeming point, but we're eight books out from this one and I still don't understand what happened. 
*****SPOILER FOR BK 14**********
Was Maeve already turned at this point? Did Maeve attack Arctis Tor? Who pulled Molly in, Maeve or Mab? Did Maeve influence Lily into helping to attack AT? What the hell was the goal of attacking it anyway? To drag the soldiers back from the Edge? And if the intent was to grab Molly, I'm bloody well taking off a point, because Molly being grabbed was due to Harry's karma spell; I don't think it could easily have been predicted.]

(show spoiler)

Although I'm often tempted to "knock him upside the head," I really think I do like Harry Dresden as a narrator. I find his quixotic oscillation between furious force of will and well-meaning ineptitude rather endearing. I especially appreciate the fact that he struggles with and is haunted by the darker portions of his nature. Evil actions, no matter how necessary, are never without consequences (although it tends to take about three books for karma to bite back), and this theme is fully explored in Proven Guilty. Unfortunately, Dresden is also a total freaking perve. This, too, is fully explored in Proven Guilty. I'm still looking for the brain bleach.

Although I found Terrible Teen Barbie--er, Molly Carpenter--vastly irritating, I did enjoy Harry's portion of their discussions. His irreverence, idealism, and naivete (not to mention his sometimes atrocious attempts at witty repartee) make him seem much younger than his actual age (I think he's a little over 30 in this book.) His immaturity is exacerbated by the fact that given the lifespans of wizards and magical beings, most of the other characters are Harry's age or far older. However, when faced with a recalcitrant, defiant teenager, Harry has to take on the unfamiliar role of adult and supervisor. He's not especially good at it. Hilarity ensues.

One of my favourite parts of this book (other than a notably comedic scene in which Harry is captured by one of his many foes) is the interaction between Murphy and Harry. There is a wonderfully entertaining, groan-worthy scene in which Harry manages to say absolutely everything wrong it is possible to say to a woman who is asking you about where a relationship is going:

[(conversation is between Murphy and Harry.)


"I don't know if I could give you what you want, Harry."

(Harry should insert here, "All I want is you!" or something equally inane. Instead, there is an awkward pause...)

Then she took a deep breath and said, "And there are other reasons. We work together."
"I noticed."
She didn't quite smile. "What I mean is.... I can't let relationships come close to my job. It isn't good for either."

(Harry should now say that he will do whatever it takes, blah blah blah. Instead....)

I said nothing.
(...)
She tilted her head back and studied me for a minute. Then she said, "What happens when Susan comes back?"

(Where Harry should say that it wouldn't matter; he loves Murph now. Instead...)

I shook my head. "She isn't."
Her tone turned dry. "Indulge me."

(Seriously, Harry, this is your cue. You say it wouldn't matter, and that you love Murph...)

I frowned. "I don't know," I said quietly. "We decided to break it off. And...I suspect we'd see a lot of things very differently now."
"But if she wanted to try again?" Murphy asked.

(Wake up Harry, there's a sign over Murph's head in flashing neon lights. She's explicitly asked you for reassurance three times now. So you reassure her, right?)

I shrugged. "I don't know."

(Apparently not.)

(...)
She shook her head. "I was wrong. Love isn't all you need. And I just don't see us together, Harry. You're dear to me. I couldn't ask for a kinder friend. I'd walk through fire for you."
"You already did," I said.
"But I don't think I could be the kind of lover you want. We wouldn't go together."

(This is where you vigorously protest, Harry. See the signal? Flashing in neon above her head, going "Reassure me that you love me"?)

"Why not?"

(Well, apparently you don't.)

"At the end of the day," she said quietly, "we're too different."

(I think she gave him ten or twelve opportunities to argue the point. He didn't. She even claimed to want a family--when she got a divorce already because she didn't want one--and he didn't protest that either. I get endless amusement out of this interchange.)

(show spoiler)

Which brings us to Harry's brief flash of insight: "Women confuse me."
Yeah, Harry, you can say that again.

Overall, even though I find the whiny teenage Molly Carpenter incredibly irritating and the horror film references that pepper the book baffling, Proven Guilty is a very enjoyable read. It is, perhaps, the first introspective book in the series; as the title suggests, the theme is corruption, responsibility, and forgiveness. The relationships and message behind the novel feel very real and heartfelt, and somehow this gives it a little touch of depth that a comedic novel involving (literal) horror movie monsters and interesting ebay sales just shouldn't have.

 

And who could forget that other little moment:

(show spoiler)


And yes, I'm going to say it again: these books are better on audio. I'm pretty positive these get at least one additional star from me just from James Marsters' performance. He has really gotten into the spirit of the thing; his reading is spirited, entertaining, and quintessentially Dresden-ish.

 

 


 

Other Reviews

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