White Night - Jim Butcher

~~Moved from GR~~

White Night

by Jim Butcher

 

When Harry Dresden, professional wizard, discovers that a serial killer is targeting low-level female magical practitioners in Chicago, he is catapulted into a case which threatens to force him into choosing between family loyalty and his chivalric (read chauvanistic) impulse to protect the women of the city.

Consumed by his duties as a warden of the White Council and by his responsibilities to his rebellious apprentice, Harry has practically lost touch with the magical community of Chicago. When he discovers that a killer has been systematically targeting female practitioners of magic, he is shocked to discover that in the eyes of the magical community, he is the main suspect: a man dressed as a warden has been seen speaking to many of the women who have disappeared or died. Fighting the mistrust of the community, Harry starts his investigation in his standard fashion: poke around until the situation explodes. As he is tossed from one crisis to another, he discovers more and more evidence that implicates his own half-brother and begins to unravel a plot that threatens the entire White Council of wizards--and all of humanity.

I enjoyed this book, but for me, it has an unusually dark tone. One reason is Harry's increasing slips into his darker nature. Several books ago, in Death Masks (book 5), Dresden becomes the unwilling host of the shadow of a fallen angel. Lash, or Lasciel, has attempted to tempt him with power and information into consciously succumbing to her influence, but he has attempted to use her aid as sparingly as possible. However, the destruction she has caused is more insidious. Her influence is immediate: from book six onward, Dresden becomes more savage and cruel, and the moments in which he revels with a bizarre, sick pleasure in holding power over his enemies have steadily increased. Dresden, a delightfully unreliable and not particularly introspective narrator, has reported his actions and emotions, but has failed to connect them to the influence of the fallen angel. In this book, he is finally confronted with the increasingly strong hold his dark nature has over him, and with the angel who has so influenced him.

Another cause of the somber mood is Dresden's inner conflict and isolation from the other characters. As he struggles between his bone-deep desire to protect his brother and stop the killer, Harry's path is darker and murkier than usual. Although the usual cast is present, mistrust and conflict create a barrier between Dresden and most of his erstwhile companions. Sgt. Karrin Murphy is at his side, kicking ass in her characteristically indomitable fashion, but her attempts to confront Dresden with his increasingly savage actions disrupts the typical easy-going camaraderie. Molly Carpenter, Dresden's new apprentice and erstwhile warlock, adds a new tone of teenage sulk and wilfulness to the atmosphere. Although Dresden is ready to forgive his old flame, Elaine Mallory, I found her character tainted by her past lies and betrayals, and her completely unapologetic and unrepentant attitude. Harry's half-brother, Thomas, has disappeared, and is increasingly tainted by suspicion of involvement. The book does not stint on villains, either. Lara Raith, one of my absolute favorite villains in the series, makes an appearance and dominates the power games in her usual deliciously immoral fashion.

One of my biggest issues with the book was actually a small incident in terms of number of pages, and actually intended to be lighthearted. Continuing on an ongoing joke, Dresden is again cast as Thomas's boyfriend. This time, he purposely plays the role as a disguise, and pulls out practically every negative stereotype of a gay man possible: a bitchy, whining tone, fluttering hands, even a lisp. The characters he tries to deceive show absolute intolerance, not even wanting to touch his hand, etc. Sure, Harry comments that he played up to the role, trying to encourage the bigotry so people would assign him to a stereotype and stop thinking--but that wasn't the only instance, and not the one that left a bad taste in my mouth. Dresden implicitly congratulating himself, points out the bigotry of an individual who thinks gays are so disgusting that he refuses to touch the hand of one. Ironic, since all of the characters, good and bad, including Dresden, constantly assign passe negative stereotypes to gay men. When Harry leaves, he is "secure in [his] own heterosexuality"--because clearly being cast as gay was an insult he had to insulate himself from. When news of Harry's act get back to Karrin Murphy and the police, and they also rib him, again using every sick stereotype of a gay man possible. I increasingly feel that bigotry against gay men is ingrained in the series. Throughout, Dresden constantly defends himself with remarks like, "I'm not a pansy," etc. In a previous book, which also contains a riff on Dresden and Thomas being partners, a friend of Dresden's comments that he won't "judge"--implying that homosexuality is something to be judged. In this book, when Murph teases him and ascribes 'girly' interests to him because of his supposed homosexuality, Dresden is humiliated and feels he will "never live this down". The series contains absolutely no examples of a positive male homosexual relationship. There are several references to lesbian/bi women, but considering how men (including our narrator) find "girl on girl" to be titillating, this doesn't exactly speak of open-mindedness. I find bigotry most repulsive when it is combined with self-congratulation on tolerance.

Despite my reservations above, I really did enjoy reading this one. There are some very enjoyable interactions between Lash and Harry, and although it added tension to their relationship, I loved that Murph takes on the role of conscience when Harry steps out of control. Speaking of out of control, there are some excellent action scenes and (of course) a burning building or three. This book also features a fantastic and very visually captivating duel sequence. Plotwise, it felt to me like a return to its noir roots, which can be seen as either good or bad. Like Chandler's stories, a man must step in to rescue the defenseless damsels in distress, homosexuality is treated as repulsive, the femme fatale makes her usual appearance, and men apparently should be as "manly" as possible. In a later subplot, a character is continually mocked for his virginity--because that is clearly something shameful. Overall, I felt this book had one of the least thoughtful, intellectual, and tolerant takes on sexuality and gender that I've seen in the series for a while. At the same time, the mystery took central stage and Harry and Elaine's detective duo was very entertaining.

Overall, White Night is a fun book, with some entertaining scenes, an enjoyable set of villains, and a tight plot. It also contains some amount of resolution to Dresden's continued conflict with Lasciel. However, for me it was somewhat tainted by a dark tone and casual slurs on homosexuality that left a bad taste in my mouth.

 


 

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