My initial review of this book cracks me up (see below). Yeah, sure, Ashley. Final verdict. Not your cup. Woosh woosh woosh (that was the sound of time passing) oh wait, you love this series now, you bobo.
Since I finally fell in love with this series around book ten or so (it was just “like” from book four on), I’ve theorized that if I were ever to revisit the first three books I would feel differently about them, and that turned out to be true. I could see all the pieces being laid for future books, and I was able to place motivations I learned about later and emotions I’d grown to feel for these characters over the more flimsy versions presented here, and it was a richer reading experience as a result. The boredom and disinterest I’d felt the first time through was gone. But I could also see the holes a lot more clearly.
This book actually does a lot of groundwork on some core worldbuilding, with the faerie and vampire courts being introduced, the Unseelie Accords, the Knights of the Cross, Harry’s godmother, Susan’s nascent vampirism, Thomas. A bunch of stuff. Unfortunately two key elements aren’t quite working. The first is plot-central. Harry and Michael (a Knight of the Cross, who wields the holy sword Amoracchius) are ghostbusting, and it turns out the rising level of spirit activity and crossover between the real world and the Nevernever is tied to some behind the scenes sorcerer who is out to get revenge on Michael and Harry. SPOILERS That sorcerer is Leonid Kravos, who they caught months before, and who committed ritual suicide right before the events of this book so he could become an insanely powerful ghost, thus sidestepping a bunch of restrictions and rules of magic he would have had to abide by had he still been alive. He also teams up with Bianca from the Red Court and Mavra from the Black Court to just royally fuck Harry’s shit up. Unfortunately, the execution of this is confusing somewhat. The whole time you’re reading, you keep thinking, wait, should I know this story about Kravos? Is this something we’ve learned before? And when you realize the answer to that is “no,” this weird befuddlement sets in. It’s a little hard to care about this a-hole when this is the first time we’ve heard of him END SPOILERS.
It’s also hard to care about Susan, the woman Harry has been romancing for two years, and around whom the climax of the novel is centered. The narrative moves super fast, so it’s easy to get distracted and not figure out why Susan is not a good character (and perhaps this is what happened to Butcher–which is understandable, only his third novel, he doesn’t know how to translate the character in his head to the page quite yet). But when you stop and think about her, we know NOTHING except that she’s a journalist, and that she’s beautiful. It would be generous to say that she’s tenacious, but her attempts to gain story information out of Harry, or her foolhardy actions in this book that put everyone in danger, just look foolish without any context. We never hear about her unless she’s fighting with or fucking Harry. (“Describe Susan as a character.” “She’s got some nice shapely limbs?”) And so when she insists on attending the vampire party, we only see Harry’s POV, that she is putting herself in needless danger and doesn’t understand what she’s getting into. And worse, we don’t care when she’s injured and captured and turned into an almost vampire. She’s an empty, beautiful, annoying shell.
SPOILERS That the pivotal moment of the book is Harry confessing his love to her is kind of a joke. What is there to love about her? Harry must see it, but I sure can’t END SPOILERS.
I can’t wait to keep going in this re-read, when all the characters we’ve met actually get development, and the worldbuilding deepens and everything gets awesome.
Raising up my rating half a star, though, because aside from those two main complaints, I really did enjoy it so much more this time around.
[September 2009: Final verdict on this series: Not my cup of tea, but I can see how others might enjoy it. I just have way too many other books that I want to read, so why should I be wasting my time on something that is only marginally entertaining to me? The answer is, I shouldn’t. Moving on with my life.]