As usual, if you haven’t read the previous volumes of The Dresden Files then you may want to skip over this review, although I do try to avoid major spoilers. In general, I try to apply a standard I first heard of from listening to the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast: if it is in the first fourth of the novel it isn’t a spoiler.
Harry Dresden, Warden of the White Council. Who’d ‘a guessed it? After reluctantly accepting the cloak of the Wardens in the previous volume, Dead Beat, we find Harry still uneasy with his new position. It isn’t the protecting of the innocent or the weak from magical miscreants that is the problem, but the Council’s unyielding absolutism when it comes to breaches of the laws of magic. So having to witness the execution of a teenage warlock doesn’t help his disposition to his new job any.
Harry receives a mysterious message from the equally-mysterious Gatekeeper to watch out for Black Magic in Chicago. So what’s new? Well, magically-powered movie monsters feeding on fear are clawing their way out of the silver screen for a start. It looks like Harry has his very own warlock to track down. Warden Dresden is on his own, however, since the war against the Red Court of Vampires has taken a terrifying turn as the vamps have been marching through the faerie courts uncontested. So guess what professional Wizard with ties to the queens of faerie gets to try to find out what’s going on? As usual, Dresden’s cup runneth over with supernatural beasties. What’s different this time is that his responsibility as a Warden is going to force him to make some tough choices, balancing the Laws of Magic, his personal morals, and the needs of the many against the life of the one. For a Warden like Morgan–a true-believer in the absolutism of the Laws of Magic–that would be an easy choice, but Harry has been a victim of the Laws and of the Wardens. Still, his sympathy might get him killed, or worse.
What Proven Guilty Does Well
This book jumps right into things, which I appreciated. If this was the first volume in a series I would be pretty confused about what was going on, but as it is I like jumping right in with a new Dresden Files book. I’m already committed to the series, so there isn’t as much need for lots of introductory exposition in the beginnings. This volume sees Harry becoming savvier and better prepared than before. Considering how much he winged things in the opening novels, it’s about time he started to think ahead more than he has been.
We get updaes on characters from books past and on Dresden’s relationships with characters we haven’t seen for a while. Michael Carpenter comes back for the first time since book 5, and Michael’s family plays prominent roles in the plot, as the wayward Carpenter daughter Molly needs Dresden’s help protecting her friends from the dark magic targeting their horror movie convention (“Splattercon!!!”). One thing I appreciate the more I read these books is how prominent characters keep coming back, and how their roles are part of a tapestry of relationships and consequences that Butcher is weaving. It feels very much like these characters have arcs, and seeing it play out over time is satisfying and it reinvests me in continuing with the series.
Of course there is lots of magic being tossed around, and fear-based magic is the novum for this volume. Both Dead Beat and this novel have big climactic battle scenes that are solid and satisfying in that they feel very warranted and integral to both the plot of this book and what may happen in future volumes. I will say that the end of this novel marks a transition point in Harry’s life, and all I will say is that being a Warden will not be the only new responsibility he has to take on.
All of the different plot threads blend together a la the hard boiled detective playbook, but even if you know “that thing is going to lead to this thing later,” Butcher still manages to surprise.
Where Proven Guilty could have been better
I can’t think of anything to put here. This is not to say that the novel is perfect in every regard, but that it is satisfying in everything it is trying to do. It continues the saga of a character who becomes more developed and endearing even as he is confronted with terrifying choices. It maintains the use of the hardboiled detective genre without becoming boorish or utterly predictable.
In the end, this is another highly satisfying installment of the series. If you are interested in the series, do start with Storm Front. Once again, I listened to this book as an audiobook performed by the excellent James Marsters. Audible was running a big sale some months back and I got 4 Dresden books at once for only about $20. The difficult part was trying not to listen to them all in one go!