I’ll admit it: I’ve become rather fond of Harry Dresden, the hero of The Dresden Files series. He’s always off fighting something interesting — rogue wizards, werewolves, toad-monsters … they’re all problematic creatures Dresden has to face. Grave Peril, the third installment in the series, covers a new type of supernatural creature — the ghost. The results are spooky and good at the same time.
Jim Butcher starts off the book with Dresden and a friend, Michael Carpenter, going in to a hospital to stop a ghost from smothering the babies in the nursery. Michael is some sort of paladin — faithful, honest, strong, and steadfast — and his sword is an instrument for smiting evil. A surprisingly difficult battle with the ghost ensues after they pursue her to The Nevernever, as does a visit from Dresden’s godmother, Lea, who apparently owns his soul and wishes to collect as soon as possible.
Added into this mix is the Nightmare, a sentient ghost-like creature that takes some of Dresden’s power, incapacitates Karrin Murphy, the head of Special Investigations for the Chicago Police Department, and enjoys taking people over when they sleep. We’ve also got significant vampire activity and the involvement of some back-story that provides for clever surprises with the plot.
One of the attributes I like about Butcher’s series is the humor. I’m a sucker for puns, so I got a kick out of Dresden’s joke about the vampiress on a diet (“Make hers a Blood Lite”), among others. Yet this book felt darker to me than the previous two, and I wonder if some of that is because we’re getting to know Dresden better. It’s harder to joke around with characters when they’ve become established and people have developed attachments to them. The change toward a more serious tone isn’t bad, and Butcher still keeps his tongue in his cheek a good bit. This installment is just a little less so.
A couple of things about this particular book made it a little more difficult to like. The first may seem petty, but it drove me nuts: Dresden says “Hell’s bells” a lot in this book. This is the first time I can recall him ever using this term. He says it, on average, one time per chapter. That would make for thirty-nine “Hell’s bells”. It’s not just the term, which I find mildly annoying; it’s also that I don’t think it’s something that the Dresden I knew from the first two books would say. Maybe I just overlooked it, but, in Grave Peril, the abundance of the comments jarred me out of the narrative each time I read it, which I’m pretty sure isn’t what Butcher was aiming to do.
The second is that quite a bit of time, series-wise, has elapsed between the previous book, Fool Moon, and this one. That means that there’s a lot of back-story we only have filled in part-way — Michael has been his partner on the exorcisms, but when did they meet? How? What’s the full story on the big event that involved Special Investigations? Is it in a short story somewhere? Couldn’t it have been part of the story of this book? That would have been fantastic, and I wouldn’t have spent part of the book wondering why something was the way it was until it was explained through a narrative about past events.
The Dresden Files is an awesome series. Grave Peril is a fine addition, but not quite as good as its predecessors.