Fool Moon by Jim Butcher
After The Passage and Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Fool Moon marks a welcome return to genuinely good, genuinely enjoyable books. Which is nice, because the reason I read this one was because I’d really enjoyed the first in the Harry Dresden series, Storm Front, so I was pretty certain I’d enjoy Fool Moon. It’s nice to be right.
A lot of the stylistic elements from Storm Front continue in Full Moon. It’s still written with a great deal of humour, there are a lot of fun characters involved (both new and recurring), and the pace is absolutely cracking.
This time around, as implied by the (quite poor) title, Harry Dresden is facing werewolves. Werewolves that, at the last full moon, killed multiple folks, and at the start of the novel have started to kill again. Erstwhile Chicago PD lieutenant Karrin Murphy enlists Dresden to help her to stop them before more people are killed. The werewolves soon connect to a twisting plot involving crime boss Johnny Marcone and megarich philanthropist Harley MacFinn.
I don’t generally think werewolves are a particularly interesting antagonist. Most books, films and TV shows featuring werewolves tend to feature one of two characters as their werewolf: an anti-villain, who doesn’t want to kill folks, but at every full moon becomes an unstoppable killing machine, inadvertently dangerous to those closest to him; or an all-out villain, who absolutely does want to kill folks, and intentionally at each full moon positions himself near his targets.
Fortunately, Butcher generally avoids these tropes (with one big but fun exception). In Butcher’s world, there aren’t just werewolves. There are loads of different types of them, as explained by Bob, Dresden’s possessed human skull. In ascending order of danger, there are werewolves (people who can intentionally change into wolves using magic, but retain their human mind), lycanthropes (people who retain their human form, but psychologically turn into a werewolf-like killing machine), hexenwolves (people who transform to a wolf using a magical talisman), and loup-garous (the classic turn-into-a-near-unstoppable-monster-at-full-moon werewolf).
Apart from lycanthropes, the various different groups all turn up during the plot, each forming different factions within the narrative. It’s an interesting twist on the werewolf formula, and it helps to give the different factions (if not really the different characters) specific qualities. The werewolves are weaker, but more sympathetically human. The hexenwolves are more dangerous, but more insane. And the loup-garou is by far the most dangerous of all, while being simultaneously as human as the werewolves and more insane than the hexenwolves. The loup-garou also stars in the standout set-piece of the book: an action sequence with it rampaging through Chicago Police Headquarters, with a fairly spectacular ending.
The plot itself is good in and of itself, but it also works to let Butcher do an excellent job of developing Dresden as a character, and developing his relationships with the major recurring supporting characters: Murphy, love interest Susan and (particularly) Marcone. These all feel like interesting, complex and strained relationships even at this early point in the series. And like in Storm Front, it does a nice job of making reference to potential areas of future interest (Dresden’s parents and his past, threats from demons and recent increases in supernatural activity) without having to go into great depth. The finale in particular has an exciting look into Dresden’s dark side, another area that’s clearly going to be explored in the future.
All of these things help it to feel even more like a living, breathing world inhabited by living, breathing people.
I wouldn’t say that Fool Moon is quite as good as Storm Front, but it’s certainly good enough to keep me excited for the next in the series. This is helped by the fact I seem to have got my brother hooked on the series and he’s already told me that the third book, Grave Peril, is great.
My only concern at this point is the possibility of formula setting in. The structure of Fool Moon and Storm Front is very similar. Opening up with a crime for Harry to investigate, adding further elements of players around that crime to up the stakes such that Harry can’t walk away, a twist to reveal the identity of the people beyond the crime, and then an action packed denouement.
While there is a chance of it getting formulaic, I’m fairly confident the series will avoid that. Really, it feels a bit like the start of the series of Supernatural (or any episodic sci-fi show): it starts with a few standalone episodes to introduce the characters and the world, before moving onto the overarching plot. There are a lot of intriguing elements, so I’ll definitely be plowing further into the series soon.
Read if you like: Storm Front (obviously), Supernatural, just good, well-paced books, humour.
Don’t read if you like: stark realism.
Next up: Legion by Brandon Sanderson