Blood Rites by Jim Butcher
Dresden Files 6, here we go. This feels a bit like a watershed book for the series. Up to this point, the overarching plot, established from book three, is that the wizards are at war with the Red Court of vampires. Thus far, this has been a bit of a cold war, and its only really been mentioned in passing during the books since then; it wasn’t 100% clear whether Butcher was going to fully commit to this as a major plot point, especially as bits and pieces of the previous books were looking at ways that either side might be able to get out of the war with their honour intact. However, from Blood Rites, it definitely feels like the Red Court war will remain a major plot point going forward.
The plot starts out with Harry being contacted by one of my favourite recurring characters, Thomas Raith, a White Court vampire. Thomas wants Harry to help out one of Thomas’ friends, who has had a couple of the women he works with die in suspicious circumstances (death by a swarm of bees appearing in a car boot; getting run over by a car while water-skiing), and has heard that Harry might be able to protect them. Harry has a chivalrous streak about eight miles wide, so women being in danger is catnip to him. He’s always going to help. And the fact that Thomas’ friend happens to be a porn director, and the situation in which he is going to be helping these women is the set of a porn film, well, that’s just an inconvenience that Harry will have to live with.
Harry quickly figures that the women are being targeted by essentially a witches’ curse, and also figures out the source of said curse relatively quickly. Eventually, we build up to a conclusion that Harry succinctly sums up as “You want me to save the girl, overthrow the dark lord, and defend the innocents terrorized by dark magic, and you want me to do it because you’re .” The response to which is “That phrasing has way more melodrama in it than I’d would have used.” The plot itself isn’t that brilliant (definitely a step back from Death Masks), but what it folds into is great, especially as we get to learn more about Harry’s family. If Blood Rites isn’t hugely strong on plot, it’s very strong on revelations.
Once again, the characters are a real strength. I guess it all starts with Thomas Raith, who is probably the main supporting character. He was introduced in Grave Peril, as the bastard child of Lord Raith, the Lord of the White Court. House Raith tends to use him as the emissary they send when they diplomatically have to send someone, but also want people to be insulted about it. In Chicago’s supernatural world, there’s quite a demand for that sort of thing, so Thomas has popped up and been entertaining a few times so far.
Right, vampires. The Red Court are the monstrous man-bat type, who feed on the blood of people. Thomas’ White Court don’t feed so directly – they feed off the raw emotions of their prey. Basically, sex. So Thomas is some sort of louche sexual god, able to effortlessly seduce women at will. White Court vampires seem fairly human, most of the time, but when they need to they are able to become high flying superhero vampires. A handy little skill.
To flesh out the White Court, we get to meet Thomas’ half-sister Lara, and Lord Raith himself. Lord Raith is kind of a shit character. It feels like he’s just there to serve the plot, rather than to actually be a good character in and of himself. Lara is entertaining though, as she’s basically a more ruthless female version of Thomas, which is something Harry isn’t particularly well equipped to deal with (what with the whole supernatural seductress thing combined with the fact that Harry hasn’t been laid in a little while).
In addition to the White Court folks, we get a little more of the Black Court, in the shape of Mavra. The Black Court are the old school, Dracula-style of vampires – bloodsucking coffin dwellers, weak to crosses, stakes and garlic. The Black Court is the smallest of the Courts, because it’s tough to survive when you’re hunted – it’s implied that the White Council encouraged the publication of Dracula as a way of creating more awareness of the Black Court, which is a neat little joke.
Mavra was also introduced in Grave Peril, in which it was shown that not only was she a vampire, but that she was also a practioner of magic (a sorcerer at least, apparently), which is a winning combination. And she does not like Harry (many people fit into that category). She’s back in town, and gunning for Harry. Luckily for Harry, while Black Court vampires are pretty dangerous, they’re also pretty predictable. He’s able to find their nest, and, with Murphy and Kincaid (the Archive’s bodyguard and ludicrously expensive mercenary for hire) in tow and mentor Ebenezar McCoy waiting outside in the car, lay siege to it. With consequences, none of which were particularly good.
One of the consequences of getting McCoy involved is that Harry learns he’s the White Council’s designated assassin (the Blackstaff). I’m a few books further on in the series, and it’s not happened yet, but I’m about 900% certain that Harry will become the Blackstaff at some point.
Anyway, avoiding any blatant spoilers or discussion of the fairly important twists and turns, we get to a point where, at the end of the day, Harry saves the girl (sort of), defeats the dark lord (kind of), doesn’t really learn any lessons, and ends up with two new housemates (one of which is a puppy called Mouse).
Read if you like: The other Dresden Files books
Don’t read if you like: The other Dresden Files books
Next up: Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.