Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
Proven Guilty is the eighth book in The Dresden Files series, and we’re fast approaching the point where I basically refused to read anything that didn’t feature Harry Dresden because the books became so flipping good and I needed more Harry Dresden dammit. The previous book in the series, Dead Beat, was also fantastic, and Proven Guilty sort of showed that this wasn’t a fluke, but was in fact the expected standard for latter half of the series to date. As usual, there’ll be spoilers up to and including the end of Dead Beat.
In the last act of Dead Beat (see, spoilers), Harry was inducted as a Warden of the White Council (essentially the Council’s police force and army). Despite spending his adult life distrusting the Wardens (what with them mostly wanting to kill him) and now being one of them, it’s not the identity crisis that you might expect for Harry: the job entails dealing with any supernatural threats to Chicago and the surrounding area (well, the whole eastern United States), and Harry would have been doing that anyway. And now he gets paid for it. Score.
Unfortunately, it also means he needs to do distasteful things decreed by the White Council, like attend the execution of young wizards who have broken the Laws of Magic, and taking whatever investigations the White Council foists upon him: in this case a) finding out why the Faeries haven’t been getting involved in the war with the Red Court, despite all logic and honour dictating that they should, and b) investigating black magic that’s popping up in Chicago. But before he can do much in the way of investigating either, he has to bail the boyfriend of Molly Carpenter (oldest daughter of Michael, the Knight of the Cross) out of prison on an assault charge, which he is adamant he didn’t commit.
Fortunately though, Molly’s boyfriend’s case ties in nicely to Harry’s, as said assault shows plenty of signs of the black magic that Harry was looking for. It took place at SplatterCon, a horror film festival, and as Harry begins his investigation a further attack takes place, and the culprit is revealed to be… a character from a horror film. A few of these pop up throughout the book, always fictionalised for the Dresden Files universe, but always eerily similar to well-known horror characters.
For about half of Proven Guilty, it feels like a bit of a step back from Dead Beat (partly as there’s not a zombie tyrannosaurus rex in sight). This is particularly the case for the monsters Harry is facing, as they are pretty similar to the Nightmare from Grave Peril, but with Harry more powerful and better prepared to face them down. But as the novel moves on the stakes increase from a few unnamed denizens of Chicago facing death or mental anguish if Harry doesn’t sort things out, to the Harry-is-going-to-get-fucked-from-one-of-multiple-directions level that has come to mark the best books in the series to date. It also ties together many of the plots from previous books to significantly intensify the overall conflict that Harry is involved in. It escalates so brilliantly to the conclusion that I had no choice but to read the next book in the series immediately after this one. Seriously, I was forced.
Beyond the plot, the other main strengths of the book are two of the Carpenter family: Molly and her mum, Charity. Charity has appeared in a few books so far, and I’ve not particularly liked her as a character. Or rather, she’s a decent character, but I don’t like her relationship with Harry. To this point, she’s been hugely protective and supportive of every single person that she comes across, but massively antagonistic to Harry, without much in the way of a reason. It hasn’t seemed hugely logical: she’s happy for Michael to put himself in harm’s way, but just not when Harry is involved, no matter what. But what we find out about her in Proven Guilty really reconciles this contradiction in her character, and made me reconsider my reaction to her from previous books. Instead of seeming needlessly hostile to Harry and Harry alone just because she fancies it, she now comes off as fiercely protective, which fits perfectly with the character that she’s been established to be.
Molly, well, for fear of spoilers I shan’t go into details. But she’s just great fun. She quickly feels like a well-rounded character, has top notch chemistry with Harry, plenty of mystery and unpredictability to keep her interesting, and enough heart and naivety to make you want to root for her. She’s set to feature prominently in future books, so I’ll probably have more praise for her character in a future review.
At this point, I figure I’m preaching to the converted: if you’re not interested in reading The Dresden Files, little of my gushing will get you interested now. And if you’re reading, then I’m not going to stop you. But it does feel like after Proven Guilty I can really, really recommend the series, not just as good books on their own, but as a strong series. Each of the books individually has worked really well, but at this point it feels like they are starting to come together into something stronger than the sum of their parts, which is actually really praiseworthy, because it’s so rare. I can’t think of any other series which are able to do so many satisfying, self-contained stories so consistently, but also tie this together into a wider mythos that just adds to the standing of the series as a whole.
Why you should read it: because it’s probably the best entry to date in a great series.
Why you shouldn’t read it: well, you need to read seven books to get to it, and there are six more after that.
Next up: White Night by Jim Butcher