White Night by Jim Butcher
I’d been so good at rationing myself to only reading a Dresden Files book every other book, rather than just ploughing through the whole series in one big binge. But Proven Guilty was so good that I had to read White Night straight after.
Bah. White Night was a step back from Proven Guilty. It’s still good, and has an excellent finale, but the first couple of acts are pretty slow, so that even with a great final act, as a whole White Night is a definite step back from the last few books in the series. To be honest, its probably the weakest in the series to date.
White Night begins with Harry being called to the scene of an apparent suicide that isn’t (it’s murder), and is one of a series of such incidents, some with dead bodies, some with simply missing persons. In all of these, the victim is someone with evidence of some small magical talent. Enough to do minor magic, not enough to be classed as a wizard, or, evidently, to effectively protect themselves against whatever is hunting them.
The issue for Harry is that there are two pieces of evidence related to the incidents: some witnesses report seeing a man in a grey cloak (like Harry’s Warden’s cloak); others report seeing an unfeasibly beautiful man who matches the description of Thomas Raith, Harry’s vampire half-brother. So the community of practitioners that Harry is seeking to help suspect that’s he’s involved, and Harry is worried that his brother has given into his baser nature.
It’s a good setup, but unfortunately it doesn’t really lead anywhere particularly interesting (shockingly, it isn’t Harry and Thomas behind it). Then it becomes something of a stock whodunit for a while (admittedly a stock whodunit doesn’t usually include wisecracking wizards), although it does eventually lead up to a very strong finale. That’s a great action sequence that escalates absolutely marvellously, and gives a neat and intelligent twist about the true nature of what’s been going on which fits in perfectly with the nature of the people involved. It’s just a pity that what comes before is a bit dull.
The most highlight of White Night is undoubtedly Harry’s relationship with Lasciel. I’ve not really mentioned her in previous reviews, as she’s a pretty minor character in most of them, but she’s more important here. Back at the conclusion of book five, Death Masks, Harry picked up one of cursed Denarii given to Judas for betraying Jesus (yep) that was inhabited by a fallen angel, Lasciel. This gave Lasciel the ability to appear in Harry’s subconscious, and gave Harry a big boost to his magical power, and her 2,000 years of experience also gave Harry a somewhat spectacular additional source of intelligence and information. However, Harry has consistently refused to physically take up the Denari (it’s buried in his basement) and access the full scope of Lasciel’s power (and give in to her will) despite her constant temptation of him.
It’s been a really good relationship between the two characters, even if it only ever occurs in Harry’s head. The relationship has evolved organically over the four books, and both Harry and Lasciel’s characters have evolved with it. It says a lot about how obdurate Harry can be that he can affect the character of a 2,000 year old being, despite Lasciel being pretty set in her ways by now.
The other highlight of White Night is how it links into the plot of the series as a whole. At the conclusion of Proven Guilty, Harry and his mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, agreed that there was a shadowy organisation behind much of what had happened in previous books, which they dubbed the Black Council (as opposed to the wizards’ White Council). They’d concluded it includes an unknown traitor within the White Council, most likely a member of the Senior Council (the seven most powerful wizards on the White Council). It also emerges that Cowl, who was the most powerful of the necromancers that Harry faced in Dead Beat, isn’t as dead as originally believed, and is involved in some shady way with the kidnappings and murders.
During Dead Beat Harry mentioned that Cowl’s powers were of a Senior Council sort of level, and his face has never been seen, so it will be interesting to see what his true identity is. Hell, Harry said that Cowl’s magic was stronger than McCoy’s, and McCoy is considered to be among the most powerful wizards in the world for straight up destruction.
I have my suspicions about who Cowl must be, assuming Harry’s pegging of him as Senior Council level strength is accurate. He’s clearly male, and there are five male members of the Senior Council: McCoy, who we can count out. It’s probably safe to discount the Gatekeeper Rashid, who has generally been supportive of Harry (and was responsible for saving Molly from a death sentence in Proven Guilty), and Injun Joe, who is McCoy’s strongest ally on the Council. So that only leaves the Merlin (the leader of the Senior Council) and LaFortier (one of Merlin’s two lackies on the Senior Council). In Dead Beat, Cowl also appeared with Kumori, an Asian woman who seems to fit a similar description to Ancient Mai, the Merlin’s other lacky.
Really, Merlin is the one who makes more sense than LaFortier. Both are antagonistic to Harry, but Merlin seems to be a more developed character. If you’re going to have a twist to reveal a character to be a traitor, it helps if that character is at least somewhat developed. It could, I suppose, be a former Senior Council wizard thought dead (Petrovich, who was killed by Red Court vampires in Summer Knight), or another wizard of near-Senior Council level, although none of these are well-developed characters, so the Merlin makes the most sense.
All in all, White Night is probably a book that works better as part of the series than as a standalone. The most interesting parts about it are how it fits in to the rest of the series, rather than anything that it does on its own. But it still feels like a bit of a step back from Dead Beat and Proven Guilty.
Rating: 7/10 as a standalone, probably 8/10 as part of the series.
Why you should read it: because it’s another interesting Dresden Files book.
Why you shouldn’t read it: because it doesn’t add a huge amount to the series to date, and is arguably the weakest entry.
Up next: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch