Small Favor by Jim Butcher
Small Favor is the tenth book in Dresden Files series. I’ve reviewed the first nine, so I shan’t cover the basics. Things get off to a pretty sharp start here, as Harry is quickly attacked by three Billy Goats Gruff (I’m not even kidding). Following that, Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness, Queen of the Winter Court, and part-owner of Harry’s soul pops up to remind Harry that he still owes her two favours. And she’s calling one in: rescue Chicago’s pre-eminent gangster, Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who has been abducted forces unknown, using magical methods chaotic enough that they almost bring down an entire building to get at Marcone.
While investigating the building, Harry is jumped by three more Billy Goats Gruff, each bigger, stronger, smarter and more magically powerful than the three from the opening pages. And that quickly emerges as a B-story running through Small Favor: Harry being attacked by increasingly large and powerful Billy Goats Gruff. It does tie into the main story, but for most of the book it feels like a fun little diversion, just one more inconvenience in Harry’s already inconvenience-filled life. This isn’t a criticism. In fact, the Goats Gruff plotline is arguably the highlight of Small Favor. It’s great fun, particularly the final showdown with Eldest Gruff.
It emerges that the folks who’ve nabbed Marcone are the Order of the Blackened Denarius. Those would be the chaps who appeared in the fifth book (Death Masks), where Harry foiled their plot to steal the Turin Shroud and use it to create an apocalyptic plague. Look, if you can read that sentence and not instantly think “I need to read these books” you can probably skip the rest of this review.
The Denarians are a great crowd of villains: a rogues gallery of freaks of varying degrees of grotesqueness, led by one of the more human villains in the series, the gloriously named Nicodemus Archleone. They stand in direct opposition to the Knights of the Cross, the two remaining of whom both make extended appearances here: Michael Carpenter (father of Harry’s apprentice Molly) and Sanya.
The Denarians’ power comes from their possession by fallen angels inhabiting the 30 silver denariis paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. Two against 30 isn’t a particularly fair fight, but the Knights have managed to retrieve a decent chunk of the denariis, reducing Nicodemus’ group to the low double figures. And Harry now has access to a pretty nifty level of support, thanks to his previous adventures, supplemented this time round by Marcone’s goons of choice, who have Harry’s same approach to subtlety (i.e. they have heard of it, but it isn’t something that interests them).
Small Favor has a really entertaining plot, is absolutely jam packed with action, and works very well as a standalone in the series, but it actually feels like a bit of a step back for the series as a whole. The last couple of books seemed to be bringing the Black Council (the shadowy organisation that seems to be behind the events of most books in the series to date) to the fore, but it doesn’t really push this on (in fact, I can barely recall it being mentioned). There’s a conversation at the end that suggests the Black Council is far more wide-ranging than Harry expected, but feels slightly tacked-on, when compared to how this sort of information was woven seamlessly into the fabric of previous books.
That being said though, Small Favor is still an excellent book, just as every book in Dresden Files has been. The finale is particularly fun, taking place on a ley-line filled deserted island in the middle of Lake Michigan, on which Harry appears to have some sort of precognitive ability. Which is interesting, even before we get to any of the action that takes place there.
The characters continue to be well drawn, with Michael particularly outstanding in this one. The reappearance of Kincaid and The Archive is really welcome too. Harry’s nascent relationship with the head of the Wardens, Anastacia Luccio, is pretty interesting. That does feel a bit odd though. Harry regularly gets caught up in things that court, at a minimum, the disfavour of the Wardens (and at a maximum, beheading by them). So making their leader his girlfriend seems like something that is destined to fuck Harry from a very great height, from a few different directions. Luccio is good fun though, so I’ll let him off if it means she appears more regularly.
Why you read it: It’s The Dresden Files, stupid.
Why you shouldn’t read it: to get to this point in the series you’ve got to read roughly 3,150 pages.
Next up: Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks