Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review: Fool Moon, by Jim Butcher. 2nd Book in the Harry Dresden files

Harry Dresden is back investigating a series of brutal and vicious murders, people torn apart by what looks like wild animals – wolves in fact. There being a somewhat lack of wolves in Chicago, this points us in one direction. Actually it points us in several directions as it turns out there are several variations on the theme of werewolf – and several denizens of the city who may count.

Harry has to sort through the threads, work with the local police hindered by their distrust and the looming presence of both the FBI and an Internal Affairs inquiry and try to avoid working for a notorious mob boss with whom he has been closely linked because of his past activities. Worse for him, his investigations have aroused the anger of those he has investigated – both guilty and innocent – and he faces several more attempts on his life to dance around while still trying to find the truth.

Like Storm Front, I think this book struck a great balance. It has several possible suspects, several different supernatural creatures, any of which could have been the murderers creates a genuine mystery - without being convoluted or confusing. In even a conventional murder mystery that's a difficult balance to strike

I also liked the world building – the bringing together of a variety of werewolf myths from around the world as varying and difficult antagonists and possible suspects in the book - each of which could be the murderer and many of them actively hunting or needing Harry for various reasons. We also see Harry's power continue to be develop and displayed for us – an excellent bit of world building that requires gentle showing rather than bludgeoning telling. And we're reminded that, yes, harry is a severely powerful and extremely dangerous being – while at the same time being very flawed and very human.

In many ways I'm in 2 minds about this review. Not because I didn't like the book – but because I feel I have so little to say that contrasts with what I said about Storm Front. It's another nuanced and well balanced mystery. It has a strong and informed world. The characterisation of Harry seems very real, while at the same time the books are so centred on him that the side-characters feel rather under-done. This is particularly problematic when we consider that these characters are women.

Harry continues to be a flawed, but powerful figure. He continues to have his strength and his weaknesses. He continues to be “chivalrous” in a way that is both patronising and paternalistic – and he continues to be called out for said arseholery. Still, too often the women, while tending to be strong, independent and willing to tell him to go fuck himself, are also too ready to be on call and too much in need of his help. It doesn't quite go into the territory of “oh you silly women with your independence, can't you see you need him?” Spunkiness, but it gets close at times.

The book continues to be white as white can be and straight as straight can be.

The main difference I see in this book contrasting to the first is the ongoing strained relationship between him and Murphy that is a source of tension between them – whether either can trust the other, whether they have any friendship, whether there's sexual tension between them. In some ways it irritates me because I would like to see some development there. It seems to move from tension to tension and I'm not entirely sure either has as much reason to distrust each other as they seem to think. I also find Murphy's repeated arresting him for very dubious reason to be, well, dubious and irritating. I'd quite like this whole chapter of the story to be put to bed

There's also the ongoing relationship between Harry and his reported girlfriend, Susan. I think one thing that frustrates me here is that there has been apparently a lot happening in the downtime – especially in this relationship. They've gone from bare acquaintances to a relatively close couple, each aware of each other's foibles. I feel it's vaguely cheating that a lot of development here seems to have happened off-scene. It makes it all feel far shallower than they portray it – as this relationship is apparently developing toward twu luv but we've skipped too many steps on the path

Or maybe because I'm not entirely sold on Susan as a character. She seems strong and independent and ready and willing to aggressively pursue her own goals, her own career and her own agenda. Yet at the same time she seems fairly ready to leap when Harry calls, ready to come when called and act when needed. Admittedly Harry doesn't call on her casually like that and it's always when big important stuff is needed, but still – I'm not sure I follow this relationship. I think I prefer Murphy to Susan.

A semi-criticism I have of those book is that it feels only vaguely connected to the last one. Sure some of the side characters are the same, but the side-characters so far seem to be very very very side indeed – it's very much Harry Dresden in the focus. Maybe it's because it's early in the series, but 2 books without any kind of emerging meta-plot isn't my favourite thing. Even without the meta-plot, there's not a huge sense of flow between the books (and meta-plot certainly isn't the only way to establish this) – they don't feel connected. I feel each novel is very much a stand-alone book that just happens to involve Harry Dresden as the main character. I alsop can't put my finger on exactly why it feels that way – since even Kelley Armstrong, who often rotated protagonists in her books – felt more coherently connected than this

Of course, this is very much your mileage may vary moment – it's a matter of personal taste. My favourite books tend to have an ongoing story with ongoing themes and issues, so I acknowledge this isn't so much a criticism as a differing taste. I'm also going to allow that, being the second book of a long series, it's possible for this to be more introductory.

On the whole, again I have to say I loved the book. I don't think it is clear enough in this review – and the ongoing erasure is vexing – but these are good books. They have a strong world, a strong character and an involved, deep without being convoluted storyline – and yes, I would recommend them.