Monday, June 8, 2009
Book Review for Summer Knight, Book 4 in the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher.
I don’t often read fluff books because fluff books tend to be overly simplistic, badly written, and the equivalent to candy for your brain: sweet, sugary, and forgettable.
This book looked like fluff, but I read it anyway because, well it was assigned for the book club and because several people told me that they had enjoyed it. One of these people is a highly intellectual literary snob such as myself, and honestly it was her recommendation that made me consider if perhaps my initial judgment of “fluff” was misplaced.
It wasn’t, the book is indeed a fluff book (at least upon initial inspection)… but fluff in the fun, enjoyable ride, piece of banana cream pie sort of way. This was enjoyable fluff!
The story takes place in Chicago and is basically a detective novel. It’s just in this case the hard boiled detective has been replaced by a snarky wizard. Yes, I did say snarky. Oh, and wizard. We join Dresden as he attempts to solve a murder, keep peace between the warring faerie nations, and avoid getting killed by a group of (pardon the pun) blood thirsty vampires.
It is an adventure story full of intrigue, fights with trolls (in a Wal-Mart no less) and magic staircases that lead up and over Lake Michigan into the Faerie Battleground, and even a faerie godmother. What the book does extremely well is twofold. There is the constant juxtaposition of the Supernatural (wizards, spells, power shields, circles of power) with the natural (needing to pay rent, wishing the magic staircase was an escalator, having to find a robe, dealing with car trouble).
There is also the brilliant writing style that is conversational and pitch perfect. We see the events through the eyes of Dresden who is brilliantly self aware of both the dangers of his life and the bizarre bits that really just have to be laughed at. When he is attacked by a “plant monster” he acknowledges that he feels silly referring to it as a “plant monster” and yet should he call it by its proper name, well why bother? It is, essentially, a Plant Monster that is trying to kill him.
That could be it… a fun to read fluffy adventure with some magic and D&D shout outs and a well written narrative that inspires interest in reading more of the series.
But…. Nope. Butcher also manages to take a tentative step over into deep symbolism, writing at times with a mature sense of literary bravado. The story is about the two warring Faerie nations (Winter and Summer) but through that, the story is about balance. The balance of the seasons, the balance of power, the balance of the Natural and Supernatural, the balance of our past actions with our future hopes all are dealt with by Butcher with subtle sensitivity and an eye for the moral lesson even if it isn’t beat into the head of the reader.
Which, is why this book is not as fluffy as it pretends to be. In Summer Knight, Butcher has done what few others have managed, he has told a complex story about great and epic ideas through the medium of simple lives and simple goals while telling a simple fantasy story through epic characters and scenarios.
The execution of all those ideas is truly worth reading.
Thankfully you can enjoy this book without having read any of the other books in the series (which I found very helpful as I had not read any of the other books in the series. Feel free to start off with this one… and if you are wondering how the Dresden Files in book form compare to the Dresden Files the TV show, all I can tell you is that I haven’t seen the show yet but I was told that the producers took it “in a whole other direction.” Whatever that means.