I feel like I’ve been around the urban fantasy block. I read the first Dresden Files book a while ago, but unfortunately, the story didn’t grip me or entice me to continue. Skip years later and my boyfriend (who is a big fan of the Dresden Files TV show) decided he wanted to begin listening to the books on audio and wondered if I’d be interested in book clubbing. Book clubbing? Me? How could I refuse!
I’ve concluded from my own observations and other reader reviews that Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2) might be the worst of the series. It’s classic urban fantasy: our rough and tumble hero meets up with his cop friend to investigate a series of mystical murders until suddenly he becomes the suspect. But if vampires aren’t the reason, then it must be werewolves and suddenly Harry’s got a lot more to worry about than his Spagettios dinner…
Now, it might be because I’m an old fogey who mentally puts ridiculous imaginative flourishes and over-emphasizes to particular bits of dialogue or actions, but there are some pieces that require an itty bit of ridicule. Beyond continuously calling his cop-friend Karrin Murphy “Murphs” literally every other sentence, this was a doozy:
“I woke up someplace dark and warm. But then I opened my eyes, and it wasn’t dark anymore. Just dim.”
I like to read it aloud in my best Bruce Wayne/Batman voice. While Butcher seems proficient in some ridiculousness, he also has strokes of glory, particularly this:
“If the sun had suddenly risen into the sky, I could not have seen any more clearly than I did, all in glorious shades of blue and green and maroon and purple, as though God had dipped his brush into a late summer twilight and replaced all the darkness with those colors.”
And while I decidedly hated the scene where Dresden threw himself out of a moving vehicle, he made up for being ridiculous by explaining himself with this little bit of dialogue that actually turned an eye roll reminiscent of Liz Lemon into semi-approval:
“So I, uh, sort of threw myself out of the passenger seat of a moving car. Don’t look at me like that. I’m telling you, it made sense at the time.”
Oh Dresden. You’re one of those protagonists, but at least you can make fun of yourself.
While some parts of Fool Moon were foolish, it is integral to the series by creating the all Holy Grail of backstory. We learn about Harry’s mysterious first love Elaine, about the evil manipulations of his mentor, as well as indicators of Harry’s growing inner darkness, which lurks in the corners of the novel. During Fool Moon, Harry realizes the reader has been given an indication of his past. He frantically tries to show how every characters’ actions are his fault to almost make up for this and his guilt, justifications, and righteousness almost become too much to bear. It’s almost like Harry has to convince the reader to believe he’s genuinely a good person by expressing ‘good person’ feelings and that if the reader doesn’t believe him, he might just give into his inner darkness.
Beyond that, we learn that Harry’s mother might have been some kind of dark wizardess indeed if the hints dropped by the demon Chaunzaggoroth can be trusted. Beware, Harry, it’s in your blood. Additionally, the reader can begin to piece together Harry’s attitude toward women—his relationship hesitance and his strange ‘chauvinistic’ ways. Honestly, I would consider him a gentleman, but then and again, I’m not a gun-toting cop like Karrin Murphy. Ah, Karrin Murphy. I’m not sure what to make of you. She’s got trust issues from Book 1. Dresden feels responsible for her success and yes she’s a friend, but she seems more of a fickle love interest than Harry’s actual on-off-again-lover, the Arcane reporter Susan. The women of Butcher’s world fill their prescribed roles, but beyond that I’m at a loss in how to care for them.
Character development gets sidelined in favor of action. From start to finish, Harry pushes himself and his magic to the limits by getting shot, being beaten by not one, not two, but three types of werewolves. When the poor man does have a moment of reflection, it isn’t to explore his past, it’s to figure out how to live through the next few pages or how everything is his responsibility and he will solve the problem. Solve world peace, Harry. You can do it.
Tera West, our mysterious and always naked female side-character provides nothing but directives to get the reader through the novel alive and well. She’s a werewolf, but in so that she’s a wolf transformed from a wolf into a human. Nothing else. This left me dying with unanswered questions that would have enriched the book. How did she meet her cursed human fiancé? How did she decide to wrangle up a bunch of teenagers to make a pack? How did she decide to become a human in the first place? Dresden somehow trusts her and then he doesn’t. She was a character sadly unfulfilled.
Butcher’s various werewolf types was unique and interesting, but we are still brought back to the dark vs light theme and predictable offerings served up on a plate of ‘somehow it is all Harry’s fault’ with a sidedish of underdeveloped characters. For the urban fantasy genre, it hits all the marks: witty banter, much action, sexy ladies, and a leather duster but for me, I mentally wandered, particularly through the urban fantasy soliloquy at the end that sums up what happened After The Big Fight where our heroes have a tendency to sit on top of a building in their self-imposed isolation and watch over the city they saved from world shattering peril. Harry presents his thoughts as questions with a ‘let’s just improvise’ attitude that miraculously his plot armor can shield him through. I wonder if we seriously need paragraphs dedicated to such trauma, but I suppose that is the downfall of first person narrative.
What I will say is that Harry appears to me as a Beta male living in an Alpha’s world. I respect his dedication (and the variety of male-types) to fight the good fight and live up to an Alpha’s standard, all the while maintaining his horror at evil, destruction, and death. As of now, Harry hasn’t been beaten down by life. He’s not numb from his experiences. He’s not a shoot ‘em up cowboy (even though he kind of dresses like one) or a man hell-bent on isolation. Harry’s the kind of guy I could see settling down, having a few kids, and genuinely being happy. The fact that he’s carrying a gun and his career brings him up against death and destruction all day brings him at odds with what I would say defines his character. If the next 13 books have anything to say, Harry won’t be the sweet man I know now. Fool Moon set up critical indications for what will be explored later down the line and it’s for that reason that I’ll continue reading. While Fool Moon was a whirlwind of action that I grit my teeth though, I had to be reminded that this was an action flick, not a drama.
For all my ranting and raving, it’s now time to continue on with the next Gail Carriger book, Heartless. I’m also attempting to write a query letter for my newly finished novel and look for editors. Maybe one day I can read a scalding review of my novel by some random girl berating me for my inability to write and my miraculous ability to be published. One can only dream.