Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Dresden Files: Fool Moon

I hate punny covers
I went into Fool Moon, the second Dresden Files book, fearing the worst. The first book, Storm Front, had been entertaining, but had some glaring flaws that made me wonder if the series would be able to keep my interest for much longer. The book felt like a young adult novel; it didn't seem to have much depth, driven almost entirely by constant action and movement. A side consequence of this was that, as a mystery novel, Storm Front failed to explain Dresden's magical capabilities. As a result, it became impossible to predict the killer and how Dresden would overcome him, making it feel like the writer was pulling it all out of his ass instead of having the novel play out on a rational level. The world just felt too random and unrefined, causing the novel to suffer as a whole. It was still enjoyable, but I wondered if it would be enough.

The Good Thing about Exposition

Thankfully, Fool Moon was much better. For what was probably the first time, I actually found myself thankful for a few sections of exposition where Dresden explains the rules of the world within which the mystery takes place. An example lies with how he explains the monsters within it. The suspects/villains in Fool Moon are werewolves, but unlike the "normal" variety, the werewolves in The Dresden Files have a number of different types. Some use empowered belts to shift into the animal forms. Others are trained how to transform by otherworldly creatures. And, finally, there are the rare ones that are massively powerful but have zero control over the transformation once the moon rises. Each of these different kinds of werewolves appear in the story, and their different tendencies and habits are explained well. Thus I actually found myself able to make a logical prediction of who the killer was. I was wrong (Jim Butcher is pretty damn good at writing these clever mysteries), but I was close.

Speaking of the different types of werewolves, one thing that made Fool Moon particularly enjoyable were the sheer amount of different sides/factions involved in the mystery. None of their motives were clear and good, and this made for tricky mental gymnastics when it came to speculating who the killer was. And, like every good character, even the nastiest ones have a good side to them that always make you wonder whether they are truly bad or not. Dresden's efforts to manipulate the factions and to play them off one another to determine who the killer was was exciting to watch. One other bonus was that the 'fight scenes' were a lot more skilfully written this time around.

Dammit, Dresden...

But while Fool Moon was even better than the first book, I still found myself irritated by one thing in particular. Dresden can occasionally act like a frickin' idiot, and he does so in the name of, "Oh, I don't want to get any of my friends hurt, even though they are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves" or, "I'm chivalrous, so I must keep all my female friends in the total dark despite the fact that them knowing things wouldn't hurt a flea." His idiocy would be excusable if it made rational sense, but it rarely does. For example, one of his friends is the police chief, but Dresden decides to not tell her anything despite the fact that she can: A. Muster a heckuva lot more firepower than he can. B. Act more maturely and intelligently. Not to mention: C. Telling her things would actually make her safer based on what they are up against. D. The misunderstanding that results leads to Dresden being pursued by the police for most of the story, because they know he is hiding something.

This is akin to, during the D-Day Landings in World War II, telling armed soldiers to stay back in Britain while you storm the beaches alone, because you wouldn't want them hurt. While it is nice to say, actually doing so seems pretty stupid, doesn't it? There are a number of times where Dresden does this, telling capable people that they need to stay out of it even when it is obvious that Dresden clearly needs the help. This aspect of his character is highly annoying to me and I hope that it is fixed in upcoming books.


I can now say with a lot more gusto that The Dresden Files is worth reading, book one and beyond. The reading is on the casual side (not as much depth as I'm used to), but still highly enjoyable. And it is definitely great to see the writing improve. Given that this is a series of 10+ books, this is a very good sign; I might actually end up reading them all!


+ 9.5 for a excellent hybridization of fantasy and hard-boiled crime mystery (though still a wee bit strange)
- .5 for lack of depth
- .5 because Dresden occasionally acts like an idiot for no good reason

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