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Dead Beat (The Dresden Files, Book 7) Mass Market Paperback – May 2, 2006
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Harry Dresden's first hardcover adventure finds Chicago's preeminent wizard coping with his new roommate--vampire half-brother Thomas. Harry soon has problems bigger than Thomas' clutter to deal with. Marva, one of Harry's vampire foes, summons him with a threat to his police-lieutenant friend, Karrin Murphy. Marva demands Harry get the Word of Kemmler for her, or she'll frame Murphy for murder. Harry doesn't even know what the Word is, but while he's trying to find out, and also what damage Marva will be able to do with it, several necromancers descend on Chicago. When Harry learns that the newcomers are students of Kemmler, an evil wizard who mastered ancient spirits in a way no one has since, he discovers that they are seeking the Word, too, in hopes of seizing the powerful knowledge within it and calling forth a powerful creature known as the Erlking. Butcher's latest maintains the momentum of previous Dresden outings and builds the suspense right up to a rousing conclusion. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Praise for the Dresden Files
“Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe.”—Entertainment Weekly
“Fans of Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff will love this series.”—Midwest Book Review
“Superlative.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“One of the most enjoyable marriages of the fantasy and mystery genres on the shelves.”—Cinescape
“Butcher...spins an excellent noirish detective yarn in a well-crafted, supernaturally-charged setting. The supporting cast is again fantastic, and Harry’s wit continues to fly in the face of a peril-fraught plot.”—Booklist (starred review)
“What’s not to like about this series?...It takes the best elements of urban fantasy, mixes it with some good old-fashioned noir mystery, tosses in a dash of romance and a lot of high-octane action, shakes, stirs, and serves.”—SF Site
“A tricky plot complete with against-the-clock pacing, firefights, explosions, and plenty of magic. Longtime series fans as well as newcomers drawn by the SciFi Channel’s TV series based on the novels should find this supernatural mystery a real winner.”—Library Journal
“What would you get if you crossed Spenser with Merlin? Probably you would come up with someone very like Harry Dresden, wizard, tough guy and star of [the Dresden Files].”—The Washington Times
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Halloween is just around the corner and wizard and somewhat detective Harry Dresden agrees to meet Mavra, head of the vampire Black Court. She threatens to use evidence that would get Murphy imprisoned or worse in order to blackmail Harry to get something called The Word of Kemmler to her in 3 days. Her other condition is that he must not seek help from anyone and should tell no one of the blackmail threat against Murphy, who is actually on vacation together with the assassin Kincaid.
The book turns out to be a fabled manuscript created by the necromancer Kemmler, who had been defeated by the White Council many years before. It has been believed that Kemmler and all of his disciples had been killed and that all copies of his texts had also been destroyed. But the fact that Mavra was looking for it to leads Dresden to suspect that it's real. And given the fact that there are actually several groups of Kemmler's followers active in the city looking for the book, there's a heck f a lot of danger for Harry to face alone.
What I Liked: The whole discussion related to the role of necromancy in this world and how gravely the White Council deals with such threats was an interesting angle to take in this story. It's not just as simple as dark wizards using skeletons and zombies to fight Harry. Like the other disciplines of magic covered in the books, it turns out that necromancy has different approaches and applications and each of the followers of Kemmler has a different aspect of the magical art that they prefer to use.
What was most striking to me was a brief scene involving Mab, Queen of the Winter Court. We last really got to see her in action in Summer Knight with a story that ended with her offering Harry the role of Knight of the Winter Court. As much as he didn't take the deal, it's clear that Mab maintains an interest in him and Harry just continues to prove why he's worthy of Winter as well.
Oh, and the book also nicely tackles the Wardens beyond our ever judgmental friend Morgan. That was a nice little development.
What Could Have Been Better: The bit with Murphy and Kincaid felt rather left field, especially given how Murphy had initially reacted to his life as a contract killer. Sure, they fought the vampires of the Black Court side-by-side and there's some respect between the two. But for them to go on a seemingly romantic out of town getaway was strange. I know it's the sort of plot twist meant to upset readers and make them decide whether or not they root for a future relationship between Harry and Murphy, but that's really just a minor subpoint.
The book's core mystery had a lot of moving parts but it didn't all come together in a meaningful or least significant manner. They even found a way to somewhat bring in the Chicago crime underground into the mix of things but overall impact felt like more a weird need to shift characters in order to fulfill plot requirements. This happens all the time but it felt a little more blatant in this book in particular.
TL;DR: Dead Beat is a great continuation of the series and it features a lot of great fights that really test the limits of magical creativity. It has Harry going through some major character changes as well that are sure to have a significant impact on him in the grand scheme of things.
In case it's not apparent, there's going to be some spoilers going forward. Back in book five (Death Masks), Harry Dresden made a decision to pick up a coin. Innocuous enough if the coin had not been the fetter of Lasciel, a fallen angel of the Order of the Black Denarians. In Dead Beat Dresden must confront the consequences of that decision. Despite putting the coin behind a powerful binding, a shadow of Lasciel has inhabited Dresden's mind. One after-effect of this indwelling is Dresden's magic being augmented by Hellfire, a powerful otherworldly substance.
As a character Dresden has always been a hero. He's practical and pragmatic to a degree but he's always been written by Butcher as possessing a strong moral center. In past novels, Dresden has been offered greater power but always turned it down. In Dead Beat, Butcher puts his main character into a fight Dresden simply cannot win. Rather than use a deus ex machine or some outlandish new power that appears simply to resolve the plot, Butcher has Dresden compromise his moral center just a bit to give himself a fighting chance. Dresden agonizes over this decision but he comes up with the necessary rationalization.
Lasciel's shadow is an intriguing addition to the Dresdenverse. Temptress seems to be the easiest designation but that would be rather simplistic. Lasciel is cunning and I would venture to say she has the potential to be as diabolical as the Denarian attached to Nicodemus. While she makes multiple statements to her desire to simply help Harry, Dresden and the readers are left with the overwhelming feeling there's more behind her pleas. It's an interesting development and I'm looking forward to how it grows in future novels.
Speaking of interesting developments, Dead Beat progresses the war begun in Grave Peril to a zenith. One of the downsides of a first-person narrative is the lack of scope and scale. Having an overarching metaplot is excellent but with a first-person narration it requires characters to arrive and become exposition-heavy talking heads (as opposed to Bob the Skull, who's a tongue-in-cheek talking head). Butcher handles such scenes well. The war update in Dead Beat drags on a bit too long but it serves a necessary purpose. Butcher is setting the stage for the war with the Red Court draw to a close but it's a conflict that will leave the universe Dresden lives in worse for the wear.
The novel has the excellent set-piece moments a reader should expect from the Dresden Files. The title reveals plenty of the story elements. Butcher makes good use of the undead in this book. The standard zombies make an appearance as well as ghosts. Butcher uses the undead in a fashion similar to other supernatural in this series: he highlights how terrifying they can be. It wouldn't be a Dresden novel without a fair amount of wisecracks and witty banter. Butcher devotes a good chuck of the opening to bringing Butters (a recent addition to the mundane human cast) into the fold fully. The conversation between Dresden and Butters concerning this universe's version of the Masquerade is the first time Butcher has put the concept on paper in full detail. It's a minor point for me (having read enough stories that use a Masquerade of some kind) but one I felt needed to be detailed. For others new to this concept, it might be a little difficult to swallow, especially considering the events of the novel.
I enjoyed Dead Beat as much as I've enjoyed the other books in the series. I can see some of the end-game threads start to form. Butcher is laying in place the foundation for the next several novels and the war that has consumed much of what Dresden cares about. To say I'm intrigued is a vast understatement. Seven books into this series and I still find reasons to enjoy it and to keep reading. I definitely recommend Dead Beat and would suggest getting into the Dresden bandwagon.