Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks
Death Masks by Jim Butcher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I don't know why I read these.

Okay, I know why I read them. James Marsters narrates the audio books, and he manages to turn the unlikable narrator into something less of a jerk. Still, after five installments, it feels like the books are going in circles. The same things happen, often in the same words, and nothing really changes.

In this book, Harry Dresden starts off in a TV studio, on a Springer-esque talk show. He's there to meet a contact, who doesn't want to be seen with him, except on TV, apparently. While he's there, Harry gets threatened by a vampire, and hired to retrieve the Shroud of Turin.

Up to this point, Harry has been painted as agnostic, though there's been a strong thread of the power of the Christian faith equaling the darker forces he taps into. Faced with a Russian atheist who wields one of the holy swords, though, Harry immediately starts proselytizing. Having just braced himself to defend his own lack of faith, it came as a rather curious about-face.

Harry meets another holy warrior, or whatever they're supposed to be called, an Asian stereotype named Shiro. Shiro talks like Mr. Miyagi, and has the same blinding competency for fighting that he doesn't want to use. He's also a mentor, both to Michael Carpenter, a character we were introduced to a couple of books ago, and to Harry. If this is what diversity looks like in the Dresden universe, I'd rather other ethnicities were left out of it.

And, of course, there's the casual sexism in Harry's "chivalry," which these nasty women-substitutes (they're not real women, just shadow puppets written by someone who doesn't seem to like women) then take advantage of to thicken the plot.

The tension I found in earlier books wasn't even there. I felt like Harry spent half the book watching other people fight and kill one another. There were very few moments when I felt like Harry, himself, was in danger. Other people kept showing up to pull him out of whatever scrape he'd gotten himself into, and I knew they would, every time. The ending felt needlessly drawn out.

A lot of my friends like these books, and I'm often reluctant to share my full opinion, because I don't like upsetting my friends. But I just don't think they're the be-all, end-all of urban fantasy. (Or, if they are, urban fantasy is in trouble.) I think they're a drawn-out concept spread too thin, with geeky references tossed in to appease the fanboys. Harry kept alluding to comic books in this volume, and I was rather surprised he had time to read them, considering how many pages he spends whining about how little time he has to sleep.

I don't know if I'll pick up the next book. I'm told they improve after this, and that I haven't hit the peak, yet. I also heard that about Grave Peril, and I wasn't impressed with that one.

We'll see if my friend will lend me the audio book for the next one, knowing how I feel about them, I guess.

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