Death Masks (Dresden #5), by Jim Butcher

Some things aren’t meant to go together. Things like oil and water. Orange juice and toothpaste.
Wizards and television.

  • TITLE: Death Masks (The Dresden Files #6)
  • AUTHOR: Jim Butcher
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 5th August 2003
  • PUBLISHER: Orbit (UK)

If you’re a fan of Harry Dresden himself, as well as the Dresden Files as a whole, then Death Masks is quite a punishing read. Harry gets himself into all the usual trouble—when doesn’t he?—but this time, he really gets hurt. We’re not talking physically, either: Susan is back.

But not for good, she says, and Harry would be an idiot to believe otherwise. So, instead, he throws himself full throttle into what lies ahead in one of the most pivotal books in the series since the events of Grave Peril. It’s a tough read in that there’s a lot of loose philosophy, a lot of thoughts woven into the story on religion and spirituality, and overall it’s tough, because it’s actually quite a sad instalment of the Dresden Files.

It’s also excellent.

Death Masks has nothing on Summer Knight for me; it’s been my favourite so far, followed by Fool Moon. However, as much as both Grave Peril and Death Masks have been my least favourites (bearing in mind, I freaking love the whole series so far, so being a ‘least favourite’ doesn’t really make a difference) thus far in terms of enjoyment, they’re extremely important books in the series. A lot happens in Death Masks.

Harry keeps being fed information, subtle hints about his mother’s past, and his family. The war between the Red Court and the White Council progresses, and new events are set up, including a duel between Harry and one of the Red Court vampires: a duel that Ortega (remember him from Grave Peril?) insists Harry must accept, lest everything he loves and holds dear be threatened. Harry’s relationship, and more of the true nature of the Knights of the Cross is revealed, and the other two Knights are introduced.

I liked the introduction of the Knights possibly more than anything else in this book. The swords, supposedly bearing a piece of wood from the cross, couldn’t scream Christianity and God more if they tried. It’s awkward: what if the reader doesn’t believe in God? What if the reader has an opposing religious view and that Butcher writes so openly about the swords being tools of God offends? Well, there’s no chance of that.

Butcher tackles religion in an excellent fashion, one that I am very partial to (if you’re interested at all, I’m a Pagan, and I may blog about this soon). The Knights of the Cross are not categorically Christian. Michael is the exception. Sanya and Shiro—Russian and Japanese—both hold different faiths, but understand that God is simply an energy, or, as Voltaire suggested: one of the many names that “god” goes by. It’s a way of presenting the Knights that I enjoy. There’s no religious baggage, no rolling of the eyes at dogma and doctrine. In fact, it makes the Knights personable and accessible as characters. It’s a good call on Butcher’s part.

Through the Knights is where Butcher slips little morsels of philosophy, and it makes the book somehow more valid and authentic. It’s a clear sign that the Dresden Files are growing up, maturing as they develop, whilst still retaining all the break-neck speed and thrills that make a Dresden book a Dresden book.

The pacing is excellent, as usual, and the familiar cast is always a pleasure to read. Murphy and the Knights feature more in this instalment than the Werewolves, and it’s nice to be back with Michael and the Knights. It’s fun.

The fun balances out the fact that this is a heavy Dresden novel, and it marks yet another turning point for the series as it grows darker and deeper. The path Harry walks is not a light one, and by the end of this book, it’s clear it’s only going to get darker, and not by his own volition. There are secrets and mysteries Harry is unaware of and I suspect from here onwards through the series, segments and glimpses of these are to be shared.

Death Masks was a good book, enjoyable, fast-moving and fun. It also felt like an “important” book in the series, a stronger milestone than Grave Peril. Butcher manages to keep the story, the pace and the interest strong this far into a series, without faltering once. The Dresden Files are the urban fantasy series that everyone should read—they just work.

Dark, funny, and achingly original, Butcher was onto a winner when he wrote Storm Front, and solidified that success in Fool Moon. Now we’re done with book five and Butcher doesn’t even need to step into the water to kick the other fish out: he owns the pool.

4/5

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