Friday, February 23, 2007

Honourable Mentions: The Dresden Files (volumes 1-6)

These books by Jim Butcher, which have recently become a TV series, are a combination of Supernatural drama and detective noir. Written in first person and based around the investigations of detective Harry Dresden, the twist is that Harry is not just a PI, he is also a wizard and publicly so. This not only has him in trouble with the White Council (the wizard’s ruling body) for drawing attention to their existence but also ensures that his cases are occult based.

Harry is also in trouble with the White Council as he has killed with magic, and to do so carries an automatic death penalty. In Harry’s case this was commuted to being watched and executed if he steps out of line as he was a teenager when it happened and he was acting in self-defence as his uncle was trying to make him a thrall and push him onto the black path.

There are many recurring characters in the books such as Murphy, a cop who is in charge of SI (special investigations) the wing of the police which looks into odd cases. The books contain a boggle factor element in that most ordinary folks do not believe in the supernatural, this includes many in SI but Murphy has seen enough that she does believe. Another constant character is Bob, an air spirit who is connected to a skull, the property of Harry’s uncle and now bound to serve Harry.

The reason for the Honourable mention is that there are several vampiric moments but (in the first six books) this ranges from the book being vampire based, the vampires having a cameo, the vampires being in the background but not active through to the vampires not appearing.

Book 1, Storm Front, is an example of the vampires in cameo. The book concerns a black sorcerer but during the course of the story Harry must do business with Bianca, the head of the Red Court. There are actually three types of vampires in the books split into three courts, Red, Black and White. The Red Court vampires are not entirely the sort of vampires we are used to and yet have familiar traits.

Firstly they look human, however they are far from it. Though human before being turned they are monstrous, the human shell now a mask, a camouflage for the hunt. They are fanged and produce a venom which is highly addictive and helps in their pursuit of prey. Their true form is described thus:

“…most stood naked, now, free of the flesh masks they wore. Black, flabby creatures, twisted, horrible faces, bellies bulging, mostly tight with fresh blood. Black eyes, empty of anything but hunger, glittered in the light. Long, skinny fingers ended in black claws, as did the grasping toes of their feet. Membranes stretched between their arms and flanks, horribly slime covered…” (from Grave Peril)

Faith magic, in other words damaging and holding them off with crosses or other signs of faith, can work but is difficult with the Red Court. An effective way to fight them is to slit their belly, causing the stolen blood to spill out and leaving them too weak to fight. Fire is a good method of Red Court destruction. They cannot stand sunlight.

Book two, Fool Moon, is a werewolf book and has no vampiric interaction at all so we skip that and head straight for book 3, Grave Peril.

This is a full vampire book and we meet the other two Courts. In Grave Peril Bianca sets Harry up to die, with help from Mavra of the Black Court. Set up with Harry, by his own father, is Thomas of the White Court. The resultant fight causes a situation where the wizards and the vampires find themselves at war as a result of Harry’s actions. It also leads to an on-running plot line where Susan, Harry’s girlfriend, is half-turned by the Red Court. She is given their strength and she also has their blood lust and if she should indulge it she will utterly turn. This leads to Harry’s quest to find a cure, though most agree one does not exist.

The Black Court are the most familiar of the vampires to us. These are dead things in the mode of Stoker’s Dracula. Indeed we find out in a later book that the White Court had Stoker write Dracula to leak the truth and this has lead to the near-extinction of the Black Court. Those of the Black Court who survived, however, are the oldest and most dangerous of their number.

The big difference between the Black Court and Stoker’s version is daylight, in this sunlight is deadly, though the oldest do not have to sleep and there is a hint that the very oldest, like Dracula in Stoker’s novel, can withstand it. As the book Blood Rites says: “They had acres of funky vampire powers, right out of Stoker’s book. They had the weaknesses too…”

We also meet the White Court. These are different again. Energy vampires, they are more human than the others. They can enter sunlight and standard vampire slaying techniques are fairly useless. They rapidly heal, though too much damage will kill them. These vampires work through lust and are often described, more accurately, as incubi and succubi. They are born vampires but the hunger does not take them until puberty and they only turn at their first sexual encounter. If that encounter is one of love they will not turn and become human, however if it is lust they turn and are slaves to the hunger which will, if allowed, destroy them.

The most effective method of dealing with them is love. They loose their power to manipulate the minds of those in love, one white court vampire has a permanent burn scar on their palm through picking up a wedding ring of someone truly in love with their spouse and to try and feed on someone, whose last sexual encounter was one based in true love, is deadly to them.

The fourth book, Summer Knight, has the background of the vampire/wizard war but does not actually feature a vampire, bar a dream sequence involving Susan – who has left the Chicago area to keep her from the temptation that is Harry. The book concerns itself with the fairy realm and a potential war between the summer and winter courts.

The fifth book, Death Masks, is a sub-plot vampire episode (as well as having a main plot concerning the Denarians, slaves to Fallen Angels and the thirty pieces of silver Judas took as well as the stolen Shroud of Turin) with Harry called to a duel by a member of the Red Court in order to solve the vampire/wizard war. There is also the appearance again of Thomas who, despite being a vampire, seems Hell-bent on saving Harry and the return of Susan. Susan is now a member of a secret organisation of half-turned vampires who actively fight the Red Court, she has been tattooed with a design that, when calmed is invisible and helps her fight the hunger and becomes visible as a warning when she is loosing control.

Book six, Blood Rites, is fully vampire. This is split between Mavra and a hit squad of Black Court vampires gunning for Harry. In this plot thread we find out about Renfields, thralls who have been twisted to psychotic madness and have a shelf life of about two years before they go postal and darkhounds, dogs infected with a low level of Black Court energy and used as guard-dogs.

Harry also becomes embroiled in the machinations of the White Court and the hatred of Thomas’ father who wants Dresden dead. In this we also discover why Thomas is so keen to help Harry and see the White Court in feeding mode where, “a cold wind seemed to gather around him. His features stretched, changing, his cheekbones starker, his eyes more sunken, his face more gaunt. His skin took on a shining, almost luminescent luster, like a fine pearl under moonlight. And his eyes changed as well. His irises flickered to a shade of chrome-colored silver, then bleached to white altogether.”

These are great books; Harry is a terrific character - a good man, perhaps too chivalrous for his own good, who finds he must tread a careful path of greys. There is no black and White for Harry. There is also a streak of humour through the books. The beginning of Blood Rites sees Harry rescuing puppy temple dogs that are guarded by demons in the form of flying monkeys. The demon’s attack is to scoop a handful of monkey poo which ignites like napalm when thrown! Well worth a read for vampire fans and fans of supernatural fiction generally.

From what I can gather there are at least three more books, which I will be getting at some point in the future, and of course there is the TV series. At the time of writing this, the UK is up to episode two. No vampiric action yet but IMDB indicates that episode 7, Bad Blood, has a character called Bianca. Whether I will do a further honourable mention for the TV series as a whole or a review of the vampire episode(s) is a judgement call I’ll make later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sound like good reads to me! I'll check em out if I see em.