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Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks - Jim Butcher

Note: This is the book where reading them out of order stars to do you an injustice. It does work as a stand alone to some extend, but you will get major spoilers for the previous books in the series and it also pulls in characters we have met before. So I recommend reading the first 4 books before you jump into this one.

 

Harry is about to have yet another tough weekend. It’s not going to be just one thing coming down hard on him. Nope. He’s going to have to deal with John Marcone (Chicago’s crime lord), hunting for the Shroud of Turin, Michael Carpenter’s fiery wife Charity, his old girlfriend Susan Rodriguez (who’s dealing with her semi-vampiric state), a scheduled duel with a Red Court vampire, and a new breed of bad guy – the Denarians. It’s amazing Harry gets to be as old as he does.

I’ve been so-so about the character Susan for the series so far. This is the book that changes my opinion of her. She took a very hard hit back in Book 3 (Grave Peril) and I can see that it sobered her. Harry had been telling her again and again that the supernatural beasties she so wanted to catch on camera and write about were very dangerous. She really didn’t take those multiple warnings to heart and it cost her dearly. So here she returns to the series with this new and weighty knowledge. She’s also learned the advantages of body armor, weapons, hand-to-hand combat training, and following Harry’s orders in the midst of a fight. She’s not a total bad ass, but she has learned a bit and she does have some vampiric strength too.

Wow! The Denarians! Let me say that these are some of the most dangerous foes yet for the series. The Denarians, lead by Nicodemus, are a collection of fallen angels/demons. Each one resides within a coin and the owner of that coin can communicate with the specific demon, gaining knowledge and power. Of course each demon does their best to insinuate themselves into their master’s life and eventually take it over. Couple that with the supposed powers of the Shroud of Turin and you have a formula for disaster for Chicago. Which means that Michael Carpenter, knight templar extraordinaire, is returned to the story. And he brought friends (Shiro from Japan and Sanya from Russia).

As always, the plot is fast-paced and with the several threads weaving in and out of each other, I was never bored. Butcher does a great job of packing character development into the little downtimes (such as driving from point A to point B) the plot permits. For instance, Charity and Harry get to have chat while making dinner together. Charity is not a fan of Harry and they get to clear the air a little.

The duel with the Red Court vampire War Lord Ortega comes up early but doesn’t happen until later in the book. This particular plot thread brings into play two very interesting side characters –  the Archive (who presides over the duel to ensure fairness and record the outcome) and her bodyguard Kincaide. Also, Thomas (the white court vampire we met in Book 3) makes a reappearance. The White Council (ruling body of good wizards) are quite willing to sacrifice Harry if it means an end to the war with the Red Court vampires. Argh! Makes me want to strangle them!

Butcher ups the ante with this book, sacrificing some characters and forcing others to make tough choices. I really like how the seriousness continues to ratchet up for each series installment so far. The Denarians play rough and Harry and his friends will not get out unscathed. We also learn a very interesting thing about John Marcone that makes him a little more human. There’s very little Murphy in this book and I missed her. However, we get to meet Wizard Ebeneezer McCoy, who fostered Harry in his late teens.

So far, Harry has ended up in cuffs in each book for one reason or another. That happens again here. I find that amusing. Harry continues to grow as a character. We know he isn’t invincible and he knows it too. Yet he can’t stop helping his friends, protecting Chicago, and standing up to the bullies. The ending had a little unexpected twist for me that I expect will have major repercussions for Harry later on.

The Narration: James Marsters continues on as Harry Dresden and he does a fine job of it. In this book, his performance includes believable Spanish, Japanese, and Russian accents. I especially liked his kid’s voice for the Archive. He also does a great job with Wizard McCoy who comes from Arkansas and has that noticeable regional accent.