REVIEW: Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
Dead Beat is the seventh book in the Harry Dresden series and, in my opinion, it’s the best one so far. In this book, Dresden is blackmailed by the vampire queen Mavra into bringing her the necromantic tome The Word Of Kemmler in exchange for not ruing the lives of himself and his friend Murphy. Harry’s quest will put him smack dab in the middle of the Red Court/White Council war and in competition with three other factions also looking for the book. What ensues is a fast paced race to discover the book. With zombies. How good is this book? I read it in two days. Two. Days. At 448 pages and given the amount of time I have to actually read, this is a testament to Butcher’s easy to read writing style and his ability to weave a rip-roaring, action packed story.
Dead Beat starts with Dresden being confronted my Mavra and forced to search for The Word. His search will lead him into confrontation with three other factions, all necromancers, who also want the book. The book contains knowledge that will allow whoever has it to become as powerful as a god, and to literally bring a necromantic hell to Earth. Harry just needs it to spare Murphy the ruin of her career and life by Mavra. In the previous books, Butcher has tended to write complicated plots, with several different threads that can be a bit confusing to follow easily. And while there are different plots going on here, they are actually quite easy to follow and they tie up extremely nicely with the war between the White Council and the Red Court vampires. This alone is enough to elevate Dead Beat over the other stories.
But Butcher does one even better. Harry is your typical everyman. He’s slowly grown in power over the preceeding novels, but he still survives as much by luck and guile as by skill. And, even though he has friends, he typically tries to go it alone and to do what he thinks is right, no matter the cost to him. Here, Dresden is faced with several enemies who are clearly more powerful than himself. After some close scrapes, Dresden realizes he can’t do this alone and he enlists the help of his half-brother Thomas and a mortician, Butters. Now we see Harry actually growing as a person. Putting his trust into others, and letting them help him figure out how to solve his problems. It helps that Harry is such a sympathetic character. Now that he is actually able to interact with others in a more normal manner, you can’t help but to really root for him, even though you probably were before. Harry’s change also portends some interesting things to come in his personal life.
Aside from taking Harry to a new level character-wise, Butcher certainly didn’t skimp on the action in Dead Beat. The story moves along at a rapid pace, as Harry grows closer to discovering where the book is and then deciphering what information is in it. Along the way, he gets to meet zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. The necromancers arrayed against all want the book for their own, and they have no compunction against using the undead to help them against Harry. It helps when you have an undead army that you can use to overwhelm your enemies by sheer numbers. As Harry escapes the many attempts on his life, he learns that there may be a connection between the necromancers, The Word Of Kemmler and the Red Court’s newest offensive against the White Court. Again, Butcher did a great job tying these threads into each other in a believable way. Some rather important things happen to Harry before the climax, the least of which is that he gets to ride an undead Tyrannosaurus Rex into battle against the necromancers. Yeah, I thought that was extremely cool too. It’s even better when you read it. After all is said and done, not only has Harry changed as a person, he has also gained some more magical power and, along with it, much more responsibility in the magical world. This hints at some interesting things to come in future novels and it seems that Butcher has plans for Harry. I really like the way Butcher has been slowly increasing Harry’s power over the course of the books. We get to see how a wizard rises through the ranks to become a formidable force for good or ill.
About the only negative thing I can say about Dead Beat is the fact that Harry still tends to escape from almost certain death by luck or the fortunate intervention of others. This happens several times and it takes a bit away from the story when you know that every time Harry is staring death in the face, something will happen to save him. Some of the drama is taken away from the encounters. I’m wondering whether these escapes are actually part of something bigger that Butcher is weaving across the books. But that’s just a guess.
Dresden fans will certainly enjoy this book quite a bit. If you’ve never read any Dresden books, I highly recommend this series. It’s one of a very few series that actually gets better with subsequent books. The fact that Dead Beat, being the seventh book, is as good as it is is amazing, and it shows how good the TV show The Dresden Files could have been if they had stuck with the books instead of striking out on their own.
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