My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve had high hopes for Harry Dresden from the start, and the potential is still there. He’s a likeable male chauvinist (or a self-ascribed chivalrous gentleman) who is not shy about stirring up chaos amongst the different factions of the netherworld and/or putting his neck on the line for his friends -even if it means lying to them (and having them hate him for it) in order to protect them from forces they just couldn’t begin to comprehend. Ultimately, everyone would benefit from him being a bit less reckless and having little more faith in his people. Either way, there’s always something cramping his style in a way that feels repetitive. Maybe it’s how he sends the wrong message to those closest to him -even though he means well- or, maybe it’s how he gets pushed to his limit, yet manages to dig deeper than he’s ever been able to prior to that very moment. Over and over again. Keep in mind this is only the third book.
Despite interesting new characters like Michael and Ferrovax, and a bigger window into the land of the Nevernever, the storyline in Grave Peril is lacking. I didn’t find Harry’s antagonists very appealing. Kravos/Nightmare appeared quite formidable at one point but in the end, he turned out to be a one dimensional diversion. Kyle and Kelly were an angry pair. That’s it. Mavra, on the other hand, is the most interesting foe out of the bunch, if only because she’s part of the almost extinct Black Court which is source to our more commonly held views on vampires. Her motives remain unknown but she’s not the one pulling the strings. The vampire Bianca St. Claire is the main villain. She is also seemingly caught up with the death of her assistant Rachel (whom she killed herself), using that as her excuse to go after Dresden. Beyond that, her actions appear to be part of an intricate set-up that either completely falls apart by the conclusion of the book or that we’ve only begun to appreciate. I’d like to go with the latter. The implications of the actions taken by the wizard during these events, and the consequences and repercussions that await him, are the best features of Grave Peril. Its conclusion leaves a wider opening into the spectacle of that is the Nevernever and Bianca as a big question mark.
Throughout the books we’ve been stumbling onto clues that help us paint the broader picture of Harry Dresden’s conundrums: his relationship with the White Council and the beings of the other realm. There are plenty of back-stories to sort out and characters to flesh out, and that has been the main motivator getting me through these Dresden files. I really hope that the stories get beefier as things move along because if Dresden is faced with one or five more life or death situations at a point where he’s already nearly exhausted his magical stamina, while singlehandedly fighting a being (or beings) that he couldn’t possible handle on his own, I’m gonna scream. Also, I hope Butcher goes easy with those cheesy chapter-ending cliffhangers. I don’t know if I could handle 11 more books full of increasingly formulaic misadventures.
Along with Jim Butcher’s world-building, what gives me great hope is that it appears that Dresden is suffering through a bout of low self-esteem. Out of all the characters who seem to know him well, sans your loony neighborhood warlocks, he has the lowest opinion of the extent of his abilities. I still want to know what this guy is fully capable of doing and I bet we’ve barely scratched the surface.