Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

I’ve heard these books get better around the fifth one. At this point they’re sort of shackled right in the middle of being good enough to read and bad enough to make fun of.

First, the good. If you can’t tell from the title this book is about werewolves, all kinds of werewolves and none of them are cuddly and interested in romance (there is also no sparkling skin). The action gets pretty desperate since Harry (the other wizard named Harry) gets beat up pretty substantially early on and his wounds don’t magically heal. Butcher is brilliant at making things start out bad and get worse. There is one scene that I was sure must be the climax of the story, the ultimate showdown, until I realized that I wasn’t even halfway through the book yet. It all goes downhill from there. This is something that is talked about in writing classes and advice books but seldom demonstrated so clearly. Butcher puts Harry Dresden through hell, beats him to a bloody pulp, grinds him through a strainer and lets us watch to see if he gets up for more.

The story is fast-paced. The main characters that Dresden interacts with — Susan and Murphy — are real enough. Murphy especially serves to call Dresden on his slightly chauvinistic overprotectiveness towards women and help him question his own motives. Dresden himself has a strong enough voice and personality to keep the book from bogging down.

The biggest weakness, of this book, compared to the last, is that the cast of side characters lack any depth at all. In the first book, one of the redeeming qualities was the fact that even characters who get killed in their introductory scene seemed real and full of life. Many of the characters in Fool Moon are distinguished by being fat, skinny, female, or young. There are gangsters, mobsters, FBI agents and police officers and I had a hard time telling each of them apart from one scene to the next. Frequently Harry would encounter characters and I would find myself searching back through pages to find their names mentioned again.

I think that Harry Dresden is supposed to be sort of a wise guy. He’s always saying sarcastic things and making jokes, usually at the worst of times — not in a funny way — the timing is just off so drastically that I usually have to read the jokes again before I realize they aren’t meant to be cryptic they’re meant to be funny. They do little to lighten the mood of the book and just feel like the author inserted bricks into his prose that randomly fall out of the book and drop in your lap, worthy more of a groan (or a grunt of pain) than a chuckle.

The prose is readable — just barely. It still has that first novel feel that the first book had.

The action starts about a third of the way through the book and doesn’t let up until the end. Werewolves are loose in Chicago and a surprising number of people are perfectly willing to accept supernatural explanations. Dresden is literally dragged from one fight to the next for two hundred pages. While a lot of action can be exciting sometimes people just need a break. I need the main character to go take a nap, or sit down and have a conversation with somebody. Or just stand still and daydream for a couple of pages. Too much action can be boring.

My final complaint is that Butcher seems to have placed himself into a formula already. Dresden hasn’t had any work. Dresden eats Ramen and makes some potions. Dresden gets called in as a consultant by the police. Dresden gets in trouble with the police. Dresden gets beat up. Dresden fights the bad guys and wins because he’s so clever/powerful/skilled/lucky.

I’m not sure it’s a good sign that the formula already feels tired after only two books.

My conclusion:

Fool Moon is readable. It’s fairly short and a quick read. It is good to read when you want to stop thinking about physics for awhile. It’s not great, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m told that by book five these books are really good. If I make it that far I might find out.

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