Harry Dresden, Chicago-based wizard for hire, finds himself drawn into a new case. A plea from a helpless young woman sets him on a course that will lead to a cataclysmic showdown with an old enemy, and may cost Dresden that which he cares about the most...
Grave Peril is the third novel in the Dresden Files series of urban fantasies and an important turning-point in the series. The first two novels, Storm Front and Fool Moon, were entertaining but little more than enjoyable fluff. Grave Peril is a considerably darker and more personal book, with Butcher's writing much more confident and assured as he puts Dresden through the emotional wringer. Whilst reading the book I was in put in mind of those 'gamechanger' episodes of Buffy and Angel when Joss Whedon would rip up the status quo by doing something to the characters that hurt them badly and established a new paradigm he would have fun setting up and exploring.
Grave Peril expands the cast of the Dresden Files with Michael Carpenter, a Christian knight armed with a magical sword, joining Dresden in his battle with the forces of evil. We also get a greater depth of worldbuilding, with both the vampire and Sidhe inhabitants of Dresden's world being fleshed out in a lot of detail. Whilst Butcher's approach does not stray too far from standard fantasy/horror depictions of these creatures, he succeeds in making them feel fresh and interesting, a near-impossible task given how ubiquitous these forces have become in recent supernatural fiction.
Butcher's writing is fun and enjoyable, with more of Dresden's attitude, character and humour bleeding through the first-person prose. His writing has definitely stepped up in quality from the first two books in the series and he effectively conveys the horror of several disturbing scenes in the book. He's become better at conveying emotion since the opening volumes of the series and several scenes are real gut-punches. There's also a more epic feeling to events, with ramifications from this book likely to extend over several books to come, opening up the story to something larger and more interesting in scale.
Some complaints remain. As with Fool Moon, Dresden is injured several times in the book and Butcher goes a bit overboard in his descriptions of how tired, hurt and helpless Dresden feels due to these injuries. There is the feeling that with each successive volume, Dresden's powers and abilities with magic are growing (along with those of his allies) and this requires Butcher to go to some lengths to 'nerf' Dresden's abilities to simply stop him using a hand-wave of magic to solve all of his problems. However, this is a minor issue, and Butcher's impressive improvement in the areas of prose and characterisation overcome it quite handily.
Grave Peril (****) is where The Dresden Files comes of age, and it does so with aplomb. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.