Page Turners

Death Masks: Don’t Trust Demons


It’s that time again folks, time to check in on our favorite wizard/detective Harry Dresden. I talked about the fourth entry in the wonderful Dresden Files series a while back, and I took a bit of a break to pick up the fifth book, figuring that some variety is important. But that itch for a light-hearted and exciting little paranormal noir started to perk up after finishing Shining Girls earlier this month, so I figured it was time to see what new adventures Harry was up to. And I’m pleased to report that what I got was another excellent addition to this series that both managed to have a good stand-alone story that featured Harry at his most Indiana Jones, while also featuring new additions to the over-arching story that the whole series has been telling up until now, coming together to deliver another great read.

The plot of the novel picks up some time after Summer Knight ends and things haven’t changed all that much for Harry. The war between his society of wizards and a group of violent vampires known as the Red Court has been ramping up, his girlfriend Susan is still hiding out and coming to grips with her recent turn to vampirism, and Harry’s just trying to scrape by a living. But things start to take a turn when he goes on some sort of local Jerry Springer-esque show and gets into a conversation with two of the other guests, a representative of the Red Court named Ortega and a Catholic priest named Father Vincent. Ortega is there to tell Harry that he’s proposing a duel to the death between himself and Harry, which would end the war, and Father Vincent is there to offer Harry a new job, looking for the recently stolen Shroud of Turin. Harry agrees to both men, and sets off planning for both plots.

And in true Dresden Files fashion, it starts becoming apparent that both of these missions are linked. It starts off when he decides to go find his good friend Michael Carpenter, a holy paladin with a magical sword, to be his second in the duel, and gets embroiled in an insane plot that Michael and his fellow Knights are solving involving a group of demons called the Denarians, fallen angels who have powers derived from the 30 pieces of silver given to Judas. So on top of all of this, Harry has demons to deal with. But Michael agrees to be Harry’s second, and he heads off to start tracking down the Shroud, which he finds in the hands of two thieves. And wouldn’t you know, these thieves are also being hunted by Denarians.  And to complicate matters even further, Harry girlfriend Susan shows up back in town, claiming to be there shutting down her previous life, but as we eventually learn, she’s a member of some sort of group of vampires who hate their vampirism, and are trying to take down the Red Court.

So there’s a lot of balls in the air, and things get even more difficult when the leader of the Denarians, a being called Nicodemus, shows up and starts throwing wrenches in the various schemes, even going so far as to tempt Harry with one of the silver coins. But our Harry keeps his head straight, and just keeps trucking through with the plan, messing up the duel, fighting the Denarians, and uncovering their insane plot to use the power of the Shroud to create an unbeatable plague that would wipe out mankind. And it’s not too much of a spoiler to just say that the good guys win, for now, Susan leaves again, the Knights succeed in killing a bunch of Denarians, Nicodemus gets away to return as a recurring villain, and Harry gets his hands on one of the coins, only to bury it in his basement.

I just have an incredibly strong affection for this series. I’ve talked way too much on this site about my enduring love of noir, and I still think it’s brilliant how Jim Butcher took the trappings of the noir hardboiled detective genre and slapped a coat of magical paint on it. I can quibble that this book didn’t feature near enough of Harry being a detective, some of my favorite aspects of the previous novels, but that didn’t stop this book from being a lot of fun. All of the recurring characters are here, shining and being as good as ever, and we even get some new characters that I’m sure will stick around and become favorites in the books to come. And really, even though it wasn’t as grounded in a semblance of reality that some of the other books featured, it was pretty fun to see Harry go full Indiana Jones and track down a religious relic to stop some world-ending catastrophe. It wasn’t exactly the Harry Dresden I’m used to, but it was still the character that I love, just a different aspect of him. It wasn’t my favorite of the series, but I think it laid a lot of groundwork to really bring something special in the coming books.

Death Masks was written by Jim Butcher, 2003.

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