Small Favor by Jim Butcher (Roc, 2008), is the latest volume in the long running Dresden Files about Chicago based, perennially unlucky, Wizard/Supernatural Investigator Harry Dresden. As such I can’t really recommend this as a great jumping on point for new readers. While the early novels (say maybe the first three: Storm Front, Full Moon, and Grave Peril) are likely easy enough jumping on points (duh!) as the series continues Butcher builds upon the Dresden world with admirable subtly. Finally, in Book 10, I think we’re at a point where new readers are at a significant disadavantage. Not to the point that they can’t enjoy the book, but enough so that they will certainly miss out on many of the details (in particular Harry’s deal with Mab, and his ‘partnership’ with Lasciel in the previous novels). This isn’t to knock the book, there gets to a certain point in any series where you can’t really cater to the newbies any more, only to serve as fair warning for those who have yet read any Dresden at all.
Those that have been with Harry from that start are in for a treat. This is, in many ways, the first time we’ve seen the ‘real’ Harry in a long time (Minor spoiler: there was a certain edge to Harry in the previous two novels that was the result of outside influence) and the whole book feels a bit lighter, despite the dire circumstances, as a result. The back and forther banter between Harry and Thomas is quick-witted and enjoyable and, while a few quips fall a bit flat to my ears, in on the whole enjoyable. As with many of the Dresden books featuring recurring character Michael (a sword wielding modern knight tasked with capturing the demons imprisoned in the silver coins given to Judas) a certain tension between the mostly faithless Harry and over abuntantly faithful Michael adds an interesting moral element to the story that has a surprise, and very interesting, twist in the end.
While the book lacks in reaninamted dinosaur skeletons it does feature an amusing incident between the eldest Billy Goat Gruff and Harry at the worst time ever. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series is how the seemingly always under-powered Harry has to out think his often ridiculously over-powered opponents. This book had no shortage of that from a rather clever, and ultimatley hilarious, use of Mister (Dresden’s cat) to a certain incident involving a doughnut. Harry still gets his ass-kicked, it would hardly be a Dresden novel if Harry came out unscathed, but it without the ‘woe-is-me’ Harry vs. the world mentality of previous entries. Indeed, if this novel proves anything, its the number of friends and allies (and, unfortunatley, enemies) Harry has made over the course of 10 books.
All in all another solid outing for both Harry and Mr. Butcher. Unfortunatley, if pattern holds true, Butcher will likely release another Codex Alera book before antoher Dresden book and, while I do enjoy Tavi and the world of Alera, am always left hungry for a new Dresden book when all is said and done. Given the layered world-building, solid characterization (a main character that actually changes!?), and breakneck action I bestow upon Small Favor a solid A.
Chapter 1 Preview from Jim Butcher’s webpage.