Thursday, May 11, 2006

Review: "Proven Guilty" by Jim Butcher

Whenever a new installment in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files arrives on the shelves, it's bad news for the books in my to-be-read stack. They're all going to get bumped down a spot.

Since discovering Butcher's wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden with 2001's "Fool Moon," the tales of the modern-day magician have consistently entertained me more than any other writer in the past five years. His latest, "Proven Guilty" ($23.95, Roc), is no exception.

The secret war between the Red Court of vampires and the wizards' White Council is heating up, and Dresden, a newly named Warden, has been given a covert mission to find out why the Summer Court of the fey isn't aiding the wizards. But Harry's got bigger problems on his plate. He's fighting an inner battle against the fallen angel Lasciel, who is trying to tempt him to unleash her power. More pressing, he's just gotten a report of some big-time black magic going down in his hometown of Chicago.

When fans at a horror convention suddenly start becoming targets of the big-screen monsters they're celebrating, Harry is on the case. But when he discovers the source of that magic, it hits Harry close to home and may force him to further stretch his already strained relations with the White Council.

"Proven Guilty" turns out to be one of the best installments in the series so far, as it shows the series maturing, with plots and character motivations digging deeper than just battling the bad guys. It tackles some tougher emotions and questions about good and evil, graying a line that's been fairly clear in the previous installments.

There's also a lot more fun to be had here as Butcher tosses out pop culture references a little more easily than in past volumes. While he often doesn't use the real names of the Hollywood baddies, horror fans will recognize a lot of popular monsters, and even a few obscure ones, here.

We're eight books into the Dresden Files now, and instead of running out of steam, the series seems to be getting stronger with each volume. With a two-hour Dresden Files pilot directed by Nicolas Cage set to air on the Sci-Fi Channel this summer, it's a safe bet we'll be seeing a lot more of Harry Dresden. That sounds like good news to me.

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