Chapter Twenty-Six: A Truly Shocking Twist
We rejoin Dresden listing off for us at length the reasons that his current situation is bad (evil wizard, gun-toting zealots, perpetual motion scorpions), which he literally did one page ago, so this is like that moment when a show comes back from commercial and decides to replay the last twenty seconds. That always vexed me. Wevs. Dresden suddenly snaps out of his doom-moping and realises that he has a broom, and therefore a fighting chance. He quickly enchants the broom and commands it ("Pulitas!") to clean the kitchen, which includes sweeping out the swarm of not-yet-giant scorpions.
I'm pretty sure it got all the dirt on the way, too. When I do a spell, I do it right.I mean. Some authors would take the opportunity to have their hero note that their salvation broom didn't quite manage to sweep all the way out to the edges of the linoleum, self-deprecating shrug, at least it got the job done. But Dresden, we are told, just has to be so awesome that his scorpion-fighting broom also flawlessly cleans the kitchen.
Aside: this is also the first time we've seen magically-animated objects put into play. Now, I'm generally pretty happy to see things like 'hey, that old cleaning cantrip I was forced to learn at age 14 will actually buy me the time I need', but I am also kinda stuck asking now why this is the first time we've seen such a thing at play. If it takes only a few seconds to pour enough magic into a broom that it can not only fly but outmaneuver evil scorpions, is there an actual reason Dresden doesn't have, like, a hand towel in his pocket that he can enchant to try to wrap itself around Victor's face? Or, more simply and brutally, a paperweight that will do its damndest to tackle Victor in the back of the head over and over? I'm sure there are ways these things can be explained (e.g., the Pulitas spell is only easy because it's a traditional and very useful spell that's been practiced and refined for centuries until it's got a form that can be done in five seconds, but free-form animation magic is really hard) but it's kind of exhausting to be forced to do all that justification work for the story. (Expect to hear the same thing repeated in our upcoming post about indie timewarp game Life Is Strange.)
The broom successfully sweeps all the scorpions off the ledge before Victor grabs it and breaks the spell. The Beckitts have swapped to revolvers, which are immune to techbane because look over there, but while they're reloading, Victor tries to tell Dresden he can surrender and walk away or wait for the fire to spread and kill him, but Dresden calls this bluff with the knowledge that if Victor waits, all his drugs will burn as well. This leads to a truly bizarre hero-villain dialogue that would fit easily into a hundred formulaic adventures and tremendously not this one.
"Fire's the simplest thing you can do. All the real wizards learn that in the first couple of weeks and move on up from there." [....]
"Shut up!" Victor snarled. "Who's the real wizard here, huh? Who's the one with all the cards and who's the one bleeding on the kitchen floor? You're nothing, Dresden, nothing. You're a loser. And do you know why?"
"Gee," I said. "Let me think."
He laughed, harshly. "Because you're an idiot. You're an idealist. Open your eyes, man. You're in the jungle, now."Idealist.
Harry Dresden is being told that his critical flaw is that he is an idealist.
I don't... I am barely able to comprehend this assertion, let alone respond to it. Dresden is a cynic who can't be bothered to comfort people he has personally terrorised, who keeps an immortal sex offender in his basement for his knowledge of recipes, who cheerfully carries on telling people about magic in a setting where they might be killed for knowing too much, and that's just in this book. We haven't even gotten to him nonchalantly accepting the enslavement of a teenage girl by a parasitic monster because it fits his incredibly precise definition of true love.
Dresden doesn't believe in the effectiveness of law, doesn't believe in helping his fellows or his community, doesn't particularly care about the well-being of his clients (look at his scorn for Monica when he thinks her husband 'only' ran out on her), and gets confused when he feels empathy for other people's suffering.
The only ideal this man can be accused of believing in is 'fuck you, I got mine'.
Faith and begorrah.
I was in the mood to tell a white lie. "The police know all about you, Vic. I told them myself. And I told the White Council, too. You've never even heard of them, have you, Vic? They're like the Superfriends and the Inquisition all rolled up into one."I mean, that does sound like an excellent description of the council, overflowing with power and zero recognisable morality beyond their personal definition of personal purity, but why hasn't Dresden done this, again? He's had time in cabs when he could have at least written a letter for Murphy. He could have told Mac 'I need your car so I can go fight the murderer Victor Sells, here's his address'. But nope.
Victor insists that Dresden is lying, but demands to know who gave him away to start with. In a shocking twist I did not see coming, Dresden decides not to give up Monica's name, on the basis that Victor might conceivably survive this fight and go exact vengeance. Totally thought he was going to say it on the off chance that it would provoke Victor into a rage-mistake. Victor just tells the Beckitts to go (apparently they're going to march out to the car naked; very subtle) and then sets about re-summoning his toad-demon, whose name turns out to be Kalshazzak.
Dresden scoffs at Victor making the rookie mistake of letting him hear the demon's name, chants it back in the thing's face, mind-wrestles with it for a second, draws heroic inspiration from the mental images of Jenny Sells, Karrin Murphy, and Susan Rodriguez (so, the actual child and two grown women Dresden just personally infantilises), and it begins to writhe on the floor. Victor turns to run, Dresden casts a final wind spell to tackle him off his feet, and then it's What Have You Done time.
"The Fourth Law of Magic forbids the binding of any being against its will," I grated out. Pain was tight around my throat, making me fight to speak the words. "So I stepped in and cut your control over it. And didn't establish any of my own."The toad begins stumbling toward them as Dresden makes it clear that he's okay with dying as long as Sells dies too, they wrestle at the edge of the indoor balcony and of course both throw each other over, so on top of all the other cliches we also get the hero and villain simultaneously dangling from a ledge. Ahead, the incoming demon. Below them, a sea of black smoke (the burning potions, I think?) with a half-dozen giant scorpion stingers sticking up like periscopes. Victor's got a better grip and Dresden fears he'll manage to ward off the demon, so--who called it?!--blurts out that Monica was the one to betray him. This indeed throws Victor off just long enough for the demon to sink its fangs into his throat. Dresden is sure that he is soon to fall and die as well, but realises that he still has the handcuffs dangling from his wrist and manages to anchor himself while yanking Victor and the demon to their doom.
All y'all take a gander at this for me:
With my right [hand], I flicked the free end of the handcuffs around one of the bars of the guardrail. The ring of metal cycled around on its hinge and locked into place.I'm preeeetty sure that this is supposed to indicate the other cuff was not merely empty but open, as in 'not locked'? Even though the reason he needed to force the cuff off Murphy's wrist and leave it attached to his own was that he couldn't open them. Is there something I'm missing here, or did Dresden subconsciously unlock the handcuff with magic while none of us were looking?
The scorpions kill Victor and tear the demon apart (apparently demons aren't all that after all?) and Dresden hangs painfully by one wrist, mulling his imminent death in a way that Butcher presumably wanted to be deathly stereotypical and absolutely succeeded at. He insists for a full paragraph that he's just hallucinating as he sees Morgan burst in, carve through one of the giant scorpions ("snickersnack", which I will fully admit I would enjoy from a different author), and begin to swing his sword in Dresden's general direction when Dresden finally blacks out. His last thoughts are of how typical it is that he would survive the villain only to get killed "by the people for whose cause I had been fighting". Uh, Dresden, I know your 'allies' seem to turn on you a lot, but has it occurred to you that's because you constantly lie to them and have physically assaulted Morgan twice this week?
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Making Out In The Rain
Dresden awakens outside and immediately reminds us that HE'S NOT GAY.
Rain was falling on my face, and it was the greatest feeling I'd ever known. Morgan's face was over mine, and I realized he'd been giving me CPR. Eww.NOT THAT THERE'S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT
I HAVE SURVIVED A LITERAL HELLHOLE BECAUSE MY PERENNIAL NEMESIS RUSHED IN TO SAVE MY LIFE AND IMMEDIATELY ATTEMPTED TO RESUSCITATE ME REGARDLESS OF ANY PERSONAL DISCOMFORT
AND I WANT YOU TO KNOW I'M NOT INTO THAT
I get that it's supposed to be a tension-breaking joke, but consider this: fuck you, Jim Butcher. Get your cheap laughs out of a different bargain bin.
"I saw you risk your life to stop the Shadowman. Without breaking any of the Laws. You weren't the killer."Wait, why does Morgan call Victor 'Shadowman'? That's a nickname that Dresden has only used inside his own head. Again, in a better book, that would be the kind of slip-up that would cause our hero to realise that there was another layer to this mystery and Morgan was hiding something. But not here.
Here, we can't even have character development. Despite agreeing that Dresden isn't the killer, and in fact worked to stop the killer at personal risk while still following the council's code of conduct, within a page Morgan is declaring that "We will watch you day and night, we will prove that you are a danger who must be stopped". Dude can't even be allowed a little tsundere 'well, I guess you might not be a lurking serial killer after all, but don't think this means we're friends or anything'. They could have formed a tenuous trust that would still allow Morgan to leap to conclusions next time something implicates Dresden's guilt, compounded with 'I can't believe I even began to trust you'. Morgan might as well wear a sign around his neck reading I'm Not A Real Character.
At his accusation, of course, Dresden just collapses laughing. When asked if he's all right, he responds
The police arrived in time to catch the Beckitts trying to leave and arrested them for, of all things, being naked. Later, they were implicated in the ThreeEye drug ring, and prosecuted on distribution charges.Did... uh, did the drugs survive the fire? How were the Beckitts connected to ThreeEye? Did the scorpions survive the fire? They were clearly still running around after Victor was proper dead. Seems like that's the kind of problem Morgan might have wanted to clean up before he left. I assume he didn't wade into the flames to finish them all off before he went back to breathe in Dresden's mouth. (Side note: modern CPR actually doesn't call for the breathing thing, only chest compressions, but real CPR also isn't expected to resuscitate a person on its own, so whatever).
Thanks to Morgan's testimony, the council removes the Doom of Damocles ("which I had always thought a rather pretentious name in any case" uuuuugh) from Dresden's head.
Dresden ends up in the hospital, and his techbane inexplicably doesn't burn the whole place out, although they do have trouble with the x-ray machine every time they try to scan his spine, har har. His room is just down the hall from Murphy (who survived after three days in critical care).
I sent flowers to her hospital room, along with the surviving ring of her handcuffs. I told her, in a note, not to ask how the chain between the rings had been so neatly severed. I didn't think she'd buy that someone cut it with a magic sword....Why not? Murphy believes in magic, remember? That's why she hired you? And tried to arrest you? You just have a fetish for withholding information, Dresden; at least admit it.
The flowers must have helped. The first time she got out of bed was to totter down the hall to my room, throw them in my face, and leave without saying a word.Oh, those irascible womenfolk. (I was going to say that you know a male cop wouldn't have been written expressing their anger in such an impotent way as throwing flowers in Dresden's face, but then I remembered Dresden wouldn't have sent flowers to a male cop in the first place.) Murphy nevertheless makes sure Dresden gets paid well for his consulting, and rescinds his arrest order, and calls him in again for advice the day after she gets back to work.
But we don't joke anymore. Some wounds don't heal very quickly.Dresden, I'm still busy being shocked that she didn't drag you into an interrogation room after all. If nothing else, you can be sure in her place I would demand some very clear guidelines about what information is Super Secret Wizard Knowledge and what information she can actually trust out of you so she doesn't waste her time shaking you down for things you've already admitted next time.
Monica and the kids get into mundane Witness Protection, which strikes me as odd given that they had no real part in Victor's business and he's dead now. Who are they being protected from? Marcone's lone claim to non-super-villainy is that he wouldn't murder people if there wasn't any profit in it. (The Beckitts, we're told, ended up in Michigan prison, apparently outside Marcone's reach. Um.)
Susan's article headlines the next issue of the Arcane, and she drops by to flirt with Dresden in the hospital and talk about how unfortunate it is that his hips are in a cast, because, again, she's the Spicy Latina and exists entirely to be fuckable.
I used the sympathy factor to badger another date out of her, and she didn't seem to mind too much. That time, we were not interrupted by a demon. And I didn't need any of Bob's love potions or advice, thank you very much.HAVE I TOLD YOU I AM HETEROSEXUAL TODAY
Speaking of Bob, he returns home amongst rumours of "a particularly wild party at the University of Chicago" that Dresden ignores. I'd really like to think that 'wild party' just means that Bob used his undefined magical powers just to throw a really sweet rave with bodacious laser shows and fonts of endless champagne and non-alcoholic beverages of choice, but this is Butcher writing and I just can't quite make myself believe that.
The final page is Dresden's navel-gazing, with timeless prose like "What did I get out of it? I'm not really sure. I escaped from something that had been following me for a long time. I'm just not sure what." Uh. What? Does he mean the Doom? (I think he knows what that is.) Does he mean the temptation of evil magic? He didn't escape that, and he goes on to say as much at length: "The power is there. The temptation is there. That's just the way it's going to be." This whole temptation thing would have worked much better if it had been a running theme of the book and not just shoehorned in at the last minute. Like if back in chapter six Bob had been all 'Hey, you realise we could solve this whole problem in five minutes if we harnessed an abyssal hound' and Dresden was like 'Awesome, how do we do that' and Bob was like 'Okay, first we need the blood of three different children' and Dresden was just 'Okay, gonna stop you there'. Temptations should be real and constant--you can stop this killer right now if you'll just pay this one little price, just compromise once--if they're going to be meaningful. Otherwise you get, well, this slapdash mess.
Dresden continues to monologue for a bit about how the world is getting weirder and darker and heading for rough times and he's just going to try to keep his corner as safe as he can, so if you are in trouble, who ya gonna call, et cetera. Curtain.
If it's true that Butcher wrote this as a backhanded homage to Anita Blake, intentionally working in every cliche he could possibly think of, then he absolutely succeeded. And clearly when his teacher told him that it was publishable, she was right.
But gracious, at what cost?
I mean, that is the closest this book gets to having a moral, right? That there are things not worth doing for success. That even if it means you stay stuck in a rubbish little office getting laughed at by the guy who delivers your mail, it's better to be honorable than powerful, better to be good than prosperous, better to be honest than rich. That the temptation to do something cruel for the sake of personal gain is omnipresent and it is worth resisting every time.
That if the cost of becoming a best-selling author is hammering out misogynistic, incidentally racist, casually homophobic dreck in which sex workers die messily for the reader's titillation, if the cost is writing something that you personally believe is composed of reprehensible nonsense and telling people to spend their money on it, that cost is too high.
Pictured: DJ Khaled's memetic "congratulations, you played yourself".
So that's it for our time with Dresden. Next week will probably be a post on Life Is Strange or some other one-off thing, and we'll get into our next book after that. Feel free to get out any remaining vitriol for Dresden in the comments below, or construct your own outline for an alternate version of this book. Maybe one that doesn't feel like it was slapped together over the course of an afternoon.