How many different werewolves can you cram into one story? In Fool Moon, the second in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, he shoots for the, well, moon. Harry Dresden is back again, and this time the fur is flying.
Let’s get this out of the way right from the start—Fool Moon is, by many accounts, the worst of the Dresden books. Its plot is muddy, there are large portions of exposition thrown at the reader, and it tries to cram every kind of werewolf into its pages. But it has its shining moments, and it begins to set up storylines that will later become great.
In Fool Moon, wizard Harry Dresden is called upon by Lt. Karrin Murphy to help with solving some grisly murders that were committed during the full moon. The latest is someone who worked for Johnny Marcone, the crime boss introduced in Storm Front. With the fallout from Storm Front, Harry’s relationship with Murphy has become strained. While she wants Harry’s help, she doesn’t trust him.
The fact that the murders occur during a full moon of course points to werewolves. As Bob the skull tells us, in a large lump of exposition, there are several different types of werewolves, all of which Butcher sees fit to throw at us at some point during the novel. There are the more conventional werewolves (Type #1), which are humans who use magic to transform into wolves. These appear shortly afterward as Harry investigates a lead and encounters a gang of teenage werewolves called the Alphas. The Alphas are led by a woman called Tera West, also a shapeshifter, though as we later find out she’s a wolf who can transform into a human (Type #2).
A group of FBI agents is also involved with the case, and one of them gives Harry some information that causes him to come into conflict with a a biker gang called the Streetwolves. They are lycanthropes (Type #3), humans who take on bestial natures without actually changing shape. They aren’t behind the killings, but they decide they don’t much like the idea of Harry living.
Harry escapes them, and in the process of turning down an offer from Marcone to work for him (by defending him from werewolves), he learns about Harley MacFinn. MacFinn is a loup-garou (Type #4). One of MacFinn’s ancestors was cursed to turn into a monstrous wolf-creature, and the curse has been passed down through to him. One of Harry’s friends, a woman named Kim Delaney, has been trying to help MacFinn contain himself, but her magical containment circle fails and MacFinn, as the beast, kills her.
In the resulting chaos, Murphy arrests MacFinn and also beats Harry up, locking him in a cop car. He’s freed by Tera West, who, it turns out, is MacFinn’s fiancee. She wants Harry to contain MacFinn before he kills again. But by the time Harry gets to the police station, MacFinn has already changed, and the loup-garou tears through the police station, killing everyone around him.
Harry leaves to pursue, but is waylaid by the Streetwolves. They capture him and take him back to their lair, but Harry is saved by a conflict between Marcone’s people, the Streetwolves and the FBI agents. During the fight, Harry sees the FBI agents transform into wolves themselves, using magical belts. Tera and the Alphas return to save Harry. Harry also captures FBI Agent Harris, who he then interrogates.
It turns out that all the FBI agents are hexenwolves (Type #5), using magical belts to transform into wolves. The agents have been behind all the killings. They are after Marcone, sick of not being able to touch him as law enforcement agents. They’ve been using their abilities to target him, not caring about the innocent people they’re killing. MacFinn is their patsy, set up to take the fall for all of the slaughter.
They all head to Marcone’s estate for the big finale, where a giant battle occurs. Murphy ends up shooting the lead FBI Agent, Denton, through the head. Harry uses the belt he took from Agent Harris to kill one of the other hexenwolves before taking out MacFinn with his silver amulet and magic.
Did you get all that? If not, don’t worry about it. It gets confusing. In an effort to give us adequate red herrings, Butcher crams the book full of wolves and the wolf-like. Unfortunately, when the FBI Agents’ plot is revealed, it all seems anticlimactic. Was their plan really the best way to go after Marcone? The upshot to this whole plot is that Harry realizes that the agents didn’t find the belts all by themselves. He starts to figure out that someone must have given them the belts, and this someone just might be targeting him.
Probably the best thing about Fool Moon is that it gives us Billy, Georgia and the other Alphas, who will continue to show up in later stories and become important characters not only to the overall storyline, but to the personal development of Harry Dresden. Also, the relationship between Harry and Susan intensifies, which will become important in later stories. And Susan gives Harry his black leather duster, which, frankly, is much cooler than his other one (which got trashed anyway).
The good news is that if you got this far in the books, it all gets better from here. Butcher’s plotting gets better and he handles his toys with much more restraint. Also, the stakes continue to get higher, and Murphy stops doubting him all the time. By Book 3, things start to get really good.
I’m interested to hear thoughts from the other fans out there. Do people like this one more than I expect? Is this anyone’s favorite? If so, what do you like about it?
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, and blogger who apparently has a limited tolerance for werewolves. His website is www.rajankhanna.com.