The Nevernever, realm of faeries, spirits and ghosts. In Grave Peril, the third Dresden Files novel, Harry Dresden must contend with all of these, as well as three different kinds of vampires and an overly inquisitive girlfriend. Strap in, folks, cause this is when the ride really starts.
If the first two books in the series (Storm Front and Fool Moon for those keeping track) were a little shaky, Grave Peril is where Dresden’s story gets its legs. Right from the beginning we’re off and running with Harry on a case with colleague, Michael Carpenter, one of my personal favorite characters in the series. Michael is a Knight of the Cross, a holy warrior dedicated to fighting evil. Together, he and Harry start the book dealing with a ghost who appears in a Chicago hospital trying to kill babies in the nursery.
Michael, an avowed family man, urges Harry to tell Susan Rodriguez, Harry’s girlfriend, that he loves her. Harry has been growing more distant lately, more remote. Michael hopes that settling down and starting a family might ground Harry. It certainly seems to have done wonders for Michael. That, and his mystical sword, Amoracchius, which bears one of the nails that crucified Jesus.
The ghost, Agatha Hagglethorn, flees back into the Nevernever, the spirit world of the Dresden universe. Michael and Harry pursue and defeat her. But being back in the Nevernever attracts the attention of Leanansidhe, Harry’s faerie godmother.
We learn that Harry really does have a faerie godmother and that he made a deal with her a long time ago, when he was basically still a kid. But as he did once before, he finds a way to weasel out of the deal and returns back from the Nevernever to the hospital in Chicago where he’s promptly arrested, along with Michael, by the Chicago PD.
While Harry and Michael sit in jail, Harry flashes back to earlier when a young woman named Lydia came to him because of visions she was having. She foresaw that she would be dead by nightfall. Harry sent her to Father Forthill, a priest who works with Harry and Michael.
Charity, Michael’s pregnant wife, bails him out and it’s clear there’s no love lost between her and Harry. Susan bails out Harry who is promptly invited to a party held by the Red Court of vampires (there are three courts—Red, White, and Black, er, and Jade, so 4, yes 4 courts, but we don’t know much about the Jade court). He has to represent the White Council of Wizards or it will be an insult. Susan is intrigued.
Harry checks on Lydia and finds out that some kind of nightmare spirit had appeared at the church to attack Lydia, though she managed to run away. Needing some more information about the spirit world, Harry goes to visit Mortimer “Mort” Lindquist, an ectomancer, someone who can speak to the dead. Mort tells Harry that the barrier between our world and the Nevernever is weakened, and the spirit world is roiled up. It’s making it easier for ghosts to cross over, and not just any ghosts. Superghosts.
Karrin Murphy then calls on Harry for help with one of their friends, Micky Malone. Some kind of spell has been cast on him, a spell very similar to the one found on Agatha Hagglethorne and seemingly connected to everything that’s going on. Dresden takes his concerns to the ever-helpful Bob the Skull, who seems majorly spooked. He urges Harry to run, but Harry instead goes after Lydia. He finds her, but so do two vampires who beat him down and make off with the troubled girl.
As Dresden sleeps off the vampire attack, he is attacked, in his dream, by the Nightmare spirit itself and it consumes much of Harry’s energy. The spirit appeared to him as the demon summoned by Leonid Kravos, a sorcerer that Harry and the cops took down (and who later committed suicide). Kravos had summoned a demon, a demon that Michael killed, but in Harry’s dream it was alive and it’s going after the people who stopped Kravos. Murphy is attacked next and then, instead of Michael, Michael’s wife Charity is kidnapped.
Both Harry and Michael search for Charity and Harry finds the Nightmare taking her into a graveyard. He tries to take the Nightmare down, but fails due to his weakness from the dream battle. His faerie godmother appears, offering her help if he will pledge his service. Harry, alone and unable to defeat the spirit, agrees.
Leanansidhe is less than helpful, giving Harry a vague clue, but Michael arrives to help Harry fight the Nightmare. Harry defeats it by tackling it into a nearby stream. Just in time because Charity’s going into labor. Leanansidhe returns to claim Harry, but he picks up Michael’s sword, Amoracchius, to use it against her. In doing so Harry defiles the blade and Leanansidhe steals it, leaving Michael heartbroken.
They get Charity to the doctor, though there are complications with the childbirth and both Charity and the newborn baby boy aren’t doing well. Harry, fearing the Nightmare further harming Michael’s family, casts a spell to draw the Nightmare to him and only him. Making himself a target seems preferable to risking the lives of others.
Harry thinks the sorcerer controlling the Nightmare may be at Bianca’s party so he attends with Michael. It’s a costume party so Michael attends in his Knight of the Sword gear and Harry, in usual fashion, thumbs his nose at the vampires by wearing a cheesy, traditional Dracula-type-vampire costume.
The ball is an interesting affair. Harry meets Thomas Raith, a vampire of the White Court of Vampires, and someone who will continue to become important in the series. He also meets Ferrovax, a dragon, which gets a little dicey as Michael killed a dragon to save Charity, long ago.
Harry is poisoned by vampire venom slipped to him in a goblet of wine. Then Susan Rodriguez shows up, without an invitation. This leaves her vulnerable to the vampires of the Red Court. Harry’s too weak from the venom to fight, and to make matters worse. Leanansidhe appears and Harry feels even weaker. Susan makes a deal with Harry’s faerie godmother, offering a year of her memory to counteract the venom. Leanansidhe accepts.
Harry and Michael try to get Susan out when they run into Mavra, a vampire of the Black Court (those most like Dracula). Harry senses that she’s the one behind the Nightmare. Then the gift presentation ceremony starts. Bianca gives Harry a tombstone with the epitaph, “He died doing the right thing.” Then, in an even worse exchange, Leanansidhe gives Michael’s sword, Amoracchius, to Bianca. Bianca then announces that with Mavra’s help, the sword will be unmade, using the blood of an innocent. They’ve chosen Lydia for the donation.
There is a fight. Which is bad news because it breaks the rules of hospitality and the Unseelie Accords, the peace treaty between the wizards and vampires. Thomas throws in with Harry and Michael because Bianca wants Justine, Thomas’s girlfriend, for herself. Thomas refused. In the fight they rescue Lydia, but the sword gets lost. Then Bianca captures Justine and offers to spare her if Thomas will betray Harry. Thomas agrees, throwing Susan to the vampires. Of course the treacherous Bianca reneges and decides to keep Justine and Thomas, with no allies, scrams.
As Susan is taken away, Harry loses his calm and, using his magic, sends out an inferno, cooking everything around him with fire magic. Lea helps them to escape knowing that she won’t get any use out of Harry if he’s dead or weakened.
Harry spends some time wallowing in guilt since he’s sure that he burned up some innocent kids in the fire. Charity is no longer talking to Michael, and they commiserate. Michael also recognizes Lydia as someone they rescued from Kravos’s lair. Thomas shows up, offering to team up with Michael and Harry to rescue Susan and Justine. He brings along Amorrachius to seal the deal. Of course, just at that moment Lydia wakes up possessed by the Nightmare. She gives them a hard time, possessed as she is, until Thomas uses his White Court powers of seduction to distract her. While he keeps her occupied, Harry exorcises the demon. Only he realizes that it’s not the demon, it’s Kravos’s ghost. Things fall into place. Mavra is creating chaos in the spirit world, tormenting ghosts, and that allows Kravos to cross over into dreams. They are working for Bianca who wants revenge against Harry from the death of Rachel, someone who was dear to her (which happened in Book 1, Storm Front).
Harry decides to storm Bianca’s mansion through the Nevernever so they can utilize surprise, only once more they run into Leanansidhe who has come to claim Harry and turn him into one of her hounds. Only Harry has taken a deadly poisonous mushroom, a desperate gamble. He knows Lea wants him alive, so he forces her into an agreement where she will leave him be for a year and a day. She agrees, but reminds him that her friends are not bound to follow the same rules. As they come for Harry, Thomas and Michael hold them off while Harry slips back into Bianca’s house.
Only they are waiting for him. They throw him into a dark cellar where vampires feed on him. But the poison in his body has made them sick. During a break in the attacks, Harry finds Justine, Thomas’s girlfriend, who is mentally unstable and growing more so without Thomas’s calming influence. He also finds Susan who has been partially turned into a vampire. She also still doesn’t remember Harry. But they’ve soulgazed and so Harry uses what little magic he has left to restore her memory. And then he tells her that he loves her. This helps restore her control so she doesn’t drink his blood.
Harry then sets a trap for the Nightmare. He lets himself die from the poison, hoping that Susan can bring him back. When dead, he essentially copies Kravos’s trick and creates a superghost version of himself. The two Harrys take on the Nightmare and in the end Harry consumes the spirit entirely, regaining back his stolen power.
Harry grabs Justine and Susan and they try to escape but are stopped by Bianca and her people. She offers to let Harry go with everyone and everything except Bianca. It’s only fair, she thinks—Harry took someone she loved, now she’ll do the same. If not, it will mean war between wizards and vampires. But Harry loves her and he’s not willing to make that bargain. Dresden uses his amped up power to raise the spirits of the dead that Bianca and her people killed. They are destroyed as Harry, Susan and Justine escape.
They’re free, but all is not well. Susan disappears without telling Harry where she’s going. Harry eventually tracks her, but she can’t be around him any more. She keeps wanting to drink him and she needs time to adjust to her status as a vampire. Harry is crushed, but his friends—Michael, Murphy, and even Bob try to keep him company (and we learn that Michael and Charity named their baby after him).
Phew. Got all that?
What makes Grave Peril important is that it sets up a lot of the storylines that will continue throughout the books, one of the most important being the new war between the wizards and vampires. Leanansidhe is also introduced and will take on a larger role in later books (and there’s still that pesky promise that Harry made). And, of course, it introduces Charity and Michael and their family, as well as Thomas and Justine. Later, all of these threads will start to draw together.
And finally, it’s just a better story than those that came before. There are more twists and turns. My only major criticism is that we only see Kravos in flashbacks and for his association with the Nightmare spirit, it would have been nice to see that happen in the very beginning.
Still, Butcher shows us that he’s capable of dealing with multiple plot threads and keeps us guessing all the way to the end, escalating things all the way. And we see the lengths that Harry will go to to do the right thing. What remains to be seen is whether Bianca’s tombstone will prove true.
What do you guys think about this book? Do you agree that this is where the series really starts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Next up, one of my favorites: Summer Knight.
Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, and blogger who is glad that Chicago isn’t crawling with vampires because he has to go there later this year. I mean, that’s all fiction, right? Right? His website is www.rajankhanna.com.