As promised, the latest book in the reread, Summer Knight, is the best in the series so far. While we’ve seen faeries in the Dresden Files before (Toot Toot and Lea, for example), Summer Knight delves more deeply into the Faerie denizens of the Dresden Universe, and their efforts to tangle Harry up in their web of schemes.
Summer Knight starts with Harry investigating a rain of toads. Billy the Werewolf (introduced in Fool Moon) sends up the Dresden Signal to Harry at the first sign of weird magic stuff and Harry responds. We learn that since the events of Grave Peril, the White Council is at war with the Red Court of Vampires and Harry’s become the target of several assassination attempts. Harry and Billy come under attack by some gunmen and a particularly vicious ghoul which gives them both a bit of trouble until Harry takes it down.
We also learn from Billy that Harry’s been letting himself slip—he hasn’t been taking cases, he hasn’t been socializing with anyone, he hasn’t even been shaving. Billy’s set up an appointment for Harry to take a case, one he needs to help pay his bills, and Harry reluctantly agrees to meet with the client.
That client turns out to be from Faerie. Harry twigs to this and tests the stunning white-haired lady with some iron. Little does he know that this is one of the Queens of the Winter Court—Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness. If you recall from Grave Peril, Harry owes his Fairy Godmother, Lea, his service. Harry learns that Lea has paid it forward to Mab. Mab proposes a deal with Harry — if he does three tasks for her, he will fulfill his debt. The first of these is to investigate the death of one Ronald Reuel and find out who killed him. Harry is stuck in a hard place—not wanting to work for Mab, but knowing his debt stands.
That evening Harry attends a special meeting of the White Council who have chosen to convenve in Chicago. Harry, being a bit of a mess lately, is forced to show up in his bathrobe rather than proper wizard robes. Outside the meeting he runs into Ebenezar McCoy, Harry’s old teacher, someone who will become an important part of the Dresdenverse. Ebenezar meets two of his allies on the council, Martha Washington and Listens-to-Wind, a Native American wizard who Ebenezar calls Injun Joe. It turns out that they (and their recently dead comrade Simon Pietrovich) are the opposition to the current Merlin (the head of the White Council). This comes in handy as the Merlin has it in for Harry. Many of the members of the White Council are extremely displeased with Harry drawing them into a war with the Red Court of Vampires and they wish to bring charges against him. He’s already distrusted because of his killing of Justin DuMorne when he was younger.
Ebenezar warns Harry that the Merlin will make three plays against Harry and that he can only help with two. The first comes when the Merlin tries to put one of his allies in Simon Pietrovich’s now-vacant position on the Senior Council. This will give him a majority. The allies fight this by insisting a more senior wizard be appointed, Ebenezar being the most senior wizard in attendance.
The conversation then turns to the war with the Red Court and we learn that because wizards and technology don’t get along, the wizards have been petitioning both Queens of Faerie to help secure routes through the Nevernever. Titania, Queen of the Summer Court, has refused and Mab’s feelings aren’t clear. Seeing as Mab already popped into this story, this will have consequences.
The Merlin’s toadie, LaFortier, reports that the Red Court will cease all hostilities if the wizards turn over one Harry Dresden. Only Harry is a wizard and has the protection of the Council. Or is he? It’s put forth by LaFortier that Harry isn’t really a full wizard and he never faced a full trial of his peers after the death of Justin DuMorne LaFortier also hints, rather dirtily, that Harry might have had something to do with the death of Simon Pietrovich, who trained DuMorne. They call for a vote, but Ebenezar succesfully petitions to make it a vote of only the Senior Council. It’s three to three, down to the enigmatic Gatekeeper when the wizard sent to petition Queen Mab appears to report that she spoke to one of the Council members. It comes out that Harry was chosen as the emissary to the Winter Court. The Gatekeeper proposes that the case for Mab become his trial by fire (or perhaps ice?). If he succeeds, it will prove him a true wizard. Not having a choice, Harry accepts. The Merlin has made two moves against Harry now. Ebenezar’s warning promises a third.
Now fully committed to investigating Reuel’s death, Harry decides to go to Karrin Murphy, to get some official police info. Murphy’s at home, and not in a good way. After a little prodding, she tells Harry that she was married once, when she was very young, and she just found out her ex-husband has died. She’s upset, and has been unable to sleep due to recurring nightmares from the Kravos incident (in Grave Peril). So she’s been drinking and taking Valium, a dangerous combination. Harry, in an effort to show his sympathy, tells Murphy about his own dead love, Elaine Mallory, who was also raised by Justin DuMorne and trained in magic. In the end, she turned on Harry along with Justin and Harry was barely able to escape. She died along with Justin in the fire that Harry caused.
Only, when Harry arrives home, he finds out that not only is Elaine alive and in his apartment, but that she’s the emissary of the Summer Court (as Harry is now emissary of the Winter Court). Elaine explains that Justin made her his thrall, essentially dominating her mind with his magic. She didn’t want to turn on Harry and managed to escape during the end of Harry’s battle with Justin. Harry had searched for her afterward, but she was protected. By the Summer Court. They realize they are working for opposite sides and try to figure out what to do. Harry thinks Elaine should make herself known to the White Council.
As if on cue, someone knocks on Harry’s door. Morgan, a Warden of the White Council (seen in previous DF books). The moment is tense. If Elaine is found in Harry’s apartment, it will be bad for both of them. Morgan yells and postures and in the end, insults Susan, Harry’s half-vampire love. Harry almost attacks Morgan, but then stops himself. This is the third attempt of the Merlin, he realizes. If he were to attack Morgan, he would be playing into their hands. He sends Morgan packing and when he returns to Elaine, she’s changed her mind. She leaves promising to be in touch about the case.
We’re then given a rather erotic dream of Harry and Susan that ends with her going all vampire on him. Once again we’re shown how Harry is not over her and how her vampirism is looming in all of his thoughts. After a cold shower, Harry goes down to his lab and talks to Bob the skull, who also remarks on Harry’s obsession. Harry’s been searching for a cure, but with no success. Bob is surprised Harry is working for Mab and gives Harry a quick primer on the Summer and Winter Courts. The Courts each have three Queens—the Queen who was (the Mothers), the Queen Who Is (the Queens—Mab and Titania), and the Queen Who Is Yet to Come (the Ladies—Maeve and Aurora). And each Court has a champion, the Summer or Winter Knights. Ronald Reuel was the Summer Knight. Harry now has a list of suspects with the power to off Reuel. Bob also warns that the Courts are kept in careful balance. An upset of the balance like that which might come from this murder could lead to some seriously bad shit.
Harry goes off to investigate Reuel’s apartment, posing as an FTD delivery man. He runs into a big brute named Grum who turns out to be an ogre. He and Harry tussle, and Harry gets knocked about a bit (ogres can shrug off magic). Grum makes off with some of Reuel’s stuff, but not before Harry snatches a picture of Reuel with four young people.
Harry’s next stop is the funeral parlor where Reuel’s funeral is taking place. There he manages to overhear a few people talking suspiciously about, well, him. He follows them and encounters three of the people from Reuel’s photograph. Harry gets his ass kicked again and gets pulled out of the trash by Billy with a special pizza delivery. Readers who remember Storm Front will know where this is going. Harry uses the pizza to get the help of Toot Toot the pixie. Toot Toot is geared up for war, telling Harry that it looks like it’s coming between the Summer and Winter courts. In return for the pizza, he provides a guide to Harry, the tiny but bright Elidee. She is to guide Harry to the Winter Lady and the Summer Lady, both who are currently in Chicago’s Undertown.
Undertown is essentially a city beneath Chicago. There Harry and Billy meet Grimalkin, a cat-like faerie who guides Harry to the Winter Lady. Maeve is set up in a ballroom with a big band and a bunch of 1940s dancers. Harry arrives in time to see one of several mortals die from playing a trumpet. Maeve seems to get off on it.
Harry asks Maeve point blank if she killed the Summer Knight, but she wants something for the answer. Faeries and their deals. She demands Harry’s offspring, which he denies, then she and Jenny Greenteeth throw a glamour at Harry to arouse him, something he only just manages to resist. We then meet the Winter Knight, Lloyd Slate, who gives Maeve a small box containing a knife. Maeve is displeased with the gift and strikes the Winter Knight and has Jenny inject him with heroin to quiet him. Harry notices that it takes most of her power to subdue Slate and that she wouldn’t have been able to take out Reuel, so he and Billy leave, only to end up in another fight. Almost.
It turns out Meryl and Fix, two of the four young people in the Reuel photo, are changelings of the Winter Court—half human and half fae. Changelings have to choose which side of their nature to embrace, though none of them yet have. Lily, one of the changelings, is missing and Meryl (who is half-troll) wants Harry to find her. Ronald Reuel had been protecting the changelings from Maeve and the Winter Knight, but with his death she fears the worse. Harry agrees to look for her and returns to his car, only to find Elaine in it, covered in blood.
Harry wants to take her to the hospital, but Elaine won’t have it. She makes Harry take her to Aurora, the Summer Lady, possibly not the best move for an agent of Winter, but Harry isn’t ready to leave Elaine. After meeting Korrick the centaur, and Talos, a high Summer Court Sidhe, he speaks with Aurora who urges Harry to give up his task for Winter. She warns him that he’s on a dangerous path. With a touch she releases a lot of his pain and pent-up emotions. But Harry refuses—he has a job to do. Aurora agrees to heal Elaine and tells Harry that Summer prepares to go to war. It is almost Midsummer and deprived of their knight, they wish to attack while at the height of their strength.
Harry meets up with Murphy to share information. And despite their problems in the past, Harry opens up to her about everything. She tries to help him make sense of things. Then they notice a mist in the Walmart. A mind fog. Harry and Murphy go to investigate and run into the ghoul from the opening scene, the Tigress, as well as Grum, the ogre. Harry gets knocked down so Murphy fends them off with her gun. Then Harry fights off a plant monster (he calls it a chlorofiend) and eventually kills it with iron. He meets up with Murphy again and they take on Grum together, Murphy cutting into him with a chainsaw. Murphy then repeats the trick on the chlorofiend, something Harry puzzles over later. Why didn’t it kill Murphy? He concludes it must have been under the control of one of the Queens and she couldn’t kill a non-allied mortal.
As Harry and Murphy recuperate with the Alphas (Billy’s pack of werewolves), they see that weather patterns are going crazy over Chicago, a precursor to the war betwwen the Courts. Harry goes to Lake Michigan to summon Lea, his faerie godmother. He asks Lea to take him to Mab and Titania, but instead Mab takes him to a special place over Chicago containing a Stone Table. Holy Aslan. If blood is spilled onto it, it gives power to whomever holds the table. Spill the blood of one with power, say a Wizard, and that power gets added to one side. Currently Summer holds the table. Harry also sees the immense scale of the power each side is bringing to bear here and it scares him. Lea tells him that the war will begin by sunup and Harry is running out of time.
Harry tries to call in help, through Ebenezar, but Morgan, always with a hate-on for Harry, denies his request. Harry then turns to Elaine, confirming that it was Lloyd Slate who cut her up before. Apparently Maeve was trying to get her blood for a ritual. Harry convinces her to take him to the Mothers and they head off into the Nevernever. Only there’s a unicorn, a rather savage unicorn, guarding the way. They try a trick which doesn’t work and Harry’s forced to attack it. Elaine holds it off telling Harry to get to the Mothers, which he does.
The two Mothers are little old women in a cottage. They help Harry realize who is behind the death of Reuel. It’s Aurora, the Summer Lady. When the Summer Knight was killed, his mantle would return to her and somehow she changed it, hid it from the others of her Court. The Summer Mother can’t intervene, but the Winter Mother gives harry a cloth which will Unravel any enchantment. He hurries off, feeling a sense of urgency, but also excited that he could use this to return Susan to normal. As he’s traveling back, Grum appears with Elaine close behind him and knocks Harry out.
Harry comes to in the presence of Aurora, Elaine, Grum, the unicorn and—surprise—Lloyd Slate. Harry correctly guesses that Grum was really Talos, the Sidhe, and the unicorn really Korrick the centaur. Elaine forces him to talk which gives Harry an excuse to fill us in on what’s been happening. The Summer Lady had Lloyd Slate kill Ronald Reuel. Slate hates Maeve and willingly served Aurora. Reuel’s mantle returned to Aurora who put it into the missing changeling Lily and turned her into a statue. Aurora knew the Winter Mother would provide an Unraveling and she intends to use it to change Lily back and kill her on the Stone Table. Aurora says she’s sick of the endless battle between Summer and Winter and intends to end it. Elaine says she owes Aurora and has to help her. Harry, trapped with Slate about to kill him, summons his power for a death curse.
Elaine stops everything, convinces Aurora to let her handle his death to spare her the death curse. She binds Harry and Aurora puts him over quicksand and tells him it’s just like old times. Which brings Harry back to when they used to copy each others’ bindings. He realizes that she softballed him, gave him the ability to get out and he gets out, though he manages to land and get caught in a tree. Strangely, the Gatekeeper appears to help him get down and tells him that his trial is discharged. The Winter Queen has allowed the Wizards to travel through her lands. He says Harry can go home right there and feel successful. Only Harry won’t. He has to finish this all. The Gatekeeper responds that he won’t vote against Harry (telling him that had Harry given up, he would have killed him). He leaves Harry with some parting gifts, an ointment that sees through Faerie glamours and a piece of the Stone Table which will help Harry find it.
Harry assembles a war party including the Alphas, Meryl and Fix. They head out to the lake where they all get a dose of magic ointment. Then gunshots ring out and the Tigress appears. Meryl takes a grazing blow, but the Alphas take out the Tigress without any damage taken on the good guy side. They uncover Ace, another of the changelings who has been the secret gunman and who hired the Tigress. Turns out he made a deal with the Red Court for protection. Disgusted Meryl tells him to get lost, which he does.
Then Harry and his merry (or perhaps furry) band climb a staircase into the sky where faerie hosts are assembled for war. He checks in with Mab who tells him to get to the river and her forces can help get him to the Stone Table. This leads to the fight. Many of these books end with a big fight. I have to admit that it’s my least favorite part of the book. Harry, the Alphas, Meryl and Fix get into it with Aurora’s forces—Talos, Korrick and Lloyd Slate. Harry and Aurora play Keep Away with the Unraveling but eventually Aurora wrests it back from Harry and uses it on the Lily statue, sealing Harry behind an overgrowth of thorns.
Harry convinces Elaine to help him open up a pathway that he can get through and goes after Aurora alone. Talos appears to help the Summer Lady, but Meryl, who made her choice and is now in full troll mode, holds him off. Harry takes the knife from Aurora and in the end unleashes Toot Toot and fellow faeries against Aurora armed with boxcutters. They take Aurora down and Harry passes out.
When he wakes up, he’s back at his place and we find out how everything has come together. Harry is presumably off the hook with the White Council, and war has been averted between the Summer and Winter Courts. Surprisingly, Lily has become the new Summer Lady. Since she had the mantle of the Summer Knight, Aurora’s power went into Lily as she died. She chooses Fix to be her Summer Knight. Harry also finds out that Meryl died in the end, having chosen her troll form.
At the end of the book, Elaine advises Harry to stop feeling sorry for himself. That he’ll do no good for Susan in the current state he’s in. We end with Harry showing up for the Alphas roleplaying night, a hopefully encouraging sign that he’s starting to rejoin humanity again.
I tend to divide many of the Dresden Files books into those that deal with the undead and those that deal with faeries, and the latter tend to be the ones I enjoy the most. Summer Knight kicks off the ongoing arc dealing with Faerie.
It also starts to introduce the factions and political machinations of the White Council. Previously we’d seen Morgan give Harry trouble, but Summer Knight gives us a closer glimpse into the inner workings of the White Council, and how badly some of them hate Harry Dresden.
We also get to see more of the Alphas. Since their appearance in Fool Moon, they’ve grown and matured. Billy, for example, who started out a little heavy is now a bodybuilder. But more than that, they now patrol on their own, helping the people of Chicago.
Summer Knight is also where Harry and Murphy’s relationship really starts to deepen. I was frustrated in the first couple of books where Murphy kept doubting Harry, but here we see Harry opening up to Murphy, telling her not only about his history, but about the world of the supernatural, even things he technically shouldn’t be telling her. This is where they start trusting one another, and I was happy to see that relationship strengthen and grow.
Then, of course, there’s the war between the wizards and vampires, which is already kicking into high gear. Justified or not, Harry started a whole mess of trouble when he killed Bianca, and as we’ve seen, good wizards are already dying. Even worse, they’re gunning for Harry specifically and things are still in full swing by the end of Summer Knight. The wizards can now use paths through the Nevernever, but will that be enough?
What’s up next for Mr. Dresden? Knights, holy weapons, and fallen angels, oh my. Tune in later for Death Masks, the fifth book in the Dresden Files. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Summer Knight in the comments.
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.