Blood Rites, the sixth book in The Dresden Files, is an odd one. While the plot, revolving around a problem on the set of a porn film, is not one of Butcher’s best, it drops several bombshells, and perhaps does the most out of all the books so far to change Harry Dresden’s world.
Harry starts out in a burning building, carrying a box of puppies as a monkey demon throws flaming excrement at him. The puppies are Tibetan guardian dogs, stolen from a Brother Wang, and Harry is recovering them. Driving the getaway car (in this case, the Blue Beetle) is Thomas Raith, the White Court vampire we last saw acting as Duke Ortega’s second in Death Masks. Thomas has been helping Harry out quite a bit lately and he wants something in return, for Harry to investigate some troubles a director friend of his is having. After assuring Harry he’ll get paid, Harry agrees, though as an added condition he asks Thomas to tell him why he’s been helping if he looks into this.
Harry drops off the dogs, but on the way out is attacked by a Black Court Vampire. He manages to fend it off with a holy water balloon while helpfully informing us that Black Court vampires are basically Stoker vampires. Harry also helpfully brings up Mavra, the Black Court vampiress that he crossed at Bianca’s party back in Grave Peril. We also discover that one of the puppies managed to escape the box and end up in the Blue Beetle. Harry and Thomas decide to get off the street.
They go to the party held for Harry’s new client, Arturo Genosa. Genosa is a porn film producer and fears a curse aimed at preventing his new film from being produced. Two people have already died, and there are three ex-wives in the picture. Genosa wants to hire Harry to protect the cast and crew. Harry agrees. We also see Justine, Thomas’s girlfriend (last seen in Grave Peril), and it’s clear that theirs is not the usual relationship. She gets worried about Thomas and the recent Black Court attack, but Thomas tries to use his powers on her to make her forget about it, until Harry, not one for mind control, intervenes.
Harry returns home and checks in with Bob the Skull. In addition to saddling Bob with looking after the pup, Harry wants Bob to take Mister out (he can take over the cat’s body) and look for the Black Court vamps so Harry can go on the offensive. Bob also gives us some helpful exposition about the White Court and how they feed—essentially eating their victim’s spirit, a little piece at a time. Also that when the Hunger is upon them, they are less and less in control.
Harry’s next stop is Karrin Murphy’s dojo, where she’s schooling some cops in true badass style. Harry enlists her help in killing the Black Court vamps, which she agrees to, while also mentioning she has a family reunion coming up. Harry, who was keeping the puppy in his pocket, foists it off on Murphy, then heads to the movie set.
Outside the building Harry meets Jake and Bobby. Jake is easygoing, but Bobby the meathead is high-strung and gets in Harry’s face. He goes inside and meets Joan Dallas, who admits to doing all the real work. She shows Harry around and warns about the star of the film, one Trixie Vixen. Then Harry senses some dark mojo going on and runs into the dressing room to try to help.
Harry finds two people lying on the ground in a pool of blood and water with a live current running through it. Harry nixes the electricity with his natural wizard anti-technology juice and Jake soon recovers, but the other person, an actress named Giselle, isn’t breathing. Harry and Jake do CPR while Joan calls the paramedics. From the looks of her, Harry is able to piece out that the water in the shower must have turned scalding, the results of the entropy curse.
After they cart Giselle off, Harry meets Emma, another of the actresses, this one with two children. Harry realizes that the entropy curse wasn’t going after Arturo, that it quite clearly bypassed several people to attack Giselle. He surmises that it’s going after the women involved in the film.
Harry returns to his office to be held at gunpoint, and within a magic circle, by Kincaid, the mercenary/bodyguard last seen guarding Ivy the Archive in Death Masks. But Harry has called Kincaid in. He wants the mercenary’s help in going against Mavra and the Black Court. Kincaid agrees with a few conditions. Harry guesses that Kincaid isn’t human despite the gunman’s protestations.
Harry goes to visit Murphy to track down some info on Genosa, but Murph is in a bad mood—her sister is bringing her new fiancé to the family reunion and Murphy is feeling like it makes her look even worse. Harry tries to sympathize, and offer advice, but he doesn’t get the family thing being an orphan. Murphy agrees to look into the money on Genosa and his company. Harry grabs the puppy and takes off.
Back on the set of the porno, Harry meets associate PA Inari. She takes him to Arturo Genosa whom Harry questions. Genosa mentions that someone has been buying up studios, but he’s not sure who it is. He’s decided to strike out on his own. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Trixie Vixen, Arturo’s most recent ex-wife (and not a very nice woman), and then by Lara Romany, the replacement actress and Inari’s older sister. She sends Harry’s libido into overdrive and he later twigs to the fact that she’s a White Court vampire and probably a Raith.
Harry calls up Murphy and finds out some info about Arturo. Aside from the alimony he pays his three wives, all his money is tied into the studio and it will fail if he can’t get his latest film up and running. As Harry’s on the phone, someone comes into the office and tries to kill him with a poisoned blowgun dart before running off. Harry narrowly escapes.
Harry returns to the shoot, trying to help out where he can, when he catches sight of a shadowy figure lurking around the set. He chases the person down only to realize it’s Thomas Raith. Harry punches him and then confronts him over not telling him the whole truth. But then Lara appears, with two guns pointed at Harry.
Lara starts out by protecting Thomas. Harry learns that she’s his older sister. Then, when Thomas reveals that he brought Harry into this, and that he’s thinking of taking on his father, she turns the guns on him. Thomas draws her fire, too well. He takes a few shots, one in the chest. Harry only manages to survive by throwing up a magical shield. He waves Lara off with his magic, then tries to get Thomas clear. Only as they’re escaping, they run into Inari, and Harry almost shoots her. But when she sees Thomas injured, she breaks Harry’s blasting rod over his back and calls Lara. Lara has both men at her mercy, but, as if things weren’t bad enough, three Black Court vampires appear.
The Black Court vampires pause for a moment, communing with their master, who Harry discovers is Mavra. Harry, who apparently does learn from his experiences, has a special spell pre-planned and uses it to empower himself. Then he and Lara agree to a 24 hour truce. As Harry and the White Courts battle with the Black Courts, another curse spell flies at Inari. Harry manages to absorb the spell and send it against one of the Black Court vamps. It dies unexpectedly from a frozen turkey falling on it from a high altitude. Thomas and Lara do their best to help with the other two vamps, but Thomas runs out of fuel and Lara gets double-teamed by the remaining Black Courts. Harry takes out one with a high heel through the heart and then uses the power of faith, his faith in magic, to take out the other. With Lara, Thomas and Inari all wounded (and Harry not in great shape either), Harry agrees, under the truce, to take them all to safety.
They go to one of the Raith’s estates, an act that Harry doesn’t particularly like, but that seems the best option. Thomas needs to feed or else he’ll die. And there’s a truce, right? Only when they pull up at the residence, so does Lord Raith, the head of the Raith household, father to Lara, Thomas, and Inari. He agrees to observe the truce, but it’s clear he would rather harm Harry. As mentioned, Thomas needs to feed, and the only one for him to feed on is Justine, who is conveniently waiting in the house. Only in Thomas’s condition, Justine’s not likely to survive. Thomas won’t know what he’s doing. Harry warns her that she doesn’t have to do this, but then the power of his, um, power spell wears off and he collapses.
When he awakes, Thomas comes to see him. Harry asks about Justine and Thomas’s look tells him everything he needs to know. Harry is overcome by rage and walks out on Thomas. Only it doesn’t make sense to leave before sunrise because the Black Court’s still gunning for him, so he takes a long, hot shower instead. When he’s out, Inari appears, her White Court powers in use. She throws herself at Harry, on him, but something prevents her from feeding. Thomas appears to take her away. Turns out Inari doesn’t know anything about her heritage and has never fed. Thomas’s father, Lord Raith, set Harry up to be Inari’s first victim, a subtle way to ensure his death. Harry was protected, though, because he still loves Susan and the power of love interferes with the White Court’s powers. Harry softens a bit toward Thomas, too, when he realizes that he was set up, too—manipulated by his father and Lara into feeding off of Justine. It doesn’t seem to make Thomas feel any better. Thomas escorts Harry to another part of the house where Lord Raith keeps paintings of the women who have born him children. The next to last of these is of Margaret Gwendolyn Lefay, Harry’s mother. Here Thomas tells Harry that they’re brothers.
Let me say that again: Harry and Thomas are brothers, sharing the same mother. Thomas even has a silver pentagram pendant to match.
Harry doesn’t believe Thomas, but the only way to be sure is to attempt a soulgaze. Harry sees Thomas struggling with his demon, then his mother appears. She speaks to Harry telling him that she had prepared for this meeting, leaving a part of herself with both Harry and Thomas. She confirms that they are brothers and asks them to help one another. And she tells Harry that she loves him. She also gives him some knowledge and the power that goes with it. She mentions, too, that she did something to Lord Raith to damage him. Harry leaves the vision extremely happy. He has seen his mother, talked to her, and because of his wizard’s Sight, that experience can never be erased.
Harry intends to stick with the case, and it’s now daylight, so he returns home, realizing that someone has been trying to get past the wards on his place. He meets Bob the Skull, in non-skull form, coming back from his reconnaissance. Only Bob has been spending some of his time in strip clubs and hasn’t found Mavra yet. Harry sends him out again and muses on his new brother. For someone who has never really had a family, it’s a chance to experience that, but Harry also realizes that he now has someone he can lose.
Harry meets up next with Murphy and Kincaid, who don’t really get along because Kincaid is more of a chauvinist than Harry and he’s a money-hungry mercenary with no sense of morality. They’re together to discuss strategy for hunting down Mavra. It’s not just the vampire mojo that they need to worry about—looks like Mavra is probably also a wizard. Also, Kincaid is on a deadline before his next job. On his way out, Harry realizes that the curse that’s targeting Arturo’s people is on a timer, always at around the same time. Harry heads back to the studio, determined to stop the next attempt. He fixes up a magical circle and has a chat with Jake who mentions that he thinks Arturo is in love again, possibly fixing to get married a fourth time. Murphy, on the phone, verifies a fourth marriage certificate. Then Trixie Vixen enters with a cell phone and a gun. Pointed at Harry.
Harry quickly realizes that Trixie’s not there to shoot him. Just to keep him busy while the curse goes after its latest target—Emma. All the while she talks to her Harry’s not too worried—he has a magic circle, right? Well, he used to. Trixie knocked it out of commission. Harry knows that the curse is coming, though. He can feel it. When Trixie’s attention wavers, Harry throws his coffee at her and rushes her. She gets off a few shots, but Harry takes her down, grabbing the gun. One of the shots hit her leg. For a long moment, Harry wants to kill her. Instead he leaves the room to find Emma dead, the victim of the curse, hit by one of the stray bullets. Others arrive to find Harry standing over the dead body with the murder weapon in his hand. Trixie takes advantage of this to put suspicion on Harry and he flees. Joan tries to stop him but Harry gives her the gun, tells her he needs to go to stop the next murder. Reluctantly, she lets him go.
Harry returns home to catch Bob returning from his search. He found Mavra at last. She’s holed up in a homeless shelter with an army of Renfields, thralls and darkhounds. Harry also asks about tying spells to people, and figures out that whatever spell his mother put on Raith could be tied to his lifeforce.
Harry sends out a message to his wheelman, who happens to be Ebenezar McCoy (last heard from in Death Masks). Ebenezar will not only drive, but he’s going to try to put the kibosh on Mavra’s power. But first Harry has to stop at Murphy’s reunion, where things quickly devolve into a soap opera. Turns out that Murphy’s sister’s new fiancé is Murphy’s ex-husband. Things go as well as you might expect before Murphy heads out to hunt vampires with Harry.
Things seem on track until Ebenezar and Kincaid see each other. They both draw weapons on one another and Harry has to intervene before they kill each other. Ebenezar apparently promised to kill Kincaid if he saw him again. Kincaid calls Ebenezar “Blackstaff” McCoy. Harry defuses things, and everyone arms up to go vampire hunting. They disguise themselves as Red Cross volunteers to get into the building.
Inside they first encounter thralls and a Renfield. Harry views them with his Sight, seeing that they’re barely human. He also sees Murphy, who appears as an angel, and Kincaid, who appears as an inhuman beast. The vampires have hostages. Kincaid is keen to ignore them, but Harry and Murphy insist.
Exploring the lair, the find children, rigged to a mine. Murphy is the only one small enough to disarm it and Kincaid talks her through it. But before she can finish, Mavra appears with darkhounds and Renfields and they come at Harry with napalm. Harry throws up a shield which stops the napalm from reaching them, but not the heat. He tries to soak it up, and succeeds, but his hand becomes a charred claw as a result. Then he cuts loose with his staff and sends fire against the vampires and their servants. Then Harry gets Murphy to reconnect the mine and, shielding the kids and his team, Harry lets the mine go off which helps to take down the vamps. They free the children, but Mavra appears, wounded but not dead, before they can get out. Harry shoots her with the paintball gun that Kincaid gave him and the garlic and silver in it tear Mavra’s body apart. Kincaid finishes things by cutting off her head. He gives Harry three days to pay him, or else.
Harry awakens at home where he talks the case over with Murphy. He’s figured out that the three ex-wives are in this together, but there seems to be someone else as well. Someone who put them up to it. Harry figures out that it must be the White Court, Raith in particular. They have been trying to manipulate Arturo, but he’s in love and so he’s protected from the White Court’s powers. So they set the ex-wives up to take out the person he’s in love with, only they don’t know who that is. So they’ve been targeting all the women on the set.
Ebenezar returns to Harry and Harry confronts him about the things he’s covered up. How he knows Kincaid, for one. Ebenzar admits to being the Blackstaff of the White Council, their assassin, able to break the Laws of Magic if he deems it necessary. He dropped the satellite on Casaverde in Death Masks in that capacity. Harry was sent to train with Ebenezar so that he could be easily killed if he was rebellious. But Ebenezar defied the Council and trained Harry instead.
Ebenezar also tells Harry that Lord Raith is responsible for the death of his mother. That he used a ritual entropy curse to kill her the night Harry was born. Harry is overcome with the urge for revenge, but Ebenezar warns Harry off, saying that Raith is somehow protected from magic, that not even Harry’s mother’s death curse could kill him. Finally Ebenezar drops the last bombshell, that he was Maggie LeFay’s teacher, that he trained her in the use of magic. Harry reels from all of these revelations and tells Ebenezar to get out.
Harry tries to call Thomas but gets Inari who says that Thomas was taken by some of Lord Raith’s goons. Harry talks to Lara next and makes a deal with her. If she tells him where Thomas is, he’ll take out Raith and set her up to lead the White Court. Lara agrees. Harry also asks that she tell Inari everything about the White Court and let her make her own decision.
Harry and Murphy head to Chez Raith where they meet up with Lara and Inari and...Justine. Turns out Thomas didn’t kill her; he pulled away at the last instant, sparing her life, but not leaving her with much of her mind intact. Still, Lara thinks she can track Thomas due to their bond and they discover he’s in the Deeps, a subterranean cavern under the estate.
They enter, but Raith is waiting for them and captures first Murphy, then Harry. Harry guesses that though Raith can’t be harmed by magic, that Maggie’s death curse has prevented him from feeding all these years. That’s why he never went after the White Court, why he hasn’t used his kiss of death or manipulated any of the women involved in the plot. But Raith has Thomas and now Harry and if he kills them, the curse will be ended.
Raith uses his powers on Murphy, then takes Harry to where Thomas is chained up. Two of Arturo’s ex-wives are there. The third has already been killed. Madge, one of the exes, begins the ritual to kill Thomas and power the next curse. Once started, she can’t stop. Also, Harry realizes that the ritual is calling on He Who Walks Behind, the demon that Justin DuMorne had once sent after him.
Raith hears sirens and goes off to check on his daughter. While he’s gone, Murphy, not as enslaved as she let on, takes out Raith’s bodyguard. Raith returns and everyone fights. Before Madge can kill Thomas, Murphy and Harry help to free him. Eventually, though, Raith breaks Thomas’s neck. Madge dies, but not before He Who Walks Behind takes control of her and tells Harry that they’ll meet again. Harry uses magic and firearms against Raith, draining his power reserves. In the end, though, Raith is still standing. That’s, however, when Lara appears, her father weak, unable to feed. She tells Harry to take Murphy and Thomas and go while she uses her now greater power on her father, essentially usurping him and turning him into her thrall.
Harry does as she says and tells Thomas that Justine is alive which at least helps him to fight for life himself. Which leaves only the loose ends. Thomas and Harry visit Lara who tells them that Inari is free of being a succubus before she boots Thomas from the White Court. Lara now knows that Harry and Thomas are brothers, but Harry knows that she’s really running the White Court. They agree that it’s best for each of them to hold on to that information. Thomas is left homeless and uses his remaining money to pay off Harry’s debt to Kincaid. In return, Harry offers to put him up until he can find something else. Harry’s hand is in bad shape, but not completely dead. Oh, and there’s this strange area of unburnt skin in the shape of the sigil of the fallen angel, Lasciel, the demon associated with the Denarian coin that Harry picked up in Death Masks and buried in his workshop. That and the fact that his staff seemed to manifest hellfire don’t bode well for Harry. And Mavra did seem to die awfully easy for a powerful vampire wizard. But Harry’s alive, he has a brother, and a dog, the puppy, who he decides to keep and names Mouse. All is at least temporarily well in the Dresden household.
Even though I’m not overly keen on the general plot of Blood Rites, it does focus quite heavily on Harry’s relationships. Perhaps the biggest revelation is that Harry has a brother now, and it’s someone we’ve met before. This explains the ways in which Thomas has gone out of his way previously to help Harry. And it adds another ally to Harry’s growing “army” of good guys. He also ends up with Mouse, who it seems is not just an ordinary pup.
Harry’s relationship with Murphy continues to grow and evolve, too. They started as purely professional colleagues, but they continue to open up to each other. Harry attends Murphy’s family reunion here, and tells her the truth about Thomas. We also see Murphy willing to back Harry up in his attack on Mavra and her scourge of vampires. But we also see Murphy struggling with the vigilante aspect of what Harry does. Time and again she wants to call in the cops, follow the letter of the law. But she also has seen some of the craziness of Harry’s world and knows that in many of these cases the cops would be outclassed.
Yet one of Harry’s closest relationships suffers. I don’t blame him for sending Ebenezar packing—there was much that he hid from Harry—but I was sad to see them part. Ebenezar’s proved a powerful ally for Harry in the past. Can he get along without him?
As far as enemies go, we get a break from the Red Court vampires, and learn more about the White and Black Courts. It seems that they’re under pressure from the Red Court, too, to take a more active part in the war. Harry leaves things on uneasy but stable ground with Lara Raith, but the Black Court no doubt hates him, and then there’s the possibility that Mavra survived.
But the biggest lingering question is what the significance of Lasciel’s mark is and why Harry is suddenly manifesting hellfire. What can it mean? And what will it lead to?
I guess you’ll have to check back in next time for a little necromancy in Dead Beat....
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.