Proven Guilty, the eighth book in The Dresden Files takes Harry to a horror convention, of all places. If you’ve been reading along, you know that Harry’s world has been heating up, with new enemies and new temptations, and Proven Guilty continues the simmer, even if the main plot is a little on the weak side.
The book begins rather gruesomely with the execution of a young, 16-year old Korean boy. Morgan, our favorite uptight Warden, does the honors, beheading the teenager. Harry, watching, gets sick to his stomach. Despite the boy’s crimes—manipulating others with black magic, some into suicide—Harry feels that he might have been saved if he had been taught about his gift. The Merlin tries to assure Harry that the Laws of Magic are necessary, and that things would be much worse without them. Harry doesn’t seem convinced.
Harry attempts to leave but is stopped by Ebenezar (with whom Harry’s relationship is strained, if you remember the events of Blood Rites). Ebenezar tells Harry that the war isn’t going well, despite the aid of the Venatori Umbrorum and the Fellowship of St. Giles, two organizations working against the Red Court of Vampires. In fact, without them, Ebenezar thinks that the White Council would have been destroyed. He wants Harry’s help enlisting the Winter Court of Faerie to work against the Red Court. The Summer Court declared war on the vamps, but have done little more than secure their borders. He’s hoping that the Winter Court will do a little more to attack them. He also mentions that this is a request from him and a few trusted wizards. Harry guesses that he fears a traitor on the Council. Harry also asks why they staged the execution in Chicago. Ebenezar mentions that Chicago is a crossroads of a sort—many ways in and out—but mostly, he thinks because the Merlin wanted it to be a message to Harry who has had his own problems with breaking the Laws of Magic (such as when he was forced to kill his guardian, Justin DuMorne). Ebenezar also passes on to Harry a note from the enigmatic Gatekeeper who warns Harry of black magic in Chicago and urges him to investigate. In the conversation we learn that Harry is regaining some use of his burned hand and has been playing guitar as a way of physical therapy. Ebenezar asks Harry to grab a bite, but Harry refuses. Not only is he still sick from witnessing the execution, but he still doesn’t trust Ebenezar, and so he leaves.
As he gets into the Blue Beetle, Lasciel, the fallen angel that haunts Harry since he picked up the Denarian coin, appears in his passenger seat. She’s only really in his head, but Harry can’t tell the difference. She continues her temptress act, warning him that he might need access to the power that she can give him. But he shoos her away. We also learn that Harry hasn’t seen his friend Michael Carpenter since Lasciel appeared. He fears Michael knowing about the fact that he has a Denarian in his mind. As Harry is driving, another car slams into the Beetle, sending him up onto the curb. Harry is stunned and remains where he is until the police come, including good old Karrin Murphy. Murphy gives Harry a lift back home and he fills her in on what’s happened. She doesn’t like the idea of wizards killing people in Chicago, but Harry gives her a crash course in black magic and what it does to people. Tempting them, warping them, until, in his words, they have to be put down. In the apartment, Harry sees Thomas for a minute—he’s seemed preoccupied lately and Harry only sees him in passing.
Harry first addresses the Faerie issue by calling up Fix, the new Summer Knight introduced in Summer Knight. Fix won’t talk on the phone but offers to meet Harry for lunch at McAnally’s on the following day. Then Harry calls up most of his other friends (except for Michael and Father Forthill) about the black magic, though none can seem to help him. So he goes into his workroom and consults Bob the Skull. We also get to see Harry’s new project—a miniature version of Chicago, built to scale, called Little Chicago, that Harry can use for various magical purposes. We also get a brief primer in temporal magic from Bob when he guesses that the Gatekeeper somehow learned of the troubles with black magic from the future. Actual time travel is prohibited due to the possibility of paradox, but there are subtle ways to use that kind of magic. Harry decides to use Little Chicago and since he can’t track black magic outright he will use a ritual to track blood and terror, things that accompany black magic.
But before Harry can perform the ritual, he gets a phone call. From Molly Carpenter, Michael’s seventeen year old daughter. She’s in jail and used her one phone call to call Harry. Always a sucker for a damsel in distress, Harry agrees to meet with her before he decides what to do next. At the police station, Harry finds that Molly isn’t in jail and that she lied to him to get him to come down to help her boyfriend, Nelson, who IS in jail. Harry is ready to walk away until she mentions that he’s an orphan (like Harry). Harry talks to Nelson and finds out that while he was attending SplatterCon!!!, a horror movie convention, he was in the bathroom when a certain Clark Pell came in. Nelson heard something attacking Pell while he was busy in the stall. When he was able to get to Pell, he found him beaten and ended up taking the rap. He indicates he has to be back to meet with movie director Darby Crane. Harry packs him into a cab, then takes Molly home to her parents.
Molly hasn’t been living at home, it seems. And things are not good between her and her mother. But Michael is happy to see her. And Harry. He doesn’t seem to notice a sign of Lasciel. Michael has to go on a mission, but asks Harry to talk to Molly, try to patch things over between her and Charity. Also to check on his family. Harry agrees. Then Harry gives Molly a ride back to SplatterCon!!! Molly gets Harry a badge and he runs into Rawlins, the beat cop we saw back in Dead Beat. He lets Harry into the crime scene and Harry uses his Sight and sees that the attack was the result of Black Magic. Then, as he’s leaving, the lights go out.
Harry follows screams to find the Reaper, a character from a horror movie, attacking some of the con-goers. One is dead. Rawlins fires his gun, which has no effect, so Harry uses his magic to dispatch it. It leaves ectoplasm behind. The cops show up and question Harry at length about what happened, Detective Sergeant Greene not quite believing about black magic. Murphy appears to help Harry out of the spot and takes him home.
There, Murphy confronts Harry about the weight that seems to press on him. She suspects he’s bothered by the people he’s killed. The humans like Corpsetaker in Dead Beat. Harry expresses concern that he could actually turn into a monster like the Council expects.
The next morning Harry wakes up and has his usual cold shower, only Lasciel appears and gives Harry the illusion that the water is warm. Just one of her minor benefits. Harry sends her away again and Murphy comes to pick him up and take him to the hospital. There Harry meets with the victims and looks at them with his Sight. It shows the psychic trauma that they’ve experienced, the worst that Harry’s seen. He realizes that a phobophage is responsible, a spirit that feeds on fear. Murphy drops him back home where Thomas tells Harry he’s leaving. He’s found a job now, has some money, and is back on his feet. Harry acts brotherly, then hops in a cab and heads to McAnally’s to meet with the Summer Knight.
Fix arrives accompanied by Lily, the newest Summer Lady (also from Summer Knight). They are under a compulsion from Titania (whose daughter Harry killed) not to help Harry. However, using indirect questions he gets some information from them, namely that Winter’s not getting involved because there’s an imbalance and the Winter Court isn’t strong enough. Summer can’t get involved fully because doing so would leave them open to attack from Winter. Mab is unreachable (and supposedly acting weird) so Harry asks Lily to summon Maeve, the Winter Lady.
Maeve appears and taunts Harry, but Harry’s been in a bad mood all book and he brings up the way that he killed Aurora. Then he brings up an attack by one of Maeve’s people at Billy and Georgia’s wedding (something that happens in one of Butcher’s Dresden short stories). Because of the arcane laws of Faerie, Maeve owes Harry now and he asks why Winter hasn’t attacked the Red Court. Maeve answers truthfully (because Faeries can’t lie) that Mab has ordered Winter not to attack the Red Court. Maeve adds that Mab seems to be a bit crazy lately.
Harry returns to SplatterCon!!! to find that it’s crawling with cops and that Greene has called in the Feds, including Murphy’s ex-husband-now-brother-in-law, Rick. Darby Crane, the movie director appears and Mouse reacts to his presence so Harry and Murphy go to talk to him. They’re interrupted by the arrival of Lucius Glau, his attorney, a frog-faced man. They both recognize Harry’s name and there’s almost a fight, but Harry and Murphy walk away. Harry doesn’t know what Crane is, but he guesses he’s from the supernatural side of things.
Harry works on a kind of magic net for the hotel, but is interrupted and told that Molly was being detained by the police. Harry busts in and, using a friendly reporter for the Midwestern Arcane (who took over Susan Rodriguez’s job), he springs Molly from interrogation. Then Harry goes up to a hotel room with Murphy where they talk about...well, them. As a couple. They admit their attraction to one another, but Murphy admits that she doesn’t see them together. Harry doesn’t do casual. And she wants someone who will grow old with her and have a family. Harry just isn’t that person.
Harry talks over options with Bob, then prepares his spell. Molly appears, needing to use a shower and Harry lets her use his while he’s doing his wizard stuff. Lasciel hints that she has a thing for Harry and he thinks it might be true based on his previous appearances in her life (a strong friend of her father who her mother hates). As Harry works on his ritual, Charity Carpenter shows up, not pleased to find her daughter in nothing but a skimpy towel in Harry’s room. They all leave and Harry uses the spell, tracking four phobophages. He uses the spell that will turn them back on their summoner, but only manages to catch three. The other attacks more of the convention’s guests and Harry tracks it, using Hellfire to defeat it. But a girl dies while he’s fighting, leaving him wondering if he might have saved her had he stopped to help. Also, the Hellfire felt too good. Harry and Rawlins go to track the summoner, but Lucius Glau drives a van at Harry, missing him but hitting Mouse (one of my least favorite moments in the whole series). Then Darby Crane knocks Harry out with a tire iron.
Harry awakens, bound with thorn manacles to prevent his magic use, along with a gag and blindfold. Harry threatens Glau who seems to think Harry won’t survive the morning. Crane appears and gets Harry to cooperate by shooting Rawlins in the foot. Crane intends to auction Harry off on eBay. The lead bidder is the widow of Duke Ortega (now-deceased emissary of the Red Court). Harry calls on Lasciel’s help to get out. She helps him escape the manacles by dislocating all the bones in his hand and he manages to get Rawlins and himself out of the building, though Crane and Glau catch up to him.
The cavalry arrives in the form of Thomas Raith who shoots Glau and holds off Crane with a shotgun. Thomas reveals that Crane is really Madrigal, one of his cousins, a White Court Vampire. Madrigal feeds on fear rather than lust. Then Mouse appears (alive and well, thankfully!) to take out Glau, who is revealed to be jann, half-djinn, half mortal. Harry questions Madrigal who says that while he was feeding on the fear, he wasn’t the summoner. Then another horror movie creature, The Scarecrow, appears to attack them, killing Glau first. Thomas gets Harry and Mouse away.
Harry figures it’s weird that the creature went after Glau first. Like maybe Glau knew something. Harry continues to track the summoner and they end up at...the Carpenter residence. Harry, panicked, looks for any sign of the family. They find Daniel unconscious in the back yard and he indicates that there’s a safe room in the house where the rest of the family is. Everyone except Molly. She was taken by the things. Harry gets the rest of the family to Father Forthill’s church where he questions Daniel. Things aren’t clear until he uses his Sight on Daniel and accidentally looks at Nelson who is staying there. He sees the same trauma on him as on the phobophage victims and it comes together for him.
He confronts Charity, asking her about her own magic. Charity admits that she once dabbled in magic, fell in with a bad crowd. Michael not only rescued her from a dragon (yes, a real dragon), he rescued her from that life. Her issues with Molly were largely due to her trying to stop Molly from using her own abilities. Harry guesses that Molly used her abilities on her friends, ostensibly to try to help them. By making them feel fear in place of their addicitions. He also realizes that the phobophages were really Fetches, sent from the Winter Court of Faerie. Harry resolves to get her back, and Charity insists on going with.
Harry tries to use Little Chicago to track Molly using her baby hair, and while the city model works, the hair doesn’t. But Charity’s blood does. Harry tracks Molly and assembles a war party consisting of himself, Charity, Thomas, Murphy, Mouse, and both Lily and Fix. Harry transfers Lily’s debt from him to Charity which allows Lily and Fix to help them. Lily is able to open a portal into Winter, but because it’s into the heart of Winter, she can’t hold it open.
Harry’s merry band heads into Arctis Tor, Mab’s seat of power, and find it...empty. Except for a bunch of bones. And there’s the stink of brimstone about the place, indicating the presence of Hell, somehow. They pass through, unmolested, until a buttload of fetches attack them. Harry and Charity head for the center of the tower where they find Molly and the last fetch, the Scarecrow. Together, Harry and Charity take it on, but it hangs on to Molly until Harry realizes that he can affect it if he doesn’t fear it. Additionally, he realizes a butterfly flying around them is really a gift from Lily, giving him Summer Court power in the heart of Winter. Using that fire, he destroys the Scarecrow.
Afterward, because of the fire, some of the prisoners stuck in ice are revealed. Lloyd Slate, the Winter Knight, is one of them, crucified on a tree, and tortured. Harry’s godmother, Lea, is another, and she also seems touched by madness. She has been kept prisoner by Mab and warns Harry not to free her. She also warns that all of Winter is coming for them due to Harry’s use of Summer magic. In the end, as Harry walks away, he thinks he sees Mab winking at him.
Harry reunites with the others and they fight their way back to Chicago. On the other side, safe, Lily admits that using the Summer magic was her idea. As a result, Winter pulled all of its forces back from Summer’s borders allowing Summer to assist the White Council. Maeve, in an unlikely move, was in on it as well.
Of course this leaves Molly safe, but having committed some serious magical crimes. Harry confronts her with this and then soulgazes with her to ensure that she hasn’t been twisted by the black magic. The soulgaze tells him that she can be okay. He tells her she has to decide whether to go to the White Council or not. She decides to go to them and convinces Charity it’s the right thing to do.
Harry brings Molly to the Council which, at the moment, is only the Merlin and the Gatekeeper. He has Lily show up and she speaks of the importance of his attack on Arctis Tor. Then Harry pleads Molly’s case and offers to mentor her. The Merlin is set on execution, and since all the other members of the Senior Council are missing, he can do that. But Harry insists that the Gatekeeper also vote, and he asks for some time to think which coincidentally results in Ebenezar and his allies on the Senior Council arriving before the final determination, allowing them to vote. Turns out they were saved by the timely arrival of one Michael Carpenter. With Michael’s recent help and the new votes, Molly avoids execution, though she is under the Doom of Damocles, which means that if she breaks any other laws she can be killed immediately, and Harry with her.
Harry talks to Michael afterward and admits that he touched Lasciel’s coin. He’s expecting a negative response, but Michael already knows. He saw Harry pick it up to save Michael’s son. He tells Harry that he’s there for him, and that it will help to give up the coin and his magic. Something Harry can’t do. He also says that if Harry does change as a result, he will deal with it. In a final manner.
Harry begins training Molly and she tries to come on to him. But he assures her they will never be together and that she has to do what he says. He makes her move back in with her family as well. We also learn that Murphy’s involvement in the attack on Winter has cost her her job. She’s been demoted as a result.
In the end, Ebenezar shows up at Harry’s place and they discuss what happened. Harry surmises that there’s a new force in the game, and that this force, now called the Black Council, has been behind most of the events of the series so far. They possibly arranged the fetches and were responsible for attacking Mab. What they will do and who their contact on the Council is, remains to be seen.
Warden of the White Council: Harry, who was made a Warden in Dead Beat, still remains in that position, though he struggles with the role, as we see during the opening execution. I think I expected Harry to have shed the cloak by now, though. His sense of duty is stronger than I expected.
Faerie: This is the first time that we see the direct results of Harry’s actions in Summer Knight. He’s gained the goodwill of Fix and Lily, but it’s obvious that Titania holds a grudge. And that’s the Summer side. What the hell is going on with the Winter Court? Someone had attacked it, clearly. Someone who had access to Hellfire. Fallen angels? The Denarians? And why? And what’s going on with Mab? Harry still owes her two favors. Is she really crazy? And if someone attacked Winter, why? Which brings us to....
The Black Council: In this novel, Harry gives the shadowy movers and shakers a name. And it seems clear that they have some presence on the White Council, that there are traitors there. Harry also supposes that this Black Council may have been responsible for the events of the books in the series to date—from Victor Sells, to the belts of the werewolves in Fool Moon, to the Nightmare and the power of the Red Court. This is the first actual indication that all of these plots might have a connection despite Harry’s involvement. And if the Black Council is trying for something epic, then Harry’s overall story is in opposition to it.
Murphy: As a result of Murphy taking time off to help Harry, she gets demoted, and is no longer a Lieutenant (now Sergeant). But Harry and Murphy’s relationship is rock hard now. It’s sad that they won’t get together (though it’s a good way to keep that tension going), but Murphy now is willing to choose Harry over the police force. I think the Harry-Murphy relationship, and how it changes, is one of the more interesting parts of the whole series.
Outsiders: It’s not a large part of the story, but we learn that they attacked the Warden training camp and were fought off by Ebenzar, Michael and others. They’ve only been mentioned a few times before, but Harry has mentioned that only mortal magic can summon them (not vampires, for example, or other supernatural creatures). One thing I’ve learned with Butcher is that these elements are not just dropped in as minor brush strokes. They usually end up meaning something. Just what, though, isn’t clear.
Temporal Magic: This is an odd one. There’s a nice little exposition from Bob the Skull about temporal magic and time travel. Yet it doesn’t feature very prominently in the story. I struggle with this one, I must admit. Is it just a little touch on fleshing out the Laws of Magic? Or how Harry might be warned about the Black Magic ahead of time? Or is it something important that will be referenced later?
The War: Continues. Most of the action is off-screen this time, but Harry’s actions help the Council against the Red Court. I’ve already mentioned the traitor, but we also learn that the wizards have a training camp for new Wardens. Also there are the two organizations that help the White Council in the war. We know the Fellowship of St. Giles already from Susan Rodriguez’s involvement, but the Venatori Umbrorum is still largely an unknown entity.
Molly: Perhaps one of the biggest changes to Harry’s life is the addition of an apprentice now. Molly is interesting in that she starts out like Harry, with the Doom of Damocles hanging over her. Also, she is a connection to Michael and his family. But it’s a big signpost that things are changing. Who would have thought at the beginning that headstrong Harry would be training a new wizard? It’s like our little Harry is growing up.
So that’s Proven Guilty—what did you think about it? Any theories or suspicions? Please sound off in the comments. And check back for the next post where Harry starts looking into a series of apparent suicides that prove to be something else, in White Night....