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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mini Review: Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks - Jim Butcher (Published 2003)
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Urban
Completed: April 11 2011

Jim Butcher packs a lot of story into Death Masks. It definitely feels like he's making a deliberate effort to expand the setting of The Dresden Files at this point in the series. While there is the usual contained 'case-file' story (Harry Dresden is hired to find the stolen Shroud of Turin) the real interest in Death Masks is in how the world and several recurring characters develop. Therein lies the rub - this book is good for fans but not an easy place for new readers to jump in.

The story would be coherent enough for a new reader but the level of engagement a reader experiences with Death Masks depends heavily on their attachment to Harry's ex-girlfriend Susan, Knight of the Cross Michael and enigmatic mob boss Marcone. The emotional waves of the story may simply wash over a reader who has no pre-existing sympathy for these characters. Harry's relationship with Susan particularly provides the emotional core of the story (and cranks the sensuality of this installment up to a new level for The Dresden Files). The often heart-wrenching drama of their story almost overshadows the constant threat to Harry's life posed by Red Court vampire nasty Ortega.

Death Masks is one for the fans. Fortunately I am one of those so I still give it 3.5 stars. Butcher maintains his trademark humour in the face of some serious narrative tension, but overall Death Masks goes to dark places and the reader needs to be sufficiently invested to go there too.

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