Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
So I don't like werewolves but do like vampires. Some of you will never forgive me, I know. Others will be happy I've taken a side. But if you hold up Fool Moon against Grave Peril, there's no contest. Dresden Files #3 is where it the magic happens. (You may groan.)
With another in media res opening, Jim Butcher plunges us back into the Dresdenverse while simultaneously expanding it even further: Knights of the Cross, ghosts and more spirits, and a look at the fabled Nevernever, complete with a faerie godmother. It sounds like too much, but Butcher makes it work.
There's a trademark cadence to every Dresden Files book that becomes clear if you read enough of them (especially in quick succession). The story takes place over a few days (although the plot extends backward several months to a demon-summoning sorcerer). Harry starts off stressed, gets more so, gets beaten down by every bad guy in sight, then figures out a way to save the day. While the pacing is predictable, the books are far from formulaic, because of the characters. With each new character, Butcher introduces an unknown element, something that changes the way Harry reacts and alters the playing field.
Murphy's role in Grave Peril is as an offscreen damsel in distress. This is one of my complaints about the book, because Murphy is one of my favourite characters, and there is zero Murphy-Dresden banter here. It irks me. Instead, Harry's stand-in sidekick is Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross and wielder of Amoracchius, a kick-ass holy sword. I have nothing against Michael; he's a nice guy. But he's not Murphy.
Nevertheless, Michael and his family complicate things for Harry just as Murphy's distress complicates things. Grave Peril is a perfect example of why superheroes don't reveal their secret identities to their loved ones: good villains punch the heroes in the loved ones. Harry lacks a secret identity, so the first dominoes to fall will always be his friends. But because Harry has a darker side to his powers, he can't just isolate himself from friends and family, for that way lies madness. Plus, there's another obstacle: he can't stop caring. When you get down to it, Harry will always do the right thing, even if it's not the smart thing.
Bianca, Red Court vampire with a grudge against Harry the size of a small state, makes this very clear in her gift to Harry at her ball. Oh yes, there's a vampire ball. A masquerade, even. And a dragon shows up. It's pretty awesome, it contains some of the pivotal events in the book. Most importantly, Butcher weaves character conflict and plot conflict together in the form of Harry's faerie godmother, Lea. Not only does Lea take Susan's memories of Harry from her, but the faerie also gives Michael's sword to the vampires for unmaking. The first is a tragedy that seems like a permanent, lasting one (this is not to be, but Butcher doesn't let us down on that count). The second prompts Harry to Do the Right Thing, even when it looks like it will get him and his friends killed.
Even though we know Harry will succeed (this is the Dresden Files after all), we never know the cost of each victory. In the case of Grave Peril, it is surprisingly high. Not only does This Mean War, on a personal level Harry and Susan's relationship has changed forever. I'm not talking about Susan's memory loss; no, just when you think you've figured out the tragedy Butcher plans to exact, he introduces a twist that turns the knife and makes it even more painful.
Harry emerges from this book physically whole but psychically battered. He can no longer be with the woman he loves. He's precipitated a war between the White Council and the Red Court vampires. And all because he dared to take out one sorcerer and do the right thing. Being a hero is tough. Not quitting is even tougher. Since I've read this series before, I know it's only going to get worse. And that just makes the books better and better.