Review of White Night by Jim Butcher
by Jim Butcher
Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
When I began re-reading White Night, I wondered why I had previously given it five stars. The plot didn't sound very interesting from the description on the dust jacket; it certainly didn't compare to Proven Guilty, which is now my gold standard of Dresden. Had I slipped into an alternate universe where I mistakenly gave out five star ratings to four star books?
Turns out, no, I was still in my universe (as much as one can say this is one's universe, after all). About halfway through the book, I began to remember why it was good enough to earn all five of those stars. Three quarters through, I was convinced: White Night is great Dresden Files material.
The first part of the book seems underwhelming because it lulls you into a false sense of normalcy. It seems more like a typical Dresden Files mystery, more reminiscent of Fool Moon than the more arc-oriented later instalments. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but it did feel like a step backward. While I had faith that Jim Butcher was just waiting to drop the plot bomb on me, that wasn't enough to keep me satisfied.
As the mystery deepens, Madrigal Raith's involvement becomes apparent, and the plot goes from finding a serial killer to defusing a coup in the White Court. That's more like it! Butcher reaches even further back to bring us Helen Beckitt (and I have to admit, I barely remembered who she was, even though I re-read Storm Front a little over a month ago). Like Proven Guilty, White Night reminds us how much Harry has changed. He's made a lot of enemies, and eventually some of them will come back for more.
Still, the plot of White Night doesn't have the same gravity as Proven Guilty or even Dead Beat. Harry does precious little investigation—as the series grows longer, it appears that the length of time between any two consecutive attempts on Harry's life approaches zero. The characters in the Ordo Lebes never felt like more than background noise, fixtures that can serve as victims or obstacles as the plot requires.
White Night also has a lot less fancy magic in it. Aside from some use of Little Chicago—a scene which, I admit, is quite cool—Harry mostly practises evocation. Or, as it becomes in Harry's hands, messy gouts of fire. I love my messy gouts of fire, but the intricate and intense nature of performing thaumaturgy is one of my favourite parts of the Dresdenverse. That being said, we do see some more of Molly's talent, particularly her propensity for veils. Molly's role in White Night way below sidekick, barely even apprentice. While she does appear in few scenes, however, each of them carries with it a deep importance to Harry's character. The lessons he teaches her are the lessons he has learned—or, thanks to Murphy, is re-learning—himself.
If Proven Guilty gave us a glimpse of Harry in the past, White Night shows us Harry struggling with the present. In particular, Jim Butcher makes rare use of a flashback to the previous summer, where Harry is in New Mexico training new Wardens. He tangles with ghouls, who capture and then kill two of the young trainees. Then he loses it, executes one of the ghouls the Wardens had captured, and lets the other one go with a warning: "Never again." That, combined with his sudden ability to speak ghoul (thanks to the shadow of Lasciel), makes Ramirez a little afraid of Harry.
There's a scene even earlier in the book, where Mac asks Harry if he's the one committing the murders. Now, Butcher was stretching a bit here to demonstrate how much Harry has changed in the eyes of the magical community. I'm not sure I believe Harry has gone dark enough to warrant that kind of suspicion. Nevertheless, it's still a tense and very solemn moment.
Even as Harry looks at how much darker he's become, someone else close to him is moving toward the light. She really steals the show in the last part of the book, and I had totally forgotten about it. She is also one of the reasons I decided White Night was worth five stars.
I'm talking, of course, about the Heel Face Turn of Lash (as Harry nicknames the shadow of Lasciel living in his head). Ever since he picked her up in Death Masks, I've been wondering how he gets rid of her, because I knew she wasn't present in the most recent books. Lash's sacrifice and demise is the best thing about White Night, because it says so much about Harry and demonstrates Butcher's ability to write tragic figures.
I don't see Lash's change of heart as unrealistic, despite the fact that she's the shadow of a millennia-old fallen angel who is unspeakably evil. Emphasis belongs on the word "shadow." Lash is not Lasciel but a photocopy, as Harry puts it, and one that will be destroyed if he ever does pick up the blackened denarius that holds Lasciel's consciousness. And if Lash is just a pale reflection of the true fallen angel, stuck in Harry's poor, old, feeble mortal brain, Harry might be capable of changing her just as she is capable of changing him. Watching Lash gradually accept the idea of having an independent existence is a very heartwarming experience. It demonstrates why Harry is the hero: he's trying to save a copy of a fallen angel, which might be as far from humanity as one can get. Sure, he's doing it to save his own skin too, but I have no doubt that he is sincere in the effort.
And then Lash goes and sacrifices herself so that Harry can survive the climactic battle (which otherwise sucks). This was a rather sudden turn of events; I kind of wish Lash had stuck around for another book and continued to ride shotgun in Harry's head. Regardless, this was a great way to remove Lash from the equation but keep Harry's mind (and spirit) somewhat intact.
Harry stumbles on to the mystery in White Night because Madrigal Raith couldn't resist dragging him into it. In doing so, Raith dooms the enterprise and sets back the Black Council's plans (whatever those may be). It is becoming clear that Harry is more of a liability for the bad guys than they could ever have imagined way back in Storm Front. I doubt things will get any easier for Harry—and I wouldn't have it any other way.