Book Review: “Small Favor” by Jim Butcher

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Small Favor
by Jim Butcher

In this tenth novel of The Dresden Files, Chicago-based wizard detective Harry Dresden gets a job offer he can’t refuse. Naturally, it would have something to do with crime kingpin Gentleman Johnny Marcone, who for his services to the magical community has been granted a kind of nationhood as a signer of the Unseelie Accords—other signatories of which include the various faerie and vampire courts, for example. So when Marcone is kidnapped by a sorcerer of tremendous power, Dresden is put on the case to rescue him.

The only puzzling thing about this is that the person hiring him is Queen Mab, sovereign of the Winter Court of faerie, who is herself a scarily powerful and not very nice magical being. And as long as Harry is working for the Winter Queen, the forces of Summer are out to get him—specifically, a series of billygoat-like toughs known as Gruffs. Yes, those guys. Laugh if you like, but they prove a surprisingly dangerous distraction while Harry goes about his real case. Each time he fights off one or two of them, he only succeeds in provoking one of their tougher, gruffer, older brothers to come after him next.

Meanwhile, Harry’s quarry turns out to be an evil as ancient as the world itself: fallen angels who, using thirty silver denarii as talismans, transform their human followers into all-but-unkillable, killer monsters. These Denarians, also known as Nickelheads (Dresden’s pet name for them), have Marcone. This means they will try first to tempt him, then to force him to take up one of the coins and become a fiend as deadly as themselves.

But that, Dresden finds out too late, is only the first step in an even bigger and dastardlier plan. As our wise-cracking, spell-hurling protagonist gathers allies for a confrontation with the Denarians, he plays right into the enemy’s plan by bringing in the Archive, a 12-year-old girl who contains the collected knowledge of mankind. And as it turns out, the Archive is the one the Denarians are really after. Using a cocktail of treachery, brutality, and heavy-duty sorcery, the Nickelheads make off with Ivy too. And if they succeed in forcing a coin on her, the danger to human civilization would be unthinkable.

All this explains, perhaps, how Dresden manages to pull together such a diverse group of allies to plan a counterstrike so daring, so ingenious, that it may prove to be completely stupid. On the one hand, Harry is backed up by a couple of old-school knights wielding swords forged by angels and guided by the Almighty. On the other hand, his allies also include a Hell Hound, a Valkyrie, a mob enforcer, and a white court vampire who happens to be his half-brother. On the third and fourth hand are a cute female cop who has proven tough enough to survive in Dresden’s world for a number of years, and a sexy female wizard who happens to be Dresden’s superior in the order of Wardens, and who would probably wet her sword with Hell Hound, Valkyrie, or vampire blood if she knew who they really were. And maybe wizard blood to boot.

In spite of all this backup, at a crucial phase of the mission to rescue Ivy and Marcone, Dresden finds himself alone in the middle of Lake Michigan—alone, except for a rampaging family of Denarians and their heavily armed footsoldiers—racing to escape an island that has an evil presence of its own, and to keep a sackful of soul-destroying coins and an angelic sword from falling into the wrongest conceivable hands. Plus, naturally, the eldest-brother Gruff chooses just that time to show up, and he’s got Harry’s number. So once again Dresden gets to demonstrate his amazing combination of power, luck, attitude, and will to survive under what seem to be the most hopeless conditions he has ever faced. Don’t get too concerned, though. This is only the tenth novel in a series whose fourteenth book can be expected at any time. Does Harry make it? Obviously! How does he make it? By magic, of course. You’d have to read it to believe it!