First, if you've never read a Dresden File novel and you're contemplating buying Proven Guilty then don't. This is not a series you can simply dip into at any point and pick up the story so far. Over the previous seven books (this is number eight) Jim Butcher has created a fully realised, deeply detailed world with a wealth of back-story. Trying to follow the events of this or any of the other Dresden Files without knowledge of everything that has gone before will be almost impossible. You will also miss out on some hugely entertaining stories and some wonderful character development. Go and read Storm Front, the first in the series, and work through the rest in order until you reach this latest adventure. You will not regret it.....
....because Proven Guilty is yet another excellent trip into the world of Harry Dresden and friends. As this series progresses and matures I am enjoying it more and more. The wealth of carefully crafted back story and characterisation lends this book, like Dead Beat before it, great depth. You feel fully immersed in the world Butcher has created, and its a wonderfully colourful and textured place to visit. Its a shame when you have to leave.
Its not as if Butcher is resting on his laurels though. Like the books the precede it Proven Guilty has its own identity. There is less of the bombast or large scale action of Dead Beat, and not as much outright horror as some of the other novels. This is very much a book aimed at progressing characters, relationships and wider plot elements. At times this makes it feel like something of a transitionary effort; intended to get wider events from point A to point B as quickly and with as little fuss as possible, but even if that is the case it does it well and entertainingly. The central plot, dealing with black magic & teenage rebellion, may be slight compared to Dead Beat for example (there's no world saving for Harry to do this time) but its engaging. It also carries far greater significance than it apparently slight and intensely personal nature at first implies.
Something that the book as a whole also does. As it unfolds Proven Guilty becomes a chance for Butcher to pick up on a lot of the plot elements he has put in place over the past seven novels. Seemingly disparate elements, some of them going right back to the earliest days of the series and almost forgotten now, are suddenly brought up and given far greater significance as a result of seemingly low key events during the course of the book. Pieces of a larger and hitherto unseen jigsaw, including the war between vapires and wizards and the politics of Faerie, begin to slot into place, until by the end a whole new backstory has emerged that will give Harry's adventures a entirely new spin.
Harry himself also undergoes some significant character development during the course of the book, as do some of the other key players in his world. He also finds time to 'resolve' some critical personal issues as well as developing some completely new and interesting ones.
So overall Proven Guilty may not have th glorious action set pieces to rival some of the earlier Dresden Books and may appear far more low key, but for fans of the series it is revealing, exciting and fascinating. It also sets up a protentially great new phase in Harry's adventures and one I can't wait to experience.