on 14 August 2003
The fifth in the Dresden Files pits our hero Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only working Wizard – well, the only one in the Yellow Pages at any rate – against the demands of the other world, the underworld and those of his day job as a Private Investigator. The opening chapter sets up nicely the simultaneous conflicting pressures that Harry’s supernatural friends and enemies place on him. And by the second chapter, there has been an attempt on his life and he’s been given notice that the Red Court is threatening not only his own life, but that of those he cares about. Top that off with his human friends and their demands, and a bad day gets that much worse.
All in a days work for Harry, but that’s all the better for those of us following his adventures. Here the central mystery is a couple of gruesome deaths and the theft of the Shroud (that covered Christ’s body until he was resurrected). As events move forward it becomes clear that both are linked. As usual there’s much more to the book than just mystery – fantasy, adventure and an element of romance as Susan turns up in Chicago again also take precedence from time to time. This serves to heighten or slow the pace as required to drive the plot forward. There are no new threats here – it’s essentially the Red Court as we’ve met in the previous 2 books of the series - and the mob has it’s influence too. However the danger Harry faces is very real, unrelenting as the story is told over just a few days, and from all sides. This makes for a fast paced, action packed style that any who have read the series will recognise and appreciate.
While the majority of the players are those known already to Dresden file followers, Butcher has not fallen into the trap of making his story inaccessible to potential new readers. Past events influencing the story are briefly described, but in enough detail that the book need not be read as part of the series, although as a Dresden junkie I do think that because events are so skilfully handled in the ups and downs of being Harry, the books would be best read in order.
I did find the ending of Death Masks left me feeling a bit down – the roller coaster ride of not only the dangers Harry faced but the various emotional storms carried me along and left me a little wrung out. Also, although the danger has receded for a time, like the tide it is inevitable it will resurge again, giving that there is more to follow. Cool.
on 27 June 2012
READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE: [...]
Death Masks is the fifth instalment in the Dresden series, and I was hoping (expecting?) to find the same kind of flawless plotting and execution that had made me love Summer Knight so damned much. I wanted to be thrilled, surprised, amused by this book just as much as I had been by its predecessor. And as much as Death Masks was a good book, it just never made it to awesome.
The first thing that struck me was that every damn female in this book was attractive. And I mean every single one of them, even the razor-sharp-fifteen-foot-long-haired-demon. Harry appears to see women as curves, breasts, pretty throats and nice eyes. It happens when he first sees Francesca, anytime he's around Anna, and at times I think he does more ogling of Deirdre (the demon-girl) than actual fighting.
My second point of contention with this book was also one of the things I found coolest about it: the Denarians. Their concept is awesome, and they make for some kickass bad guys with a great backstory and powers enough to make them stay around and become a real problem. Their execution was what didn't sit well with me, however. I'm not particularly against shapeshifting, but when dealing with shapeshifting, writers need to think long and hard about what their characters are turning into and what that implies.
Nicodemus, head of the Denarians, seemed to escape the shape-shifting issue of losing any seriousness by, well, not shape-shifting. Instead, Nicodemus is the talkative type, whilst saying he isn't, and he likes to gloat. He would have been a better bad guy, in my opinion, had he been a little less one dimensional. But hey, I guess that if you willingly became a Denarian, you might just happen to be a bastard through and through.
Those things aside, the rest of the book was awesome. Susan returns for a brief period and she seems to have shaken off the I'm-a-stupid-woman-who-doesn't-realise-the-danger-she-is-in-although-she-once-did character, and is a much less annoying addition to the cast. Actually, Susan kicks some serious ass--literally, too, mind--and is much more than the plot device Grave Peril had turned her into.
Death Masks also sees the introduction of a couple of new characters. Butters is an ME with a strange sense of humour and although we don't see a whole lot of him in this book, it is clear that he is going to turn out into a rather cool recurring character.
We are also introduced to the other two Knights of the Cross who join Michael in this instalment to battle the Denarians. Shiro, a small Japanese man who fights with all the skill and might of a samurai, and Sanya, a agnostic black Russian with some of the best one-liners of the entire book.
Overall, Death Masks was a real thrill ride: Harry has been hired to retrieve a stolen artefact but when the Denarians and Marcone both turn out to be after it, the stakes are seriously raised. Add to that the death threats from the Red Court vampires, and the Knights trying to keep him out of the loop and Death Masks quickly becomes one of the most action filled instalments of the series yet. It's just a pity that the final battle seemed rushed and almost clumsy. But the ending itself is one of the most powerful ones in the series, and definitely not one I'm about to forget.
on 16 July 2012
...I just don't think I'm ever going to fully appreciate Harry the way some of my other reading buddies do. I like the books well enough, but I feel almost no emotional connection to any character, including Harry, and I'm constantly confused with who new characters are because he often doesn't introduce them or it's too brief when he does. I was told the series hits its stride at around book 4 so I've given it a good go, but I think I'm going to be dropping it. Liking something 'well enough' isn't good enough for my precious reading time.
on 24 March 2006
The Harry Dresden series is an undiscovered gem at the moment. The books were until recently only available in the US, and it took a while for the public to catch on to this cool, smart PI/practising wizard who risks fates much, much worse than death to save us poor oblivious mortals.
With the Dresden Files about to become a TV show, now is your chance to catch up with the first few books in the series. Each one is darker and more complex, and in Death Masks we see Harry (a non-believer) forced to help the Church recover the stolen Shroud of Turin, meeting new monsters and new friends along the way.
Jim Butcher introduced the idea of holy knights a few books ago, but the concept didn't fully flower until the fifth Dresden Files book, "Death Masks." It's a big dark mass of devils, divine knights and the occasional nefarious vampire -- and while one part of the story is painfully contrived, it has plenty of meaty plot mixed in there.
Harry is hired by a Vatican priest named Father Vincent, who wants him to recover a famous Catholic relic -- the Shroud of Turin -- which has been stolen and brought to Chicago by parties unknown. Unfortunately, a special group of Fallen angels called the Denarians are also pursuing the Shroud, because it can help them unleash a superplague that could kill the entire human race.
In the meantime, Harry has also been challenged to a death duel by Ortega, a vampire noble who wants to somehow stop the war. Also, his ex-girlfriend-turned-demi-vampire Susan has returned to Chicago, stirring up some old romantic feelings. As the forces of evil prepare to wipe out the human race, Harry may be the one person who can save us all... but not without some losses.
Jim Butcher has introduced three breeds of vampires, several kinds of werewolves, and two vast courts of faeries, and "Death Masks" adds Judeo-Christian angels and demons (or "The Fallen") to his world. This book introduces a lot of Roman Catholic beliefs and cosmology into the story... but don't worry, it's not preachy or anything of the sort.
No, the big draw here is HARRY DRESDEN FIGHTS DEVILS, which are truly grotesque and terrifying -- especially since they all take human form in a corrupted, malevolent human body. Butcher weaves together a bunch of strong subplots, all with a sharp dark edge as well as a touch of humor. "My faith protects me. My Kevlar helps," Michael explains in one scene, confirming why I like this particular saintly character.
The biggest problem is that the plot hinges on a really, REALLY contrived plot point. It only works because the Vatican JUST HAPPENED to send a priest who JUST HAPPENED to know another priest that Harry happens to be friends with. Um.
But Butcher doesn't fail us in the characterization. He introduces some fun new characters like the adorably buttkicking Shiro, Sanya (an atheist working for God) and the little-girly repository "Ivy," and fleshes out older ones like the cold mobster Marcone. Harry himself has become a stronger man who can now cope with his guilt over Susan, but he's also taken a darker turn (in one scene he beats a Denarian with a baseball bat).
Iif you can overlook that one huge contrivance, "Death Masks" a powerful and complex urban fantasy, with plenty of grotesque demons, vampires, and the occasional floating blob of instant doom.
on 9 September 2003
Typical of most of the Dresden Files this book is a non-stop page turner. The best thing is that Jim Butcher is improving in his craft. In comparison to his first two novels, which were a little awkward, the plot twists and characterisations in 'Death Masks' are markedly improved. The especially nice to see.
Another enjoyable aspect is that Dresden's actions have long term consequences; the war with the Red Court is a reaction to a minor scene in the first book and there is definitely a major future plot point that is set up in the last pages of this book. Jim Butcher handles this much better than most other authors.
on 26 July 2015
Death Masks is the fifth book in the Dresden Files series, which tells the story of Chicago’s only Wizard Private Investigator. This time he’s hired by a priest visiting the city from the Vatican to help recover a stolen artefact, which leads to an intriguing and rather complicated plot which I’m not sure I completely followed.
There is the usual mix of apical action and witty banter, and a stronger emotional undercurrent than perhaps we’ve seen before in the series, as events from previous books are followed up and some plot threads are seemingly tied up. At the same time, this book introduces a number of new threads, which look like they are going to spread through the series to come.
While I enjoyed reading this, possibly the most of the books so far, I did feel that it was leaning towards the more implausible end of the urban fantasy spectrum, particularly in some of the detail around the scenario in this book. Additionally, the introduction of a range of new enemies made for a lot of new information to absorb, and I don’t think I managed to digest everything that it had to offer.
Unlike the first few books, which could be described along the lines of ‘Dresden does Vampires’, ‘Dresden does Wereworlves’, etc., this story defies such classification, and I think that’s a good thing - it shows a little maturity of the series that it can start to do its own thing, and begin to build up some of the ongoing plot threads that I hope build into something fantastic int he books I have yet to read.
So in the last book this series went epic with a fairy war, a vampire vs magician war as well as visitors from Harry's dark past. The question following that great book was whether or not Jim Butcher could keep up the pace and turn this series from a run of the mill urban fantasy/detective series into something that is really great.
The answer is simple... yes he could.
This fifth instalment of the Dresden Files is another step in the right direction for this series. Harry gets drawn further into the complexities surrounding the current war between the Red Court and the White Council whilst at the same time he is stuck in a religious battle between the three Knights of the Cross and a group of fallen angels. Once again he is backed into a corner and it is almost impossible to see a way out for him and again Jim Butcher does a wonderful job of creating tension for a character who clearly isn't going to die because there can't be a series without him.
As with all of the other novels in this series the book was fast paced but what I really liked about it was how much the story is progressing. There is enough back story to all of the characters and the world itself now that things are really beginning to get interesting. On top of that it is obvious that this series isn't going to be one of those series where something happens in each novel but everything is put right at the end so that the next book can start at the status quo. In this series characters are constantly changing, relationships are developing and best of all I see some genuine character growth which is welcome and sadly quite rare in most long running series. This allows the stories to be fresh and keeps me excited to read the next book in the series.
This book does a good job of putting a few story lines to bed, advancing others and starting completely new ones. The series has really picked up pace now and is running well and at the end of this book I can say that I am now a big Harry Dresden fan and I can't wait for the next adventure.
on 15 October 2013
Harry Dresden Wizard PI is back once more in `Death Masks', the fifth outing for the intrepid magic user and once more he is up against multiple foes. Not only has he been asked to investigate a grisly murder, but he is also on track to fight a duel to the death with a head vampire. If that was not enough, he has to deal with a group of fallen angels who are seeking a religious artefact for their own nefarious means. Typical week in the Dresden household then.
It is this familiarity with the characters and style of book that is both the reason why it is fun and the reason for its problems. Jim Butcher is a good writer and Dresden is a very fun character to read; a wise cracking wizard PI, yes please. The issues lie with the similarity between the structure of `Death Masks' and the other books already written in the series. At times you can feel the same beats coming along. Thankfully, the structure of `Death Masks' is a little tighter than some of the books (Grave Peril) and does not suffer from being all chase and no story. There is some interesting character development this time around that expands the Dresden universe.
Once more it is this extended universe that is the most intriguing part of the franchise. We learn about the fallen, but the likes of the vampires from previous books are also present. Over time there is a rich tableau of characters and relationships building up that are very interesting. I hope that soon Butcher's series takes a slight turn towards more measured and mature storylines. He has created a sense of time and place that can hold its own narrative without having to artificially push the pace along every few pages. I would gladly spend 400 pages with a simple and reflective Dresden adventure.
Harry Dresden has a lot on his plate: he's been challenged to a duel to the death to determine the outcome of the war between wizards and vampires; he's been hired to find the missing Shroud of Turin; his old girlfriend Susan is back in town for unknown purposes; and, just to round things off, thirty arch-demons are on the prowl in Chicago. And that's not even mentioning a pair of European art thieves hitting town and all three Knights of the Cross turning up to confront a mutual foe.
Death Masks, the fifth book in The Dresden Files, is the busiest book in the series to date. It sports at least four distinct plot threads (along with several related subplots) which interconnect with one another in a number of unexpected ways as the novel progresses. Each one of these plots would be enough to drive a novel by itself and Butcher seems to delight in upping the ante and complexity of the series to new heights. Combined with the ongoing, series-spanning storylines, this makes Death Masks the most epic book in the series to date.
That said, Butcher takes care to ensure the story is fully comprehensible at all times, and drives the narrative forward with his customary energy and vigour. He also finds time for some accomplished characterisation, with recurring crimelord Jonny Marcone being developed particularly well. It's also good to see some other characters like Susan and Michael returning, along with the introduction of some intriguing new characters like the Archive (a mystical repository of knowledge taking the form of a little girl) and Nicodemus (a potential new nemesis for Harry). The first appearance of the Order of Saint Giles and the Denarian sect of demons also expands the scope of Harry's world impressively.
Death Masks (****) is another very strong entry in the series. New readers will be lost (I recommend they start with the first book, Storm Front) but returning fans will find yet another page-turning and entertaining urban fantasy novel. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.