So I never actually wrote a real review of this book the first time I read it. It was the end of the year, and I just half-assed something over on Goodreads, and didn’t even post anything at all on the CBR blog (it was my first Cannonball, I believe, CBR4). I just wanted to read it and enjoy it and then be done with it. But seeing as how this is the first truly wonderful book in the series (and don’t even argue with me about this), it really does deserve a full considered review.
This is very nearly a perfect urban fantasy book. It comes soooo close. If it weren’t for Harry being an occasional bridge troll re: women and gender roles, UGH, THIS BOOK IS SO FUN. Butters is my life.
It’s been about six months since the events of Blood Rites. Harry is sharing his small living space with two encroachers: his absolutely enormous temple dog, Mouse, who has grown from pocket-sized to the size of a small sofa, and Thomas is living with him ostensibly as his friend/roommate, because no one knows they are brothers. He is also still recovering from the devastating injury to his hand that he received when raiding the Black Court vampire nest. And it’s three days before Halloween. Things have been relatively quiet. Of course everything is about to go spectacularly to hell.
Black Court queen Mavra approaches Harry, threatening Murphy and his other friends’ lives unless Harry retrieves a lost valuable book for her, a book called The Word of Kemmler, which contains all the knowledge of a scary dead necromancer which could devastate civilization. And she’s not the only one after the Word. Two hooded necromancers calling themselves Kowl and Kumori have come to Chicago ready to start trouble, and bring the dead to earth in search of power. There’s another murderous group of necromancers murdering about as well. They all need the book in order to complete this ritual, and bring some guy called the Erlking to Earth to reign hell or whatever. Harry and Butters, the medical examiner who has been helping him in his recovery, end up running around Chicago averting crises and worming out secrets, trying to prevent all these dang necromancers from killing everybody.
Dead Beat is just a perfect storm of Harry dealing with consequences, making new allies, doing cool shit, and facing really awesome, scary but still super interesting bad guys, a final battle that is actually scary but at the same time AWESOME (and I don’t even normally like battle scenes at all), and stuff that actually changes for Harry. Butters is the best part, so let’s start with him. What a great character. Butters is a small man in stature, and utterly unused to the supernatural, but he’s good at heart and proves himself a capable ally to Harry, even when he’s scared shitless. He’s also brilliantly himself at all times, with his very specific love of polka and other non-mainstream things. He’s just a fucking nerd, and I love him. He is such a good foil for Harry. And Butcher actually allows Butters to have an arc while all this is going on; he’s not just there for Harry.
Butcher also seriously deepens his worldbuilding here. Kowl and Kumori (and the mysterious Black Council they represent) will be ongoing concerns. We learn some stuff about Bob the Skull, his nature and his history (not to mention, he takes a turn here that is frankly disturbing), that will also affect future books. Butters tells Harry the reason wizards live so long, and that has implications for his future as well. Not to mention that SPOILER Harry is made a Warden of the White Council, and his feud with Morgan is tabled as they have larger concerns (a Red Court attack in the war kills many Wardens, hence Harry’s promotion) END SPOILERS. And then there’s Lasciel. Despite burying her coin in concrete after book five, the Denariian coin he was tricked into touching, Lasciel has infiltrated his mind and is beginning to affect his powers. This is something that won’t be resolved for books and books, and even as late as the newest book, is still bearing little plot fruits of goodness.
Literally the only thing that harshes my buzz with this book is Harry’s weird thing with women, and in specific here, Shiela the bookstore employee. He’s just soooo incredibly fixated on her physical appearance. And yeah, I get that he’s literally attracted to her and wants to date her, but it’s just another example of him being a caveman about this stuff. It’s sort of saved, though, because of who Shiela really is. SPOILERS Which is Lasciel manipulating Harry with everything she’s got. She is deep in his head and knows exactly what he wants and likes. Shiela is the manifestation of Harry’s subconscious, and Lasciel wields her like a knife. So, in this one case, it seems like Butcher might be highlighting the gross bridge troll thing on purpose, commenting through Lasciel’s use of Harry’s “perfect woman” and pushing all of his buttons END SPOILERS. And go figure, his weakness makes him weak. Also, other characters call him on his shit here, so it makes me think Butcher is leaning into it. Gonna have to think about this more because these two conflicting schools of thought just sort of wash each other out.
Also, Harry rides The Field Museum’s famous T-Rex Sue into battle and it is the best ever.