Someone is torturing the ghosts of Chicago, driving them mad and juicing up their power. Harry Dresden, wizard, is the best person to handle this, but even a wizard needs back-up sometimes. In Grave Peril, the third book of The Dresden Files, Jim Butcher introduces Michael Carpenter, a Knight of the Cross.
Michael wields a sword given to him by an angel. He has pledged his life to serving God, vanquishing evil and freeing the victims of evil. For Michael, life is black and white, and faith is all, which makes him an interesting companion for Harry.
The first ghost they face in the book is a woman who accidentally killed her own child. This sets a tone for Grave Peril, because it is in many ways a book about women.
As Harry struggles to identify the force behind the angry, souped-up ghosts he confronts various women from his past and present. Murphy is the five-feet-nothing Amazon, the cop whose commitment to the protection of the innocent makes her glow like a guardian angel to Harry’s wizardly Sight. Susan, Harry’s girlfriend, embodies sexuality, playfulness, love and vulnerability. Bianca, the Red Court vampire who is Harry’s enemy, represents sensuality, corruption and deceit. Charity Carpenter, Michael’s wife, is a mother of five with another on the way, fiercely protective of her family and no friend to Harry.
There is a woman from Harry’s past, a dangerous one. The Leanansidhe, or “Lea,” is a powerful faerie from the Nevernever, handmaiden to the Winter Queen, and Harry’s… godmother. There are no pumpkin coaches or rat-footmen for Harry. Lea wants to transform him into one of her hellhounds.
Rounding out the array are Lydia, a street waif with the gift of prophecy, who has seen her own death and wants to hire Harry to help her evade it, and Justine.
The story of the ghosts is powerful and Butcher chooses a different story structure, telling a key part of this story as a flashback. Harry nicknames the hidden force Nightmare, and finding the identity of the Nightmare is a challenge. It seems like one early phone call from Murphy could have cleared things up, but there is enough going on in the book that this was a thought I had later, not while I was reading.
The Nightmare almost pales in comparison to Lea. Beautiful, witty, cultured, amoral, compassionless and soulless, she is a real risk to Harry. The Fae are merciless tricksters and seducers; they will keep their word literally, often in the worst possible way. Harry has broken a vow to Lea in the past, and intends to do it again in this book. When his carelessness lets Michael’s sacred sword fall into Lea’s hands, he knows he can no longer play games.
The action heats up at a sinister party hosted by Bianca at the Red Court vampires’ mansion. The reader meets Justine, who is candy, literally, for supernaturally handsome Thomas Raith, a psychic vampire. At first, Justine just seems like a tasty morsel, a plaything; but from Justine we learn a lot about love and dependency. Susan agrees to a cruel bargain with Lea to save Harry’s life, and Butcher does a version of “love conquers all” that is not smarmy or sentimental, and well-foreshadowed by events in the earlier books. Admittedly, toward the end, Harry must behave stupidly for the plot to work, but the action was so suspenseful I forgive Butcher for that.
Events that happen in Grave Peril reverberate down through the series. Like the other Dresden Files books, there is action, strategy and lots of witty banter. At the end, though, the book is about the women in Harry’s life, from his shadowy mother forward. The wellspring of this story is family, loss and love.