Small Favors is the tenth book in Jim Butcher's ongoing urban fantasy series "The Dresden Files." The series is strongly influenced by dime store gumshoe novels, and centers around Harry Dresden, Chicago's only practicing professional wizard.
Tenth in a series, so don't read this one first, ya'll. I'll try not to hit major or overly specific plot spoilers for this one, but I can't promise anything.
Being a part of a long running series can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the established history of the previous books is a tremendous resource. In-jokes, villains, and character traits can be pulled from the past, briefly reintroduced, and grown beyond what can be managed in a single novel.
On the other hand, there's the pressure to top the previous performance, or at least provide something new, yet coherent, in an already crowded world.
Small Favors isn't a bad book. The characters are consistent with previous installments, the plot is pretty solid, the fights are, as almost always with Butcher, very well done. But, in the end, it doesn't feel like a new book either.
The new characters introduced in this book include, comprehensively:
- A "bad ass" version of the billy goats Gruff.
- New members for a pre-established group of demons, the Denarians.
There is exactly one new magical "power" or concept introduced, namely "Soulfire," which I'll deal with in its own little bubble.
It's not a bad thing to tie up loose ends. And it's not a bad thing to bring back old characters and plots. But this book (and the previous one in the series, for that matter) are almost 100% rehashing things that we've already seen. Some of the details have changed, but this book feels like a mash up of old plots, with just enough done to be able to call it a new story. And this seems to have been done with very little craft or subtlety.
For instance, Mab's appearance and behavior towards Harry in the novel could have been lifted out of an earlier book.... except that now she speaks through a familiar! Michael's family still fills its assigned purpose... except now it's Michael who he fights with, and who distrusts him, instead of Charity.
It feels like Butcher thought "well, I can't leave this plot out entirely, so I'll just twiddle it and leave it for next book." And for any one of these subplots, that would be fine. But make it all of them, and you've basically spelled out S-T-A-G-N-A-T-I, and you're working on O-N.
It doesn't help that "Soulfire," the new magical gimmick this time around, is pretty sad. The actual scene where it shows up is fine; I'm even fine with how it works. You take part of your soul, put it into your magic, create a lasting spell-object with which to smite. Cool. But the way it's worked into the cosmology is lame, and the attempt at connecting Dresden to Angelic forces while still letting him be the badass rebel is transparent.
Also, I just can't buy that the opposite of Hellfire is "Bigby's Crushing Hand." No matter how you spin it, that doesn't work for me.
In summary, I'm not sad I read it, but I am a little sad that Jim Butcher wrote it. It's another White Night; nothing much new gets brought in, nothing much gets changed, world keeps spinning. Please, bring out another Summer Knight, or, failing that, an incredible standalone story like Dead Beat. Stop getting your books tangled up in loose ends.