Reviewed by Stephen Aryan
This is book 10 of the Dresden files and will contain some spoilers for the previous books. As with many of Dresden’s cases, the story starts with something fairly simple. Mab, the Winter Queen, asks Dresden for a favour, and because he owes her two favours and she is one of the most powerful Sidhe around, who could freeze his blood in the blink of an eye, he can’t really refuse. The only problem is he’s been asked to find and save Gentleman Johnny Marcone, a Chicago mobster who is a thoroughly ruthless and unpleasant man who Harry has run into several times in the past. He doesn’t like Marcone, he finds what he does deplorable, and now Mab has told him Marcone has been kidnapped and Harry has to save him to wipe away one of the favours.
Harry now has an apprentice, Molly Carpenter, and previously she got herself into a huge heap of trouble. Harry stuck his neck on the line for her and in the end his efforts paid off, but in the process he upset a lot of people, including the Summer Court, Mab’s opposite number. However Harry also has some friends on that Court, so once again he finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place, with enemies on all sides and no clear path to doing the right thing. If Mab had asked him to save an innocent woman he would not blink at the idea of going up against being much more powerful and dangerous than him, but for Marcone it’s a lot harder for Harry to motivate himself. Nevertheless he’s a man of his word and he realises there is a larger game being played and once again he finds himself a pawn. How much of a cat’s paw he turns out to be would be big spoiler, but some of the alliances and secrets that are trickled out in this book were startling and eagerly awaited.
The series has a great cast of characters that rotate in and out of the books and Small Favour saw the return of a couple of favourites of mine. Harry himself is perhaps the most interesting but only by a whisker. Over the years Harry has built up a small circle of good friends that he knows he can rely on in a sticky situation. These are people that know about magic and all the things that go bump in the night. Some of them were born to it, some stumbled into it, some had no choice and were cursed, and some were chosen by a higher power. But all of them have worked with Harry on one occasion or more and he has saved their lives and now, in one of his darkest hours, they are there for him. This book more than any others, for me at least, is about family. These are not just the people you are connected to by blood, but those who come into life and stay there, never drifting away regardless of distance or a change in circumstances. These are the people you don’t have to remind yourself to call, email or text, you just do it because not having them in your life wouldn’t feel right. So for these people to be in Harry’s life, you know that each and every one of them is good in a fight, is dependable and has an x-factor about them that makes them remarkable in some way.
Despite being made an orphan, despite a horrible upbringing and despite being thought of as one sneeze away from going over to the dark side and becoming an evil wizard bent on slaughter by certain people in high places, Harry continues to prove them wrong. What I like best about him is that he isn’t the most powerful wizard, or the strongest or the fastest, or even the most clever, but he is perhaps the toughest. He is utterly relentless, totally driven and once he puts his mind to something nothing will deter him, not demons or black magic, or gruffs.
The trademark humour is there throughout the book, making the bleak moments seem less horrific, but they also keep Harry grounded. Looking back at some of the nightmares and monsters Harry has gone up against I was reminded again while reading Small Favour, not for the first time, that all of his success is not down to bumbling luck. As well as being a survivor Harry is actually pretty damn powerful and more than that he’s resourceful and is constantly adding to his bag of tricks. He never sits still, never relies on one method of defence or offence, and as a result he has learned a lot, making him a very adept and flexible wizard. He might not be White Council material, not yet anyway (although weirdly given his history, I suspect that is where he will end up one day), but he’s on the right lines, as he has been recognised as a force to be reckoned with by some pretty impressive characters. Sometimes I get the feeling that they are meddling with him just to see how he reacts and once again we’re back into the idea of conspiracies and larger forces pulling strings behind the curtain which is explored in this story.
I’ve said this before, and am probably starting to sound like a broken record, but this was a fantastic book. It is my favourite urban fantasy series to date and Butcher is becoming one of my favourite authors as well. Normally I would be flagging by this point in any other series and would be desperate for it to be over. There are half a dozen series I’ve been waiting years and years to finish, just so that I know how it ends and can have some closure. This is the exception to the rule for me. I don’t want it to end. I also think it’s the longest running series I’ve ever read. I’m up to book 11, 12 is currently out in hardback and 13 is out later this year. All in all a great well paced read that is jammed packed full of interesting characters, exciting action, oodles of magic and plenty of humour.