“Death Masks” Review

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Having just finished the fifth Dresden book, I have the feeling that my plot summaries are just gonna get more complicated from here on out. This book practically promotes that by giving you a veritable laundry list of stuff that occurs in the book on the back of it. Let’s not waste time and see just what’s in store.

After making a failed appearance on a TV talk show, Harry Dresden gets pulled into two dangerous outings. The first is with the Duke Ortega, a Red Court vampire who’s eager to defeat Dresden in a duel to the death to end the war between the vampires and the White Council. The second is with Father Vincent, who seeks Dresden’s help to locate the missing Shroud of Turin, an artifact which may or may not hold powerful properties. But several outside parties are interested in retrieving the Shroud for themselves, and Harry must find a way to prevent them from using it for their own purposes. On top of all of this, Susan, Harry’s half-vampire girlfriend, returns to Chicago for her own reasons. Will Harry be able to come out unscathed from these events?

As you can see, there is a lot going on in this book. All of these plotlines start up within the first 5 or so chapters, and I couldn’t help feeling a little overwhelmed at first. Luckily, as a testament to Jim Butcher’s writing, the plots are given time to breathe and are woven into each other over time. I heavily enjoyed the Shroud plot in particular, as it brings back Michael and Marcone, as well as introduces a couple new Knights of the Cross as well as new villains known as the Denarians. They’re basically a group of fallen angels/demons trapped within silver coins who manipulate humans in order to possess them, thereby freeing themselves. Between them, the Knights and the Shroud, there are quite a lot of religious undertones in this one, but I found it extremely well done and without getting into preachy territory. I especially liked the Denarians due to their nature and each one having its own personality and appearance. And their leader, Nicodemus, is shaping up to be a truly intimidating villain, one I can definitely see coming back time and time again.

Susan’s return allowed for some major chemistry to be dredged up between her and Dresden, and her purpose in the story was overall well done. I felt the direction they took with her was believable and left room for her to appear in the future. As far as the duel plot, while I didn’t care much for Ortega, I did appreciate the brief return of Thomas (though he was majorly underused) and the introduction of Ivy (aka the Archive) and Kincaid. Both of them were characters I’m sure I’ll see again, and I loved their personalities for the few scenes they had. This also applies to the two Knights, Sanya and Shiro, who I found likable in their own ways.

That being said, I have a couple major gripes with this one.The first would be with the ending chapter. Several things get addressed, but a few left me questioning if I’d get answers in later books or if they were just implied. One follows immediately after an amazing moment involving Marcone and Dresden, but my major gripes with the ending were that some stuff felt rushed. There’s a final appearance by Nicodemus that felt not so much tacked on as it did shoved into the final chapter, though the results of this appearance I’m positive will come up in a future book. There’s a minor plot involving Murphy making sure Dresden steers clear of the police that gets wrapped up a little too cleanly. And there’s also an implication involving Ortega that I felt was an extremely disappointing cap-off to his role in the book.

But speaking of that, my biggest gripe is with the entire duel plot. Simply put, I felt like it wasn’t needed, at least not in this book. It would’ve been easily served in another vampire-focused one and still have gotten the same results. I know that I don’t have to wait every year or so to read these, but I didn’t feel the war needed to be brought up yet again in a book with such an interesting and fresh main plot. The payoff of the duel didn’t at all feel worth it, and the possibility of making Ortega stand out from his fellow vampires by not being a total scumbag ultimately didn’t happen. I kept feeling like this subplot was constantly interrupting the main one, and because of that, I didn’t care for it by the end.

All that said, the strengths of this one definitely outweigh the weaknesses. I’m excited to find out more about the Denarians and find out more about Nicodemus. I’m wondering what interactions Dresden and Marcone might have from this point on. And if there’s something positive about the duel plot, as pointless as it felt, it’s that I can’t wait to see more of Kincaid and Ivy in the future (and hopefully see this war conclude sometime soon). Overall, this book introduces some major elements that makes it worth checking out.

I give “Death Masks” an 8.5/10.

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