Longtime readers and podcast listeners already know that I’m a massive Dresden Files fan. The books, written by Jim Butcher, are some of my absolute favorites. In the wasteland between hardcovers coming out (and yes, it’s a wasteland!), I get my Dresden fix thanks to short stories and the comics published through Dynamite. They’ve done an excellent job bringing the character and world of Harry Dresden to life, so much so that Butcher has written stories exclusively for the comics.

One of those is my focus today.

As I write this, we’re a couple days away from Christmas, and Shadow the Cat is obsessed with his usual quest to bring the strange, indoor and squirrelless tree covered in sparkly bits to the ground. I bought myself a gift not too long ago, and cracked it open this night: The Dresden Files: Down Town

In Dresden’s world, a place exists where few dare to tread: Down Town. With a city as old as Chicago, things are bound to fall between the cracks. In this case, centuries worth of construction has created a subterranean world where all manner of creatures and spirits live. Dangerous barely covers it.

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When Harry Dresden took Molly Carpenter as his padawan, he didn’t hesitate. She’d used magic to change people’s minds, albeit to get her friends off drugs, but that didn’t matter to the White Council. As far as they were concerned, she’d broken one of the highest laws of magic, and her life was forfeit. So, Harry took her in and started her training, knowing full well that the Sword of Damocles now hung over both their heads, and should she misstep again, both their lives would be on the line.

In Harry’s own words, he takes a brute force approach to magic, whereas Molly has a delicate touch, a finesse he could never manage. This includes a sensitivity to magic that can, at times, overwhelm her. He is envious of her ability, but rarely lets that show. When Murphy calls with a case, Harry takes Molly along and they find a gruesome scene. Someone has been murdered, and magic was used, though Harry can’t tell exactly in what way or how. Molly, on the other hand, needs only to touch something the victim held in their hand to witness and relive their last moments and see the creature who attacked.

The description is like something out of the NeverNever, but the bits of itself left behind aren’t dissipating, which means there was no ectoplasm used. Whatever this creature was made of, it came from here, from Chicago.

Taking a bit of it home for study, Harry drops Molly off at home and grabs Bob to try and track down the source of this new magic. Meanwhile, John Marcone, Baron of Chicago under the Unseelie Accords, has become aware of the murder and Dresden’s involvement. He sees the attack as an affront to his protection of the city and intends to take care of it himself.

DownTown-pageWhen the creature attacks again, Harry is unable to stop it from killing. Meanwhile, back at his apartment, Molly accidentally reanimates the residue from the creature, and it attacks her, Mouse, and Mister….

Well, I loved this book. It has a nice mixture of mystery: what is the creature? Who is controlling it? Why are they sending it out to attack seemingly random people in Chicago? It has adventure—Harry, as per usual, runs into every situation like a bull in a china shop. He bounces from moment to moment, collecting data and processing it on the fly while battling monsters and outsmarting angry spirits. As for characters, John Marcone has always been a thorn in Harry’s side, and a reluctant ally. They share common goals in the protection of Chicago from supernatural forces, yet approach those goals in a completely different fashion. When they’re forced to work together, the tension rises and you’re never quite sure how far Marcone will be able to push Harry before he hauls off and punches him. Which would be nice. Molly is a great counterpoint to Harry in the perspective of Wizards and magic in this world. Her power and understanding are vastly different from Harry’s. She challenges him in a lot of ways, to be better, to be smarter, to improve so he can be there to teach her what she needs to know. Her ability to veil herself and others, hide them away, which on the surface seems like a simple thing to do, is practically impossible for Harry to achieve. And Molly can’t throw a fireball to save her life. I like that dichotomy. 

The art is fantastic. The action really pops off the page. Love the design for Molly, who comes to life in these pages. You see hints of what she will become, her rebellious nature, in the design and her actions and comments throughout the book. Love it. 

As a Dresden story goes, this is a fine addition to the canon. More than enough to get this reader (and you!) over the holiday hump and into the New Year (where I’ll patiently wait (who am I kidding—I won’t wait patiently!) for the next Dresden novel to come out (anyone have an ARC yet? Seriously?)….

Merry Christmas to me?

Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.