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Book Review: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal Fantasy
ISBN: 0451461894
ISBN-13: 9780451461896
Format: Hardcover, 432pp
Publisher: Penguin Group (ROC)
Pub. Date: April 2008
Series: Dresden Files Series
Read an Essay by Jim’s editor on Small Favor.

How does a pragmatic Chicago wizard take on one of the most powerful Fallen angels? It is this question which drives the action packed new novel from Jim Butcher, Small Favor. A novel of the Dresden Files, an urban fantasy series, Small Favor is the continuing adventures of Harry Dresden, modern wizard, and his host of friends as they take on the evil forces of Nicodemus and his wife Tessa. Forced by Queen Mab to fulfill one of the favors he owes her, Dresden comes up against the very creatures that have nearly killed him before, namely, the Fallen. Meantime, Titania, Queen of Summer, has ordered a hit on Harry, and her agents keep showing up at the most inopportune times.

Harry is a sardonic character, usually shooting his mouth off when he is in danger. But it seems to work for him as he escapes one trap after another. Although the marketing people have called The Dresden Files a fantasy/mystery blend this particular novel in the series is less mystery and more of a spy novel. Harry is a rough amalgam of James Bond and Jason Bourne, with a bit of Jack Ryan thrown in. He is loyal to his friends, deadly to his enemies, and for one reason or another, always in trouble with someone.

The novel is an enjoyable one. There are few plot twists, and even though this is the eleventh novel of the Dresden Files, as someone who had never read any Jim Butcher before, it was relatively easy for me to pick up. The story moves from action to action, with only a few pauses for introspection, rest, and even a little romance. Perhaps the most difficult part of reading a series so well-established was the references to past occurrences, and the introduction of characters whose background had been established in previous books. However, to recreate the backgrounds of some of the characters (Harry’s brother Thomas and his situation is still something of a mystery to me) would have unnecessarily slowed down the story. So as reader, I just picked up what I could, and enjoyed the story’s action otherwise.

Butcher’s writing is straightforward. He doesn’t delve into linguistic flourishes, or spend overmuch time on the setting. He doesn’t have to, as it is relatively easy for a reader to imagine a modern city like Chicago, whether or not we have actually been there. This is a novel that is read for entertainment purposes, something best read on the plane, the train, or a rainy afternoon.

Of particular interest to me, as a religious person, was Butcher’s integration of the Catholic faith into the story. Two of his characters are Knights of the Cross, who carry swords designed to fight evil, but whereas other writers of urban fantasy often use this as an opportunity to denigrate faith and elevate reason, Butcher instead give faith a fair shake. Harry respects the Knight of the Cross (one of them is a good friend) and although he doesn’t understand their beliefs, he respects them. This is rare in the paranormal/urban fantasy subgenre, where such characters either end up being evil, stupid, or an object of ridicule. Not in Small Favor, and my respect for Butcher as writer rose, especially when at a critical moment in which Harry finds himself wrestling with the issue of a good God allowing bad things to happen, Butcher doesn’t have his character simply write God off as a masochist. It’s nice to see faith having real power in a paranormal/urban fantasy novel.

I recommend this novel as one the best of the few paranormal/urban fantasy novels I have read. It’s right up there with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere in creativity, even if its quality is a little lower. Butcher writes an entertaining tale, easily picked up and enjoyed. I would like the opportunity to read some of his epic fantasy novels, The Codex Alera series. If his urban fantasy novel (a subgenre I am not always enthusiastic about) can keep my interest and entertain me, then I think his works in my favorite subgenre are sure to excite me. If you’re looking for an easy, sit-on-the-couch-and-eat-chips book for a Sunday afternoon, Jim Butcher’s Small Favor is a good way to go.

Watch the Dresden Files on the Scifi Channel. Or watch the trailer at Youtube.