Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher: Conflict Resolutions & Holy Chaotic Treasure Hunts – Book Review

Death Masks by Jim Butcher is the fifth instalment in the author’s adult urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. Harry Dresden’s initiated war between the Red Court and the White Council finally has a chance to be resolved when Harry is challenged to a death duel by one of the most powerful members of the Red Court. All he has to do is kill his opponent in a fair fight. It should be easy enough, except when the cranky wizard ends up with a client from one of the holiest places on the planet, who’s trying to hunt down a stolen religious artefact tied to Jesus Christ himself, things get supremely complicated and exhaustingly busy for Chicago’s sassy, Frankenstein-beetle driving, doesn’t-know-when-to-shut-up wizard of trades.

Death Masks is my favourite volume in the lengthy series yet, mostly because it surprised me in a lot of pleasant ways, while also setting up some neat shady stuff to look forward to in the next bookish segment. The pacing was excellent, the story was far more cohesive and naturally flowing than the others, there were some much needed solutions along with a few understandable complications, and a couple of other knickknacks.

The pacing was an amazing surprise. The action is literally non-stop, tumbling from one catastrophic morsel of chaos to the next. It can feel slightly overwhelming as there is very little breathing room in-between the pandemonium, however, it really sets the tension, exhaustion, and overall mood that’s taking place within Harry himself, and it makes it super easy to empathise with all his thought processes and different emotional changes. It kind of puts us in the scene with the wizard man. Plus, it also complemented the storytelling for this specific instalment excellently.

One of the major subplots that was giving me some hardcore anxiety were the issues that arose between Susan and Harry in the final chapters of the third book, Grave Peril. Susan was one of my favourite characters, so having her presence and potential future hanging in the unknown was driving me batty. We finally get a bit of a resolution to hers and Harry’s relationship in this book. I felt relieved with how things wrapped up (for the moment) and I’m glad that it wasn’t unnecessarily dragged out for the sake of suspense or shock value. The other narrative gig that I was looking forward to seeing having its threads tied up included the massive hoopla of this war that Harry seemed to have instigated a couple books ago. I can understand and respect how it would influence and develop the overarching plot of the series, but I also didn’t want to witness this specific aspect being stretched out forcefully. The storytelling, though, was quite organic from start to finish and it was ultimately satisfying to see the natural conclusions find their way along.

“It isn’t good to hold on too hard to the past. You can’t spend your whole life looking back. All you can do is keep on keeping on, and try to believe that tomorrow will be what is should be–even if it isn’t what you expected.”

The most intriguing aspect of Death Masks, however, are the revelatory snippets that have been accumulating with respect to Harry’s past as it pertains to his parents. The fate of his parents were mentioned very early on in the series, and the intrigue that has been sprouting up henceforth, while a bit formulaic and slightly predictable, gives more dimension to a backstory that we the readers know extremely little about. Harry’s past is such a huge enigma and being able to unlock those unknowns would just make him a much more interesting protagonist all-around, which I’m so desperate for, honestly speaking.

A few final elements that made me royally excited to continue includes the stylish introduction of a character that grows into my favourite dude in the whole damn series (not including Bob, of course), plus the potential of Harry going to the dark side, and mystery of who the next Knight of Holy Paladin Shenanigans shall be. Plus, the finale wasn’t a trudge at all. It got to the point in a mostly effortless matter and didn’t over-fluff the situation just for a few extra pages. I’m hoping this trend continues in the future.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Death Masks. It does not shy away from the gore, body mutilation, grotesque torture, and sexual content (in fact, these things seem to multiply with each new volume), which works quite well for the kind of adult dark and gritty world that Butcher has built here. The monsters were freaky and gross, but original and different than stereotypical fantasy critters. The colourful cast of side and minor characters keeps growing, and they all have a comfortable air of depth to them (depth that Harry needs asap). As it stands, I’d HIGHLY RECOMMEND this volume to current (and potential) readers of The Dresden Files, especially if you aren’t sure you want to continue. It reminds me of all the things that made me interested in the series to begin with.

Storm Front (The Dresden Files #1) Book Review
Fool Moon (The Dresden Files #2) Book Review
Grave Peril (The Dresden Files #3) Book Review
Summer Knight (The Dresden Files #4) Book Review

Publication Date: August 2003
Publisher: ROC (Imprint of Penguin) (978-0451459404)
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series:  The Dresden Files
Page Count: 453
Content Warnings: Fantasy violence and action. Strong blood and gore including body mutilation. Strong scene of imprisonment and torture. Some strong sexual content and mild sexual innuendo. Mild language.
Availability: In-print; paperback, eBook, and audiobook formats available.

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