Harry Dresden, a wizard and recently-appointed Warden of the White Council, must find the source of the nightmarish creatures that have targeted a horror convention and then save the life of a teenager the creatures have kidnapped. Harry Dresden is a magic-using detective who has recently become more involved with the Wardens, the law enforcement arm of the White Council of Wizards. (For a while now, he's been under the influence of Lashiel, a fallen angel, and was concerned that the White Council would kill him if they learned of it.) At the very start, he is one of several wizards involved in the trial and subsequent execution of a warlock—a magic user who has used his powers to control or kill several people, which violates the Seven Laws of Magic. Afterward, Harry is given a note from the Gatekeeper, an extremely talented wizard and one of the few Senior Council members who collectively decide White Council policies, including the outcome of trials, telling him to be on the lookout for black magic.
Click here to see the rest of this review
Harry prepares an elaborate ritual to find such magic, but is rudely interrupted by a phone call from Molly Carpenter, the high-school-aged daughter of Harry's friend and longtime ally Michael Carpenter. Molly needs someone to bail her friend Nelson out of jail—and as it turns out, Nelson was being held because he was at the scene of a bizarre attack at a local horror convention. Harry bails out Molly's friend and investigates the crime, quickly discovering that black magic was used to summon a phobophage, a creature that assumes the form of a terrifying enemy in order to hurt or kill people and grow stronger from their fear.
Harry encounters Karrin Murphy, a Lieutenant in the Chicago Police Department, and Rawlins, another police officer that Harry has worked with before, and enlists their (somewhat reluctant) help in getting access to the crime scenes, though not quickly enough to prevent a second and worse attack. He also encounters a White Court vampire and its nonhuman lawyer, neither of whom get along particularly well with Harry, promising trouble in the future. Harry rigs up a system of candles that should alert them to the presence of black magic shortly before the summoner can actually bring the phobophages into the convention from the Nevernever, the spirit world that abuts our world but isn't quite identical.
When the candles signal the next attack, Harry redirects the signal, aiming the phobophages at whoever sent them. One gets through, however, and Harry and the police rush to deal with the situation, eventually eliminating the threat at the cost of several injuries. As Harry and Rawlins leave the convention, the White Court vampire and his inhuman crony ambush them, bringing them to an abandoned shop and securing both of them so that they cannot escape. In Harry's case, they use specialized manacles that hurt him every time he uses magic, making it impossible for him to focus on any spell.
The vampire decides to sell Harry on Ebay to the highest bidder, who turns out to be a Red Court vampire that wants to hurt Harry rather badly, so Harry, in an act of desperation, works with the fallen angel to figure out a way of dislocating his thumb to escape the manacles and rescue himself and Rawlins. Unfortunately, although he and Rawlins do successfully escape (with help from Harry's brother Thomas, who had been seriously concerned when Harry went missing, and their magical Foo dog Mouse), Harry soon learns that Molly Carpenter's house was targeted by the phobophages, and Molly was kidnapped by a creature resembling a scarecrow of horror movie fame.
Michael has been called away on a separate mission, so Harry can't rely on him to help rescue Molly. But Molly's mother, Charity Carpenter, is more than willing to help get her daughter back, and Karrin Murphy and Thomas Raith volunteer almost instantly. The four of them receive aid from the Summer Lady and her Knight before heading to Arctis Tor, the center of the Winter Court's power, and the place where Molly is being held. They are outmatched, but Harry uses a gift from the Summer Lady and strikes using magic from the Summer Court, which defeats their enemies but also sends pretty much every Winter Court member running toward Arctis Tor to find out why someone has invaded their home using Summer Court magic. Harry and the others quickly flee back to Chicago.
Once they've reached safety, Harry speaks to Molly privately. He's realized that she must be a magic user; it was her fear-based spell that apparently caused the phobophages to be interested in her. But that same spell violated the Laws of Magic, and she must go before the White Council for judgement. Harry travels with her to the trial, along with Lady Summer and her Knight, who speak of Harry's bravery and bestow a token of favor upon him.
Although the trial initially goes badly, as most of Harry's allies are absent, the rest of the Senior Council soon arrives, having been saved by Michael Carpenter and a number of the Summer Court's people. Although the leader of the Senior Council wants to convict, he is politically outmaneuvered, and agrees that Molly Carpenter may be allowed to become Harry's apprentice, with the understanding that if she violates the laws of magic a second time, there will be no saving her.
Best part of story, including ending:
It developed the character of Charity Carpenter, who has been a recurring secondary character for a while, and it also added much more depth to Molly. There are several really well-done and clever fight scenes, and there are some brilliant bits of foreshadowing (in particular, some of what Harry encounters in Arctis Tor) for the later books. OVer all, it's very well written, and I loved learning more about some of the characters who haven't previously got much screen time.
Best scene in story:
It might be a small thing, but there's a chapter when Harry Dresden has to prepare an elaborate ritual. He gets everything ready, takes a long, cleansing shower, meditates, gets everything perfect in his mind so that his concentration will be unwavering during the spell itself—and then the phone rings. I don't normally laugh out loud very much, but the delivery of that moment was just so well set up that it had me in stitches.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Harry Dresden because he's brave, clever, and loyal. He'll put himself into danger to save his friends and their loved ones, and he's willing to keep people's secrets if the secret isn't actively harmful but could make others think badly of the person in question. Plus, he's willing to defy truly dangerous authority if it's necessary to safe someone's life.