Reread of The Dresden Files
Book 1: Storm Front
by Jim Butcher
Harry is startled by the appearance of the man with the sword. He almost attacks the man with magic, but instead causally greets the man, calling him Morgan. Harry explains that Toot had a choice and was not a mortal, so it wasn’t breaking the Fourth Law. Morgan calls that a technicality. Morgan is a Warden of the White Council, assigned to watch over Harry. Wardens are the police and executioners of the White Council.
Harry explains, he is on a missing person case and just called up the faerie to get some information. Since he is not using actual mind-control on the faerie, technically he did not violate the law, a technicality Harry is prepared to hide behind. Morgan doesn’t think it’s worth the effort of bringing it to the counsel, so sheathes his sword. Harry starts to leave, when Morgan grabs his shoulder and tells Harry, he’s not finished with him yet.
I didn’t dare mess around with Morgan when he was acting in his role as a Warden of the White Council. But he wasn’t wearing that hat now. Once he’d put the sword away, he was acting on his own, without any more official authority than any other man—or at least, that was the technical truth. Morgan was big on technicalities. He had scared the heck out of me and annoyed the heck out of me, in rapid succession. Now he was trying to bully me. I hate bullies.
So I took a calculated risk, used my free hand, and hit him as hard as I could in the mouth.
Morgan is incensed that Harry struck him. Harry tells him he is happy to cooperate on Council business, but Harry doesn’t have to put up with this on personal business. Morgan calls Harry an arrogant fool and Harry tenses himself for a fight. No law of magic protects Harry from Morgan punching him back, and Morgan has more experience and 100 lbs. on him.
Morgan accuses Harry of killing the two people at the hotel with magic. Morgan doesn’t know how, but he will figure it out and bring the evidence before the Council. Harry is taken aback that Morgan, and by extension, the White Council, thinks Harry is the killer. Harry realizes as the only wizard in Chicago that has killed with magic, albeit in self-defense, Harry is the prime suspect for the Council.
Harry protests, saying he is helping the police find the killer. Morgan is dismissive of mortal authority, and thinks Harry is just setting someone up to take the fall for the mortals.
“Good night, Morgan,” I told him. I started to walk away again, before I could let my mouth get me into more trouble.
He moved faster than I would have given a man his age credit for. His fist went across my jaw at approximately a million miles an hour, and I spun down tot he dirt like a string-cut puppet. For several long moments, I was unable to do anything at all, even breathe. Morgan loomed over me.
“We’ll be watching you, Dresden.” He turned and started walking away, the shadows of the evening quickly swallowing up his black coat. His voice drifted back to me. “We’ll find out what really happened.”
As Harry checks whether Morgan broke his jaw, his thoughts drift back to the reason he is under the Doom of Damocles. When he was a teenager, the wizard he was apprenticed to tried to seduce him to Black wizardry. Harry resisted and his mentor tried to kill him. Harry, by luck more than skill, managed to kill his mentor with his magic. However, the First Law of Magic is “Thou shall not kill.” Harry managed to convince the White Council it was self-defense, so instead of the death penalty, they put him on parole. One slip up, and he will be executed.
Finding the real killer has become a lot more important for Harry and he is now more resolved to go speak with Bianca the Vampire behind Murphy’s back.
Morgan is a dick!
We start to see why Harry has such a problem with authority figures. If my mentor tried to seduce me to the dark side and then I was force to kill him, I might have a similar problem. And of course, the other wizards put him on trial instead of giving him a medal for getting rid of a bad dude. And now he’s the equivalent to an innocent man who’s been in prison and is out on parole and everyone still thinks he’s the bad guy.
Pretty big chip to carry.
Harry has a hard time backing down. It’s what makes him a great hero and always getting into dangerous situations, but he also talks himself into worse problems and makes bitter enemies as a result of his lack of tact.
And I’m glad Harry is learning that sometimes its better to shut up then provoke the guy that just cold cocked you so hard he dropped you. He doesn’t quite understand diplomacy (and may never will), but at least he has some modicum of self-control and doesn’t talk himself into getting killed. Harry walks that fine line.
There is also a lot more to the confrontation with Harry’s mentor that we get latter on. My understanding about Storm Front is Butcher wrote it years before he started writing the rest of the Dresden novels and there seem to be some inconsistencies in Storm Front from the latter novels. For instance, Wardens always wear a gray cloak, it’s the symbol of their office. Morgan’s description doesn’t have him wearing his in this chapter, and he mentions killing Bianca with a stake in the next chapter, but that would make her Black Court Vampire, and she is a Red Court, something else not established until book 3.
Harry lives in a basement apartment. Mister, a large tomcat that Harry found badly injured three years ago, waits at the bottom of the stairs for Harry to let in. Like most cats, Mister believed the apartment was his, and merely tolerates the presences of Harry. Because Harry has such an effect on technology, Harry has no power in his apartment. Luckily, there is a fireplace that works.
Harry lights a fire for Mister and then dons a flannel bathrobe. Harry heads down into the subbasement where his lab is. The real reason wizards wear robes is to stay warm in their labs. On the floor of his lab is a brass summoning circle. The walls are lined with shelves full of various ingredients in Tupperware, jars, and other containers. Several books, a row of his notebooks, and a human skull, also rest on the shelves. The first thing Harry does is order Bob to wake up.
Bob the Skull grumbled something in Old French, I think, though I got lost when he got to the anatomical improbabilities of bullfrogs. He yawned, and his bony teeth rattled when his mouth clicked closed again. Bob wasn’t really a human skull. He was a spirit of air—sort of like a faery, but different. He made his residences inside the skull that had been prepared for him several hundred years ago, and it was his job to remember things. For obvious reasons, I can’t use a computer to store information and keep track of the slowly changing laws of quasiphysics. That’s why I have Bob. He had worked with dozens of wizards over the years, and it had given him a vast repertoire of knowledge—that, and a really cocky attitude. “Blasted wizards,” he mumbled.
Harry tells Bob that he wants to make a couple of potions and explains the situation to Bob. Bob tells Harry he could help, if Harry would let him out of the skull. Harry refuses, remembering the trouble Bob caused at a sorority last time. For a spirit of intellect, Bob is really obsessed with sex. Bob calls it academic research, and Harry calls it voyeurism. The pair argue, and Bob demands to know how long its been since Harry has been on a date. Harry reveals his dinner plans with Susan on Saturday.
Bob asks for a description, and after Harry describes Susan Bob asks how Harry got such a pretty girl to out with him. Harry changes the subject and tells Bob they’re going to make an escape potion. Bob refuses to help Harry with the escape potion unless he also makes a love potion. Harry threatens to throw Bob down the deepest well he can find, but Bob knows he is far to valuable to get rid of.
Harry resists the urge to smash the skull and counts to 30 to calm down. Love potions are cheap and would give Bob a vicarious thrill. Harry doesn’t have to use it, after all. Harry tells Bob he’ll make the love potion.
Bob’s eye lights came up warily. “You’re sure? You’ll do the love potion, just like I say?”
“Don’t I always make the potions like you say, Bob?”
“What about that diet potion you tried?”
“Okay. That one mistake.”
And the antigravity potion, remember that?”
“We fixed the floor! It was no big deal!”
“Fine, fine,” I growled. “You don’t have to rub it in. Now cough up the recipes.”
Every potion has eight ingredients: a liquid base, something to engage all five sense, something for the mind, and something for the spirit. Every potion is different for every person making the potion and Bob is very good at understanding which ingredients would be needed for which wizard making it.
For the escape potion: liquid base (Jolt cola), smell (motor oil), touch (bird’s feather), taste (chocolate covered espresso beans), sight (a shadow), hearing (mouse scampers), mind (bus ticket), and spirit (broken chain). This version of the escape potion will turn the imbiber into the wind for a few minutes. Harry is unsure of it, never having heard of this potion before. Bob says it will work since he is an air spirit.
For the love potion: liquid base (tequila), smell (perfume), touch (shredded lace), taste (dark chocolate), sight (candlelight), hearing (sigh), mind (fifty dollar bill), and spirit (shredded pages of a romance novel). Harry objects to this potion a lot. Usually, champagne is used as the base. Harry thinks the tequila will produce a sleazier result. Bob wanted the ashes of a love letter for the spirit and powdered diamond for the mind, but Harry was fresh out of both. Luckily, Harry got a paid in fifties by Monica today, and Bob has a collection of trashy romance novels.
The next step was infusing the ingredients with magic to transform them into potions. Harry gathers his emotional energy (worry, annoyance, and stubbornness) and focus them on the potions while muttering quasi-Latin phrases. Finished, and tired from the effort, Harry puts the potions into squeezable sports bottles and clearly labels them. Bob assures Harry that these are top notch potions.
Exhausted, Harry climbs up the ladder and stumbles to his bed and lies down. Mister, as usual, climbs up on his bed, gets settle, and begins “purring like a miniature outboard motor.”
Mister the Cat is very much a cat. Arrogant, thinks he is in charge, and that Harry is there to serve him. I’m not a cat person for the reasons Jim Butcher lists in the story, but Harry likes his cat, and he is useful in some of the latter books.
Bob the Skull is awesome. He and Harry make a great odd couple, always bickering, Bob always criticizing his love life. Harry almost always has to bribe Bob to get him to help out. But Bob knows when Harry is really desperate and will help then.
The method Butcher came up with for potions is really great and creative. And the fact that harry has such weird things stored: “a flickering shadow in a handkerchief” or a jar of sighs. The potions are made out of such mundane items, though a few are magically held. It is really neat. I wish he used potions more often in the later books, because I always enjoyed the ingredients he comes up with for them.
And poor Harry, his last fifty for the love potion. There goes it being cheap.
Harry is awoken late Friday afternoon by a call from Murphy. Despite having no electricity in his apartment, he does have a phone. She asks for a progress report, and he says nothing yet, lying that he worked on it all last night. The case is not going well, and Murphy needs the info pronto. Murphy, and her unit, are the scapegoats of the Chicago PD. Any unsolvable crime was dumped in their laps. Harry asks if she spoke to Bianca yet.
Another swear word. “That bitch won’t talk to us. Just smiles and nods and blows smoke, makes small talk, and crosses her legs. You should have seen Carmichael drooling.”
Harry floats the option of him speaking with Bianca, and Murphy shuts it down and explicitly tells him not to go to the Velvet Room. Harry lies, but Murphy hears it in his voice (Harry is a bad liar) and threatens to lock him up. Harry pulls the old bad connection gag and hangs up on her.
Harry eats and gets ready for his visit to Bianca after nightfall. The most important part of wizardy is preparation. Harry gets his cane, puts a silver knife up his sleeve, grabs the escape potion, a white handkerchief containing sunlight, and a silver pentacle talisman that belonged to his mother. Harry leaves behind his staff and blasting rod, not wanting to spook Bianca by bringing the equivalent of a flamethrower and machine gun.
The Velvet Room resided in a mansion on the lake. Harry pulls up to the gate and his car brakes down. A guard comes out and Harry tells him he’s hear to see Bianca and asks if the guard can call his mechanic, Mike, to get his car towed. Harry walks up the driveway but is stopped and searched, his knife and cane confiscated. Harry has to rely solely on magic now. Luckily, the guard didn’t take his pentacle, not realizing to Harry it is a symbol of his faith in magic, and like a crucifix to a believer, will have the same effect on a vampire.
Bianca the Vampiress appears to be a very beautiful women in a black dress with a plunging neckline. They exchange pleasantries, and Bianca asks him what he wants from her. Harry puts his hand in his pocket, grabbing the handkerchief. Harry tells her he’s hear about Jennifer Stanton’s murder.
I had all of a second’s warning. Bianca’s eyes narrowed, then widened, like those of a cat about to spring. Then she was coming at me over the table, faster than a breath, her arms extended toward my throat.
Harry pulls out the handkerchief and the sunlight hits Bianca like a sledgehammer, throwing her back. Even though Harry moved first, her fingernails still managed to graze his throat. The sunlight sent burned skin flying off Bianca and her true form is revealed.
I had never seen a real vampire before. I would have time to be terrified later. I took in the details as I tugged my talisman off my neck. It had a bat-like face, horrid and ugly, the head too big for its body. Gaping, hungry jaws. Its shoulders were hunched and powerful. Membranous wings stretched between the joints of its almost skeletal arms. Flabby black breasts hung before it, spilling out of the black dress that no longer looked feminine. Its eyes were wide, black, and staring, and a kind of leathery, slimy hide covered its flesh, like an inner tube lathered with Vaseline, though there were tiny holes corroded in it by the sunlight I had brought with me.
Harry uses his pentacle to keep her at bay and tells her he just came to talk. The vampire accuses Harry of killing Jennifer, one her prostitutes. Harry tries to explain that he is just helping the police. The pair are at a standoff, and both agree to stand down. Harry agrees and lowers his amulet and she resumes her disguise. Harry can’t get the image of the true Bianca out of his head, and she is not quite as beautiful to him anymore.
Bianca explains that Tommy Tomm was just a regular at the Velvet room. Bianca is protective of her girls and Tommy was a good guy. She sent Jennifer to him that night. Harry asks if anyone saw Jennifer on a regular basis, someone who would want to kill her. Bianca says no.
Bianca is still furious at Harry, and he realizes she is embarrassed that he saw her real form. Bianca wants to be seen as beautiful, and Harry had destroyed that illusion. Bianca swears that she would kill him if they hadn’t agreed on a truce. Harry warns her that would be dangerous, that she has something to lose. Even if she did kill him, his death curse would get her.
Bianca breaks and begins to cry and Harry feels bad. Dully, she tells Harry that Jennifer had a friend, Linda Randall. Linda used to work at the Velvet room, but now works for a rich couple who wanted a servant who does more than just clean. Bianca offers to get Harry her phone number and Harry thanks her.
Bianca smells the blood from Harry’s neck wound and orders him to leave, trying to control her hunger. She tells him Rachel will bring down the numbers. Harry gets up and as he leaves, Bianca swears she will get revenge on Harry. As Harry exits Bianca’s office, Rachel, a lovely young woman, passes Harry and enters Bianca’s office. Harry watcher her pull up the sleeve of her blouse and offer her wrist to Bianca.
Horrified and fascinated, Harry watches Bianca feed on Rachel and notices the the girl act like she’s on a narcotic. Bianca cuts her wrist open with her fangs and laps up the blood with her tongue. Rachel begins moaning in pleasure. Harry quickly heads outside, disturbed how Rachel willingly went to Bianca and allowed her to feed off her like Bianca was her lover. Harry speculates that Bianca’s saliva was a narcotic.
Outside, the security guard returns Harry’s weapons and a tow truck has arrived and is hooking up the blue beetle. A call comes to the guardhouse, and the guard hands Harry a piece of paper. Harry asks why Rachel didn’t bring it down.
He [the guard] didn’t say anything. But his jaw tightened, and I saw his eyes flick toward the house, where his mistress was. He swallowed. Rachel wasn’t coming out of the house, and Fido was afraid.
I took the paper. I kept my hand from shaking as I looked at it.
On it was a phone number. And a single word. Regret.
I folded the piece of paper in half and put it away into the pocket of my duster. Another enemy. Super. At least with my hands in my pockets, Fido couldn’t see them shaking. Maybe I should have listened to Murphy. Maybe I should have stayed at home and played with some nice, safe, forbidden black magic instead.
An intense chapter.
Bianca is not your typical vampire. In latter books, Butcher will call her type a Red Court vampire. He appearance, tuning into a bat monster, and how in latter books you kill a Red Court vampire, are very similar to chiropteran of Blood the Last Vampire. Both Blood and Storm Front came out the same year, so I can only assume they both drew on a similar monster from mythology or both came up with same creature independently of each other.
Harry’s encounter with Bianca will have repercussions down the road. Butcher is very good at making Harry experience the consequences of his actions, whether they were the right thing to do or not. Harry will make a lot of mistakes through the series and they always come to bite him in the ass.
Bianca is an interesting character. She is very protective of her employees, making sure her johns will not hurt them. She tries to kill Dresden because she thinks he is the only one in Chicago who could have killed Jennifer. When Harry hurts her and she reveals her true form, she is embarrassed. She is a vain vampire, one who prides herself on appearing seductive and beautiful.
Supernatural creatures, especially ones that have been around a few centuries, are very big on old world hospitality. When oaths are sworn for truces, they are usually honored. Although when dealing with such creatures, they tend to hold to the letter of their oaths.
NOTE: Older editions call Rachel by the name Paula. When Butcher wrote a later book where Bianca returns, he mixed the name up and called her Rachel. Newer editions of Storm Front of fixed this error.by