Death Masks by Jim Butcher – Book Review [Bane of Kings]


Bane of Kings Reviews the fifth novel of the popular Urban Fantasy Dresden Files series published in the UK by Orbit and with the title Death Masks. For those who haven’t read the previous novels in the Dresden Files series, there will be spoilers involved for anybody who hasn’t read the previous books in the series.

“I thought Butcher couldn’t raise the game after the fantastic Summer Knight. I thought wrong. A page-turning novel that will have you hooked right from Page One. If you haven’t read the Dresden Files yet, you don’t know what you’re missing.” ~The Founding Fields

Note: As this review is posted on Christmas Day, I might as well wish a Happy Christmas to everybody on TFF. Hope you got what you wanted :) .

Death Masks, as you’re aware by now, is the fifth instalment in the bestselling Dresden Files series. It’s the longest one-author-written series that I’ve reviewed on the blog so far, even with the fact that I’m only five books in and have reviewed only four of them, including this one. You’d think one would be tired of Harry Dresden, wizard Private Investigator by now, but no – Butcher manages to create new and enthralling challenges for Dresden, plus introducing one of the deadliest villains that the Dresden Files has seen so far.

With most Dresden Files novels, Death Masks begins with Harry in a dark place. He’s broke, and has resorted to going on TV – The Larry Fowler show, where he runs into the Red Court Vampire’s Champion, who’s looking to duel Harry, with his death meaning the end of the Vampire/Wizard war.

And that’s not the only thing he’s got to deal with, oh no. Professional hit-men are using Harry as target practice, a handless/headless corpse of the Chicago police that needs identifying, and the Missing Shroud of Turin. On the plus side, business is good. On the downside, this could be the last adventure for Harry Dresden. And, on top of all that, Harry’s ex girlfriend, Susan returns to Chicago, still a semi-vampire, and now has a new man in her life.

This looks to be one of the most complex Dresden novels yet, and with multiple story plots overlapping, I wondered how Butcher would conclude this all in just one novel. I must say though, that he pulls it off spectacularly, and even includes an incident involving The Ride of the Valkyries by Wagner, adding to the humorous side of The Dresden Files. It also appears that Harry’s character is developing, there appears to be not one use of “Hell’s Bells” in the novel at all, unless I missed it.

Death Masks also get across the fact that the Dresden Files have to be read in chronological order. You can’t just jump in, for example at this book, if you haven’t read the previous novels, unlike the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child which I’ve been reading recently, and also unlike the Alex Cross novels by James Patterson. We learn about what motivates the Red Court to go to war with the wizards, and we learn about the Knights of the Cross (with more than just Michael appearing for this adventure), and the mysterious Denarians. And, the characters also have as much depth as the world that Butcher has created. Susan, Marcone, Dresden, Sanya, Shiro, these characters, all key to the plot of Death Masks and none of them a waste of space. Murphy’s here as well, as it wouldn’t be a Dresden Files without at least one bicker between her and Chicago’s only wizarding Private Investigator.

The plot moves along at a very fast pace and Butcher manages to tie in all the various threads without leaving you lost with no idea as to what’s going on. However, despite that, there may be, for some readers at least, too much going on. It’s like The Wedding of River Song, the concluding episode of Doctor Who Series 6. I said a couple of sentences ago this: “Without leaving you lost with no idea as to what’s going on”, but there are some parts in the novel that will perhaps have you overwhelmed, but hey – let’s move on, because I’m beginning to contradict myself. And contradicting’s bad.

Death Masks, as much as I want it to be, isn’t perfect, and I think everybody has an issue here with Dresden’s so-called chivalry when dealing with women. It’s starting to get ridiculous, so let’s hope this changes in Blood Rites, the next book in the series (see below for a complete list).

I didn’t think that things could perhaps increase the tension more than Summer Knight, but it appears that Butcher has, as mentioned earlier, truly raised the game, with Blood Rites looking as though it won’t be able to match up to this. Blood Rites is the Rocky to Death Masks’ Apollo Creed, if you get what I mean. A million to one shot at being better than Death Masks, and I personally can’t wait to find out what happens next for Dresden and his band of Chicago allies.

Despite the fact that you know Harry will eventually get hurt a lot midway through the novel, and the fact that you know he’ll emerge on top, this novel will have you turning the pages very fast (like I did), in a desperate attempt to complete the novel. It’s that engrossing.

 Verdict: 4.5/5

 More Dresden Files: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Night, Small Favour, Turn Coat, Changes, Side Jobs (Short Story Collection), Ghost Story.

More Jim Butcher: Furies of Calderon, Academ’s Fury, Cursor’s Fury, Captain’s Fury, Princep’s Fury, First Lord’s Fury, Darkest Hours. 

Bane of Kings is one our most senior book reviewers here at The Founding Fields, based in England. He’s a prolific reviewer that has contributed to many things here and around the internet.


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