“White Night” by Jim Butcher
Sometimes you just need something fluffy. You read it quickly, you enjoy whatever unexpected plot points and creativity the author has utilized, and you finish it feeling like you accomplished something: you completed reading a novel. It’s been a while for me, so I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Jim Butcher for his White Night. It was quick, it was magical, it involved non-sparkly vampires (although I have to deduct points for having them at all), and it had some darn funny dialogue. What else could you want?
Well, since I asked, I think anything more I would ask from White Night would only serve to detract from its very genre. White Night is a pulpy supernatural mystery and one of the things Mr. Butcher does well is to richly imbue the book with its own campy sense of self-awareness. The problems may be serious (murders, unsurprisingly, combined with an on-going war between wizards, not-nice vampires, and even-less-nice vampires), but that doesn’t mean the characters don’t sense their own stereotypical roles in solving said murders.
I found White Night at a library book sale, so I went into the book knowing nothing about it, Mr. Butcher, or “the Dresden Files,” as the cover page noted the book was a part of. I later discovered that White Night is the ninth (!) book in a series of books about one Harry Dresden, wizard extraordinaire, who solves supernatural crimes with his police partner, Murphy. (Before you groan at the lack of creativity in naming a police officer “Murphy,” know that at least this one is female rather than large, male, and constantly eating donuts.)
Because this is the ninth book in a series and I didn’t even realize it, I have to give Mr. Butcher props once more for successfully creating a stand-alone novel in the midst of a long-running series. He inserted explanations where necessary—which only occasionally felt like awkward cheat-sheets to catch us newbies up—but mainly kept the plot going at an understandable clip at all times.
And I would also hail Mr. Butcher’s imagination for creating a world with magic inserted into it seamlessly. He isn’t as graceful or witty about it as J.K. Rowling, but his work in White Night (and presumably the rest of the Dresden Files series) did definitely remind me of Rowling’s similarly impressive ability to create a believable magical world within our boring old human one.
So if the dialogue’s funny, the premise is creative, the characters are self-aware, and the book works by itself, what stops me from raving about this book? I can think of no better way to put it that this: it is fluffy. There is not a meaningful bone in its whole paper-body. The whole thing is written with loud hammer-strokes and absolutely no delicacy of expression. (Although I could give Mr. Butcher the benefit of the doubt and posit that perhaps this style is to mirror the type of brute-force magic practiced by Harry Dresden. Sure, I’ll give him that.) The magical creatures (vampires, ghouls, fairies, etc.) are all yawn-inducing paper cut-outs, both stereotypical and earnest in their lack of originality (vampires that are pale and sensual?! No way!). And the eventual reveal is so convoluted that not only did you not see it coming, you almost don’t get who did what.
So this book is fluffy, no doubt about it. But, like I said up top, sometimes that’s just what you need.