I have mentioned this before in my Why-I-Love-Dresden post. Whenever I recommend the series to anyone, whether they are close family members, people who have friended me on facebook, or people I meet on the street, I always mention one thing: The first two and a half books are not representative of the writing in the rest of the series. Fool Moon is especially hard to get through, but it is so worth it. So, so worth it.
Two problems in Storm Front (which is still a very engaging and fun read) are the arcs of the characters Monica Sells and Linda Randall. There is nothing wrong with them in description or deed. The characters in and of themselves make sense. The problem? They’re cliché.
When Harry is initially brain-storming with Murphy and Carmichael as to who could possibly do this, he is pretty confident that the person involved would be a witch:
“’Yes. The killer knew the victims. And I’m thinking it was a woman.’…’Because you can’t do something that bad without a whole lot of hate,’ I said. ‘Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.'”
This supposition is later discarded, caught up as Harry is in discovering that Victor Sells very much wants to kill him for getting in his way, for investigating him. The set-up in Storm Front thus remains no different than in a lot of crime fiction: a victim comes to the hero, a mystery is introduced, there is an alternate mystery that turns out to be connected to the first, etc. It’s a formula, and it’s one that works. So why don’t I quite believe that Monica Sells is exactly as she appears to be: a damsel in distress, a total victim of her husband’s quest for power?
For one, Butcher eats clichés for breakfast. The story of how Storm Front came to be is a story oft-repeated:
“ In 1996 he enrolled in a writing class where he was encouraged to write a novel similar to the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, rather than the more traditional high fantasy that had been his focus in the past, as Butcher had previously stated that he enjoyed the Anita Blake series. Despite initial resistance, he wrote the first book that semester, closely following the instructions of his teacher, author Deborah Chester: ‘When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.’ ”.
After that first chapter was written, he envisioned the entire series (well, the big huge plot points, anyway). Butcher has always maintained – always – that he likes to subvert tropes, and make clichés his bitch.
For another, if one follows the story with a suspicious eye pointed at Monica Sells, it reads like Monica is setting Harry Dresden up to take the fall for her husband. She gets Harry involved in the background to a major SI investigation. She gives him just enough information to get him to suspicious places at suspicious times, she dangles her own distress like a carrot, and chivalrous Harry Dresden is none the wiser.
But what about the soulgaze? Harry saw that she was mama bear protecting her children. If Monica was setting Harry up for a fall, and hoping he’d take out her husband while doing it, that technically counts as protecting her kids from being known children of a warlock, of a legal mess, or undue scrutiny. I think when Harry found innocence, it was nothing more than a mask. My bet is that Monica Sells will show up again, and some of the aspects of Harry’s first case up against the series-wide threat will be made clear.
Linda Randall is another case entirely.
The White Court is introduced—spectacularly so—in Grave Peril. Thomas Raith attends the utterly important masquerade, and though we don’t yet know he and Harry are brothers, his scenes pop from the page. The White Court is an entirely different breed of vampire than the Reds and the Blacks—they feed off strong emotions. They are inhumanly beautiful, physically powerful beings that can also manipulate pretty much anyone they want to into doing pretty much anything they want. I have a theory that the White King was responsible for a lot of the earlier events in the series, like Sells being taught magic, the FBI guys getting the wolf belts, etc. But that is for another essay, now we are focusing specifically on certain oddities in a character from Storm Front: Linda Randall. One of my favorite moments in the series comes from Blood Rites, and in it one of Harry’s favorite enemies is introduced:
“The newcomer was the real thing. She was grace. Beauty. Art. As such, she was not so easily quantified.
She would have been tall, even without the heeled faux-Victorian boots of Italian leather. Her hair was so dark that its highlights were nearly blue, a torrent of glossy curls held partially in check with a pair of milky ivory combs. She had eyes of dark grey with hints of violet twilight at their centers. Her clothes were all effortless style: natural fabrics, black skirt and jacket embroidered with abstract dark crimson roses with a white blouse.
Thinking back later, I couldn’t clearly remember her facial features or her body, beyond a notion that they were superb. Her looks were almost extraneous. They weren’t any more important to her appeal than a glass was to wine. It was at its best when invisible and showing the spirit contained within. Beyond mere physical presence, I could sense the nature of the woman—strength of will, intelligence, blended with a sardonic wit and edged with a lazy, sensuous hunger.”
Lara Raith (married name Lara Romany) is one of Harry’s favorite enemies. In fact, he reveals to Thomas that when he was deciding on how to kill himself, it crossed his mind that he could do worse than allowing Lara to eat him all up. He may not trust her, he may not like her, he may regard her as one of the scariest beings he has ever come across, but he (and we, the readers) can’t deny the attraction he feels whenever he is in her presence. She is beauty, grace, and dangerous sexuality all in one.
Compare this description to Linda Randall, another dark-haired, grey-eyed beauty to whom Dresden was drawn to intensely.
“It buzzed down, and a woman in her mid-twenties arched an eyebrow at me. She had beautiful eyes the color of rain clouds, a little too much eye shadow, and brilliant scarlet lipstick on her cupid’s-bow lips. Her hair was a medium brown, drawn back into a tight braid that made her cheeks look almost sharp, severe, except for her forelocks, which hung down close to her eyes in insolent disarray. She had a predatory look to her, harsh, sharp. She wore a crisp white shirt, grey slacks, and held a lit cigarette in one hand.[…] She was nervous. Nervous enough to be shaking, and now I could see what she was up to. She was wearing the alley-cat mask, appealing to my glands instead of my brain, and trying to distract me with it, trying to keep me from finding something out.”
We’ve got a working theory here at the Wampus that one of the main Big Bads of the series (and, in fact, the cause of Harry’s first few cases) is the White King. We will delve into that next week, but for now we will just say that it’s possible Monica Sells was influenced by the White King in the attempt to neutralize Dresden, and that Linda Randall was a plant from the White Court who met a bad, bad end.