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The Curious Case of Monica Sells and Linda Randall

The Curious Case of Monica Sells and Linda Randall published on 7 Comments on The Curious Case of Monica Sells and Linda Randall

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.

Was Monica Sells totally level with Harry in Storm Front?

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Any chance Linda Randall is either a plant from the White Court, or actually part of the White Court?

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The World as Harry Knows It

The World as Harry Knows It published on 4 Comments on The World as Harry Knows It

The World As Harry Knows It
Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril

As with anything, Urban Fantasy is interpreted in many different ways by many different authors. Some authors have cloaked the fantastical world in secrecy, and it is hugely difficult for the characters to find out anything. Other authors (like Kim Harrison) have humans and immortals living side-by-side, working together, and even procreating. Butcher chose to place the Dresden Files somewhere in between, as is elucidated in the following quote:

“Science, the largest religion of the twentieth century, had become somewhat tarnished by images of exploding space shuttles, crack babies, and a generation of complacent Americans who had allowed the television to raise their children. People were looking for something—I think they just didn’t know what. And even though they were once again starting to open their eyes to the world of magic and the arcane that had been with them all the while, they still thought I must be some kind of joke.”

The government is not wholly unaware of magical doings, as is evidenced by the existence of Special Investigations. Karrin Murphy heads the Department that handles any cases that seem particularly unusual, like vampire attacks, troll marauderings, and faerie abductions. Harry has worked with SI before, though he is their consultant on a murder case for the very first time in Storm Front. Moreover, even in the first three books, before Harry has truly begun his career as Chicago’s avenger, we have evidence that someone is working behind the scenes to create dangerous enemies out of mediocre people. In Fool Moon, we have the FBI infiltrated by four agents who have had enough contact with the magical world that they have belts that turn them into wolves—the better to hunt down their prey. This betrays the fact that someone in the know, and powerful enough in their own right, has infiltrated the upper echelons of government and is pulling strings.

The fringe of society, occupied by the misfits, has its own belief and suspicion of such things. The local equivalent of the Weekly World News, the Chicago Arcane, covers “all sorts of supernatural and paranormal events throughout the Midwest.” Harry thinks of the yellow magazine with plenty of derision, though he does acknowledge it gets some of stuff right. “But once in a great, great while, the Arcane covered something that was real. Like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994, when the entire city of Milwaukee had simply vanished for two hours. Gone. Government satellite photos showed the river valley covered with trees and empty of life or human habitation. All communications ceased. Then, a few hours later, there it was, back again, and no one in the city itself the wiser.” In Storm Front, the magazine is popular enough that little Jenny Sells—daughter of the prime antagonist—recognizes Dresden’s face from it. In Fool Moon, the Chicago Arcane has had an image update, and is now known as the Midwestern Arcane. By the end of Fool Moon, the Arcane’s star reporter, Susan Rodriguez, has a syndicated column with global news outlets.

The Larry King show (alternately known as the Larry Fowler show) is also a way in which those with belief in the supernatural disseminate information. It is only briefly mentioned in the first three books.

Other organizations unaffiliated with the government have at least a small inkling of what creatures lurk in the shadows. It is widely assumed that John Marcone discovered the hidden world of magic and terrible curses through the course of Storm Front—this is simply untrue, after a closer look. We first meet John Marcone in a limousine after Dresden has visited the crime scene. Not only does Marcone have at least a semblance of belief in magic, he deliberately initiated a soulgaze with Dresden in order to take his measure: “That was his purpose in getting me alone. He wanted to take a peek at my soul. He wanted to see what sort of man I was.” Prior to the events of Storm Front, Marcone has spoken to people—people who can distinguish true magic from bragging. One of the enduring mysteries of the series is John Marcone’s past, and it’s hinted at from the moment we meet him.

There is also the other side of the equation to consider. The White Council, first mentioned in chapter two, is Dresden’s governing authority. Most of the Laws of Magic that the Council enforces are directed at how wizards employ magic against them. Outwardly, this looks very altruistic, but by not drawing attention to themselves and magic, the Council Laws help to prevent mortals from declaring war on a threat they don’t understand. So despite all these various factions and departments that are in the know—or at least know a little, it remains to be seen what methods the Council uses to suppress the knowledge of the supernatural world from everyone everywhere.

Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril show a slow progression of magic being revealed to the masses, despite the interference of the White Council and other parties. The loup-garou in the police station, the not-quite-humanoid corpses left over from the Velvet Room (which Waldo Butters later reveals to be his induction into the secret world), the video tape of Murphy firing inherited-silver bullets at the loup-garou, and a myriad other examples. Jim Butcher initially wrote about a society that is starting to believe, but still in denial. As the series progresses, mortal authorities and civilians alike are gaining more and more knowledge. It’s exciting to watch this unfold, and I am excited to revisit this topic once the focus has widened.

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