Death Masks (The Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher

If you are reading this review, you are most likely well-versed with Jim Butcher’s famous urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files. After the momentous events of Summer Knight, many readers may be nervous, wondering if Jim Butcher can keep up with his frantic pace. I am here to ease your worries; Death Mask further cements Butcher as one of the best urban fantasy authors out there.

The war between the vampires and the wizards still rages on, and the death toll is rising on both sides. To stop the ever-expanding war, Duke Ortega of the Red Court challenges Harry Dresden to a duel to the death. While Harry worries about this coming duel, he is enlisted by the Catholic Church to find the recently stolen Shroud of Turin. To make matters worse, a new evil arises that is more terrifying than both the fae and the vampires.

Sacrifices
Harry has been a wonderful driving force for the previous novels, but there have also been some interesting side characters that we really have yet to get to know—until now. For starters, the holy knight Michael has backup this time in the form of two other knights: Shiro and Sanya. Both of these new knights are introduced with standard humorous Butcher flair. Shiro is an ironic Japanese swordsman, and Sanya is agnostic even though he was given a holy sword by an archangel. This parody-based storytelling is classic Butcher, but like any good classic, there is always more than meets the eye.

The real power player this time around is Harry’s ex-girlfriend, Susan. Of course, when we last met Susan she had been turned into a half-vampire by Bianca of the Black Court and had run away to ensure that she did not hurt Harry. Susan was always a throwaway character, simply a walking romance object for Harry to obsess over, but all of that changes now. Due to her half-vampire state, Susan has a litany of powers, such as improved strength, so she can actually assist Harry. All of these additions make Susan more than a walking plot device because they add character depth that was sorely missing before.

Denarians
In each novel, Butcher typically adds a new legion of villains to confound Harry, and Death Masks does not stray from this tradition. This time around, the villains are known as the Denarians, who have entered the fray due to the Shroud of Turin being out in the open. In Christian mythos, denarii were the thirty or so coins of Roman currency that Judas was paid to betray Jesus. In Death Masks, the Denarians are fallen angels who inhabit each of these coins. If a person is in possession of one of the coins, they will slowly be possessed by one of the demons.

What makes the Denarians so compelling can be seen in their leader, Nicodemus. Nicodemus is cool, collected, and is without a doubt a long term planner.  Although the other factions, such as the fairies and the vampires, are evil they are nothing like the Denarians. The Denarians’ one and only goal is to create chaos in the world—nothing more, nothing less—and they are fanatical about achieving this goal. This adds an interesting situation in which the Denarians will use more twisted and subversive means to create chaos because they care more for ideas than material things.

Harry is strong, but…
Yes, Harry is strong but his triumphs over the impossible are beginning to break immersion. In each of The Dresden Files novels, the readers do not see any discernible differences in Harry’s power or spell routines, but the enemies keep getting exponentially stronger. This leads to a situation in which it appears that Butcher has to use more twisted logic to get Harry out of a spat. To fix this issue of immersion, Butcher could have some sort of training arc or power boost which would put Harry on equal footing with the villains. As it stands, it is getting more difficult to think that Harry can take on fallen angels and the like, even as a powerful wizard. Of course, this perceived flaw is not enough to ruin the flow and pacing of the entire novel. It is but a small blemish on an otherwise perfect portrait.

Why should you read this book?
Since you have made it this far into the series, why would you not read Death Masks?  Of course, the previous sentence is made in jest. You should read Death Masks because of the improved characterization of the side characters, the riveting pacing, and the hints of more underneath the surface. As previously mentioned, Butcher will have to either tone down the power level of his villains or make Harry stronger lest the readers’ immersion is broken. Overall, Death Masks is another beautiful thread of the growing tapestry of The Dresden Files.

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