Anytime an author in any type of fantasy genre invokes the Moon in their title, something furry is making an appearance. Werewolves, much like vampires, are old-school monsters that have never really fallen out of fashion. The popularity of such creatures waxes and wanes but they never truly fade away. Stories like Fool Moon by Jim Butcher help cement the werewolf as a literary monster with enough juice left to still thrill and frighten.
Fool Moon is the second novel in Butcher’s Dresden series. Having reviewed (and more importantly enjoyed) the first novel Storm Front, I felt the overwhelming itch to return to Butcher’s magical private detective. Harry Dresden is a great character to read precisely because is the most “human” wizard I’ve encountered in fantasy literature. Wizards tend to come in two varieties in stories: powerful, untouchable, and aloof (think Gandalf or Merlin) or weak, in-training, and/or conflicted (think Harry Potter). Dresden is a happy medium between those two spectrums. He is powerful enough to be legitimately bad-ass but not so powerful that his foes become paper tigers. Dresden also doesn’t know everything, which allows Butcher creative license to use exposition to educate both his protagonist and his audience simultaneously.
For this novel though, Dresden takes on monstrous werewolves of all types. Butcher wisely chose to avoid the standard tropes and clichés, specifically the bi-pedal wolf-man hybrid made famous by Universal classics and cult favorites like The Howling or An American Werewolf in London. Instead we have five different types of werewolves, each unique and following a clear train of logic (for a series dealing with magic). The various kinds represent a different aspect of humanity’s innate feral nature, which the werewolf as a motif has historically explored. Butcher makes a strong case that devoid of higher reasoning (a conscience, if you will), one becomes little more than a ravening beast.
Butcher’s choice for each type of werewolf is fitting and ties together nicely with the plot, providing plenty of red herrings to keep the audience guessing. From age-old curses to pacts with unknown spell-casters to college-age shapeshifters, Butcher introduces each of type of werewolf slowly and relies on the violent nature of the crimes to express how dangerous these creatures can be. By far, the description of the loup-garou comes close to the classic werewolf idea of the mindless, ravenous beast. The hexenwolf type explores how easy the noblest of intentions can be twisted into something thoroughly and deeply evil.
I also have to commend Butcher on creating great characters for his plot to revolve around. In my review of Storm Front I remarked that Johnny Marcone would make an excellent reoccurring antagonist. Butcher uses Marcone throughout the novel to great effect, firmly establishing for the audience how strong Dresden’s moral compass stands. I’m still not thrilled by Karrin Murphy (mostly due to her penchant for arresting Dresden for keeping secrets) but I imagine she becomes a more rounded character in the later installments of the series.
From start to finish, Fool Moon is a great story, told with a wonderful mixture of sardonic wit and hard-boiled horror. Butcher shows with his second Dresden novel that the first was by no means a fluke. The Dresden stories are a refreshing take on the supernatural fiction genre. If you have not started on the Dresden books, I suggest you correct that situation immediately. After enjoying the second book so much, I plan on reviewing the remaining books in the series.