With Proven Guilty, Butcher continues to weave together an intricate plot. This article, like last time, focuses mostly on secondary characters, not Harry. But instead of Butters, the focus shifts to Molly Carpenter. This 2006 book does many things better than we’ve seen before, while still retaining the charm of the series. It’s stellar in writing, in character, and in plot.
Spoilers for all of Proven Guilty and the rest of Butcher’s Work.
So, What Happened?
Proven Guilty opens with Harry attending the killing of a sixteen-year-old warlock for mind controlling his family and friends. He brushes off Ebenezer’s attempt to resume their friendship afterwards. But he agrees to investigate why the Fae courts still have not moved against the Red Court. The Gatekeeper warns Harry that black magic is being practiced in Chicago. But before he can investigate, Molly calls him, and asks him to pay bail for her. He goes to the station, and pays bail for her boyfriend, instead. He does so, then brings Molly home to her parents, to discover that she ran away months ago.
Molly then drags him to SplatterCon!!!, a horror movie convention, where the crime Nelson was wrongly jailed for was committed. Harry investigates, and then the lights go out and a horror movie monster attacks guests, killing one of Molly’s friends and badly hurting another. He figures out the monster is a phobophage, fear monsters, summoned from the NeverNever. Then, Harry meets Lily and Fix, the Summer Lady and Knight. They tell him that the reason Mab and Titania do not act against the Red Court is that Mab keeps a stalemate between Winter and Summer going. Titania cannot help the White Council without being attacked by an insane Mab.
Harry works a spell to send the phobophages after their summoner. They attack Molly, the summoner, kidnap her and drag her to Arctis Tor, Mab’s stronghold. Harry, Thomas, Murphy, and Charity go to take her back, with help from Lily and Fix. Harry encourages Molly to turn herself in to the White Council for Black Magic. He makes a convincing case that she only did it to stop her friend’s drug abuse. They sentence her to the Doom of Damocles, with Harry as her teacher and guarantee.
Best Moment – And They Were My Heroes
Right before Harry and the rest enter the Way to Arctis Tor, Harry asks if they’re sure they want to come with him. Every single one of them steps up before he finishes the question. After that, Harry thinks.
“A bolt of warmth, fierce with pride and gratitude, flashed through me like sudden lightning. I don’t care whose DNA has recombined with whose. When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching—they are your family. And they were my heroes.” (381).
This moment moves me on so many levels. Firstly, the writing is gorgeous. Secondly, it fundamentally states the theme of this book, and the series on some level. This book tells the story of family reconciling. Harry, earlier in the book, stayed away from the Carpenters because he didn’t know what Michael would think when he found out about Lasciel. But the second Molly calls, he drops everything, because they’re family, even when he hasn’t seen them in years.
Murphy goes along with Harry, even though she might loose her job after missing a day, when she led the SplatterCon!!! Investigation. Afterwards, she say, “It had to be done, and I’d do it again. I can live with that.” (432-3). She knows she won’t command SI after this, but she’s family to Harry.
Molly and Charity also reconcile in this book. Michael recounts to Harry that they fought for months before Molly left. But the second she learns something hurt Molly, Charity goes and helps her daughter, to the point of besieging Faerie to retrieve her. Molly sobbing in Charity’s arms after Arctis Tor resolves the emotional distance between them.
This moment, and Murphy’s line after, restate Billy’s thesis from Fool Moon. Help others when you can. Help family, even if they’re not blood.
Most Improved – Charity Continues to Unfold
Charity shows up more in this section than Harry does. She proves to be a fantastically complex person that Butcher revisits over and over again. Previously we’ve seen her dislike Harry for Michael’s injuries. Then we’ve seen her become a blacksmith for her husband. But this is a doozy. After the phobophages take Molly, Charity and Harry have a long conversation.
He asks how long since she used her magic, and Charity says, “A lifetime.” (332).
She goes on to explain that she discovered her magic as a girl, and fell out with her parents because of it. Charity fell in with a group of young wizards that dabbled in Black Magic, and were warned by the Wardens. Gregor, the leader, started killing his followers, and chained up Charity as sacrifice for a dragon when Michael saved her. (333-4). So she tried to dissuade Molly from using magic when it developed in her, and wound up driving her daughter away. “No wonder Charity hadn’t much liked me. Not only was I dragging her husband off to who knew where to fight who knew what, I was also setting an example to Molly of everything Charity wanted her to avoid.” (335).
It leads to a more permanent reconciliation between them, even after Charity figures out Harry sent the phobophages after Molly. Even after Harry takes Molly before the council and drags her further into the magic Charity gave up.
After this, the narrative looks at Charity through kinder eyes. We learn not only that Charity forged Michael’s weapons, but that she served as his sparring partner for twenty years. She brings tubs of armor and weaponry for those besieging Arctis Tor. This attitude towards, compassion to Charity continues through the next books.
Best Worldbuilding – Morality, Molly, and the Fourth Law
One of the things that I appreciate most about Proven Guilty is the nuance of the arguments at Molly’s trial. I began this series talking about purity culture, where someone cannot fail without being outcast. In many ways, the White Council’s arguments resemble purity culture. They are the “White”, pure ones, and the blood of the dead warlocks does not stain a Warden’s cloak. For the Council, their accusations are not those of racism and sexism, but of breaking the laws of magic. Their penalty is not exclusion and accusations, but death.
And in both cases, there is some truth to their beliefs. In The Dresden Files, we saw moments where Harry almost broke the laws because of his initial corruption. The Merlin rightly points out that he killed Corpsetaker on suspicion, rather than a trial, which the Council grants to warlocks. In the real world, unlearning biases is hard, and rather than facing that, people will double down on their beliefs. Molly was wrong to forcibly alter the brains of her friends with magic. Especially given the deaths that followed.
But this lacks nuance, and Harry rubs their noses in it. During the trial he unmasks Molly, literally and figuratively. He takes off the bag they stuffed over her head. He talks about why she acted. After her friend Rosa suffered a miscarriage, she turned to heroin. Then she got pregnant again. Molly didn’t want her to miscarry again because of drugs. She altered Rosa’s mind and made her afraid of drugs. Molly also tested it first on Nelson, to be sure it wouldn’t hurt Rosa. Harry points all this out, and that people can change. It might be hard, to turn away from Black Magic, to root out your biases. But it can be done.
Worst Moment – Molly’s Attempt at Seduction
I made it though seven eighths of this book, thinking that I had no candidate for Worst Moment. Then I got to the scene between Harry and Molly at his apartment after Arctis Tor and her trial.
Molly does her best to seduce him, in a two page spread carefully worded and designed to be titillating. Then Harry dumps a pitcher of ice water on her, and lays down the law.
In reflection on this series, most of the contenders for this slot, especially as Butcher worked his way out of early-installment-weirdness, relate to sex. Considering I’m writing this series from my perspective as someone on the asexuality spectrum, that’s understandable. The scenes referencing sex don’t speak to my experience, so I look on them with a more skeptical eye, than I might otherwise. In other words, I might be reinforcing purity culture because of my personal dislike of reading sex scenes and references. So, as I mentioned above, I’m going to try and unpick my biases regarding this. I’ll still be more likely to disapprove of mentions of sex than an allosexual person, but I’m going to try.
That being said. I’m not sure that a seventeen-year-old girl. Who has just been kidnapped by fear monsters. Been on trial for her life. Almost been executed. Found out she destroyed her old boyfriend’s mind because of her magic. And in the presence of a family friend she’s known since, “before she’d had to worry about feminine hygiene products.” (506). Would be in the state of mind to try and seduce anyone, let alone said family friend. I freely admit I would be curled into a ball, completely overwhelmed. I think that’s the majority opinion of how people would react. So part of me thinks that in this instance, that disdain might be justified.
Except for the Worst Moment scene, I really like Proven Guilty. Butcher now knows how to handle very complicated plots, and provides several nice emotional beats to the story. I appreciated that there was no Worst Worldbuilding worthy moments.
Proven Guilty also provides a really pivotal moment in the series as a whole. So many events in this book will affect things to come. Harry and Murphy had the romance talk where she turned him down preemptively. Murphy is getting demoted, and paired with Rawlins, who knew her father. Harry reconciled with Ebenezer at the end, and they discuss the traitor and the Black Council. Thomas finding a job he can keep. Lea seeming bi-polar on their journey into Arctis Tor, and the fear of Mab’s madness. Harry taking Molly as an apprentice under the Doom of Damocles. Michael revealing that he knew about Lasciel’s coin from the start.
All of this will play into events in future books. I can’t wait to discuss how it all plays out with you all.