Death Masks is the fifth of the books in the series and one that decides to return to the more religious side of Dresden's world. While we already had a taste of this world thanks to Michael, Knight of the Cross, but of course we've barely scratched the surface of things. This book takes us into the thick of it head first.
This book also represents Dresden being back in control of his life, at least comparatively speaking when you look back at his state of mind in the prior books. And while he isn't exactly Mr. Popularity or anything like that, but he is at least generally safe in the wizarding community. So naturally we needed something to shake things up again.
Synopsis: Death Masks is the fifth novel in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. It takes place some time after the events of Summer Knight.
The book begins rather unusually with Dresden being part of a daytime TV talk show in an effort to get information out of a contact. But things result in him being on-air with a priest all the way from the Vatican and a Duke of the Red Court, Ortega. He's there to issue Dresden with a formal challenge for a duel as a way to result the war between the Red Court of vampires and the Council of Wizards. And Dresden decides to accept the challenge for now. Immediately after, the Vatican representative has a case for Dresden that involves retrieving a stolen relic - the legendary Shroud of Turin. And thus Dresden is off to a great start in this little adventure.
The book immediately has Dresden juggling between figuring out how to deal with the duel with Ortega and the mystery of the Shroud. And the case of the Shroud also involves Fallen ones also in pursuit of the Shroud and three of the Knights of the Cross being active in the city all at once They're convinced that should Dresden pursue the Shroud, he'll die. But it's not like a prophecy of death is going to dissuade our stubborn wizard from his duty.
A lot of the Dresden books involve a pretty respectable segment of the story dedicated to a case or a mystery and the way that Dresden pursues a case is only magical in its mundane simplicity at times. he doesn't resort to using magic first in order to find answers. Instead he puzzles through things, asks questions and generally does the necessary legwork to get the job done. And I like how all that blends in with his magical stuff.
Now to have a truly demonic antagonist and these three Knights of the Cross (including Michael) did make for an interesting exploration of a new side of this world. And it's not like the Knights are significantly magical. Sure they use swords as their primary weapon in this time of guns and explosives. But then they also wear bullet-proof armor and shock plates in order to augment the protection offered by their faith with some rather human defenses against more conventional weapons. It made for a nice contrast.
And while I did enjoy the mystery side of things, a lot of the novel felt a little cramped, maybe because we had new characters like the other Knights but not enough space to tell more of their stories. So we tend to have them appearing at random points when danger is near because when else will the knights be called into action, right?
Grave Masks isn't the greatest of the books but it was nice to go deeper into new territory with this exploration of religious icons and the powers they have in this magically active world. And we see Dresden being less silly that he has been at times in past books, and that's certainly welcome. Thus the book gets 4 fearsome demonic attackers out of a possible 5.