Ultimate Mage Battle: Urban Fantasy

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus, and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse.

*SPOILER ALERT* may contain mild or not-so-mild spoilers for all three book series. Many spoilers. Many, many spoilers.

The Mage Cage is open for business and boy, do we have a fight on our hands. They’re filing into the octagon as we speak, ready to face off for title of Ultimate Urban Fantasy Mage.

Our first contender is heavyweight Harry Dresden. With 15 novels and the 16th on the way, besides a number of short stories, Harry has a hefty storyline to back him up. And the Chicago-based wizard isn’t done yet; with over 20 books planned, we’ll still be seeing a lot of the fire-toting, pentacle-wearing, wisecracking Dresden.

Contender number two is English-born-and-based Alex Verus. Mage Verus may lack Harry’s vast bibliography, but he’s working hard to catch up, with the 6th novel out this week. Cool where Harry is fiery, a calm and collected planner, Alex is a force to be reckoned with.

Our last contender, standing battle-ready and giving the menfolk her ‘simmer-down’ glare, is intrepid southern belle Sookie Stackhouse. Okay, I know the Sook is not technically a mage. But she is a telepath, and part fey, and that has to count for something, right? Plus Sookie is a fave gal of mine, and it’s my blog, so I say she gets to play. After battling vampires, evil fairies and weres of all kinds, she’s more than a match for a couple of overgrown wizard boys. And with a complete 13-book series, she’s the only one who can boast of a happily ever after.

The Mage Cage is locked and loaded, and they’re off, ladies and gentlefolk.

1. Main magical talent:

Harry’s main talent is a gift for fire. This is a raw, fierce, often messy skill which is really only good for offense. But wow, what an offense. Alex, now, well Alex is a diviner, which means he can predict future probabilities. Not particularly good for offense, but fabulous for defense, and for planning what, for lack of a better term, I’m calling defensive offense. Sookie is a telepath, which like Alex, is fabulous for defense and for planning ahead. But since she’s limited to what people are thinking right here, right now, I’d say Alex gets the edge on that one, as he can plan hours ahead. In fact, I think Alex has the edge all around here, despite Harry’s impressive fire talent. Sometimes thinking ahead really is a great advantage.

Winner: Mage Verus.

2. Secondary magical talents:

This one is a hands-down victory for Harry. He has a whole arsenal of other magical skills, such as scrying for locations, potion making, wards, and circles. Alex is great at using magical items, but he has to procure them from others, as his own magic is limited to his divination skills and his mage sight. And Sookie, resourceful as she is, also loses out to Harry’s arsenal of skills.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

3. Magical sidekick:

Harry has Bob the Skull, my absolute favorite bone-based entity. Bob is not really a skull, he just lives in one, and he’s a sort of magical search-engine for all things arcane. He’s hilariously snarky and incredibly useful. And he lasts a great many books before he leaves Harry’s possession.

Alex has Starbreeze, a wind elemental who handily turns him to vapor and whisks him off to wherever he needs to go. She’s pretty awesome, but although she turns out to be a great fighter too, her main raison d’étre in the storyline is mode of transportation. Unfortunately, pretty quickly into the series Alex loses the means to invoke her.

Sookie doesn’t have a magical entity as a sidekick. Sorry, Sookie, you’ll have to sit this one out.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

4. Key magical item:

Despite his useful charm bracelet and pentacle necklace, Harry’s main magical item is his wizard’s staff, which he uses to channel his abilities. It makes a pretty awesome flamethrower! Alex’s main item up until book 5 is his mist cloak, an imbued item (which means it has magic of its own) that helps Alex hide from sight and avoid magical detection. Pretty handy for a mage who relies on a non-combat form of magic. Sookie at first has no magical item. But wait, what’s that she finds in book 11? A Cluviel Dor, a pretty piece of fey magic which allows one honest-to-goodness wish, for your heart’s desire. And eventually (um, remember the spoiler alert waaay back there?) she uses it to honest-to-goodness bring someone back from the freaking DEAD.

Sorry, boys. That’s some powerful magic right there.

Winner: Miss Stackhouse.

5. Support crew:

Harry has a way of gathering allies that’s a treat to see. By now his backup team includes a former police sergeant, a forensics expert, a whole medley of different wizarding folk, several smallish fairies, a vampire half-brother, a werewolf pack, a couple of Knights of the Cross, and an entire island-based entity. Plus all the others I’ve forgotten. Not at all bad, Dresden. Oh, and Santa helped out a couple of times, too…

Alex’s allies are mostly a handful of other mages and his apprentice, Luna, although he also has a rather passive form of backup from Arachne the giant magical spider. His support crew is growing steadily, but the Verus series is still young and Harry’s had a lot of books to gather his impressive array. Sorry Alex. I’m sure you’ll get there eventually!

Sookie, however, can give Harry a run for his money. Not only does she have a couple of vampires and a shape shifter who take any attack on the Sook as a personal affront, she has backup from an entire were panther clan, and is a named friend-of-the-pack to an active werewolf group. Add to that a were-tiger, a witch or two, an all-powerful fairy king for a grandfather and a half-demon godfather of sorts, plus her vast contingent of human allies, and she packs a hefty punch on the support side.

It was a close thing between Harry and Sookie. A lot of very devoted friends and followers. But honestly? Sookie’s supporters are all extremely committed and ready to jump into any fray for her. I think she just scrapes by at the post…

Winner: Miss Stackhouse.

6. Antagonists:

Alex has some pretty nasty characters on his tail. But his world has few active magical creatures in it, and his interactions are mostly of the wizarding variety. Horrible as some of his antagonists may be, they tend to be of the human-with-magic sort…

Sookie has had some close brushes within the vampire community, and there was that nasty bit of fairy business. But her main antagonists – the ones gunning for her, personally – have mostly either been human (like the zealots of the Fellowship of the Sun) or shifter (Debbie Pelt, anyone?).

Harry, however, seems to have had everything under the sun on his case at some point of time. From werewolves to fairy queens, from the entire Red Court of vampires to fallen angels, his antagonists are a colorful and powerful bunch.

Winner: Wizard Dresden.

Total of wins:

That’s one for Alex Verus, two for Sookie Stackhouse and three for Harry Dresden. Dresden exits the Cage as champion, with the title of Ultimate Urban Fantasy Mage. Well done, Harry, and congratulations to all the contenders. Until next time, when a new fantasy subgenre brings a fresh batch of wizards to the octagon for another round of Ultimate Mage Battle.

skin game   veiled   dead ever after

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