It was a very happy surprise that midway through my re-read of the series, Jim Butcher announced that Peace Talks was done! So this ranking comes at a pretty good time.
I had two rules in making this list: the first is that I focused on the novels only. Short stories, TV shows, fan fiction, etc, all don’t factor. We are strictly looking at the 15 published novels, period. The second rule is one fight scene per book, only. Some books have multiple great fight scenes (like Skin Game), but in the interest of keeping this ranking manageable, I limited myself to the one scene.
Obviously, here be spoilers. And I am writing this list on the assumption that you remembered what happened, so I’m not going to describe the fight scenes too much. The Dresden Files Wiki is a great resource if you need to jog your memory.
Here you go, the authoritative, definitive, inarguable, entirely 100% correct ranking of Dresden Files fight scenes, ranked:
15. Grave Peril (Dresden Files #3)
Bianca Springs Her Trap At the Red Court’s Masquerade Ball
Grave Peril is a little unusual in that it doesn’t offer too many of the whiz-bang fight scenes in the book, focusing instead on pushing all the puzzle pieces together for the climax, as well as setting up larger plot points in motion for the rest of the series. In this book alone, we meet Michael and Charity, Father Forthill, Lea, and visit places that play larger roles in future books (such as the Nevernever and Saint Mary of the Angels). But the book, and the series, really accelerates in the battle at the ball, where Harry shows up hilariously dressed in a dollar-store vampire costume, we meet Thomas and Justine, Mavra and the Black Court, and watch as Susan gets turned into a half-vampire. We meet Cowl here. Lea gets her athame, which, as we’ll learn later, is a bit of a terrible gift. Oh, and we meet a dragon named Ferrovax, who may or may not play a larger role in a future book. And there are hints that there’s still more that’s yet to be unpacked from this scene in future books. The battle itself leads to the war between the White Council and the Red Court, which comes to a head in some minor, tiny, little dustup in a later book… So yeah. Big picture, this whole sequence is a doozy, but in the moment? The actual fight is fine, thrilling as usual, but on its own, it doesn’t move the needle too much, which is why it gets bottom billing in these rankings. It’s strictly because of its ramifications for future books that this particular sequence gets the nod here, over the final fight at Bianca’s mansion.
14. Blood Rites (Dresden Files #6)
The First Battle in the Deeps
This was a tough one — the fight with Mavra in the hallway was definitely a contender, and almost won out by sheer virtue of the fact that Dresden managed to impress Kincaid (aka the Hellhound). But I have to give the nod to the fight with Lord Raith, because this is where Harry exercising some cleverness for a change as he struggles to protect his brother Thomas (and Murphy, but frankly, Murph can take care of herself). Plus it brings forward Lara as a major player in the series. It also marks the first in-universe appearance of He Who Walks Behind. Still, on the whole, the fights in Blood Rites don’t quite match up in epicness to most of the other books in the series. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t bad by any means — on the contrary, we get to meet Mouse, we see Harry use Hellfire for the first time, and the mystery with Lasciel slowly starts to form. It’s a great book and it holds up well on re-reads, but the actual fight scenes — well. Dead Beat is the next book in the series and it just makes everything in Blood Rites look tame by comparison.
13. Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)
Harry Dresden Crashes Johnny Marcone’s Varsity Club
It’s a pretty minor fight “scene,” all things considering (the showdown at the mansion is the bigger fight and the battle with the toad demon is more thrilling), but this is the first time we really see Harry Dresden in his element. Sure, it’s just blowing in a door, destroying a jukebox, and popping out a few lights, but for the first time, we really understand who Dresden actually is, and what he can be capable of. And it’s a solid introduction for Gentleman Johnny Marcone; he’s the reverse Dresden. He starts off modestly and grows in power as the series goes along. Sound familiar? This sequence, modest as it is by comparison to the others in this list, is what helps to set the tone for the rest of the series.
12. Proven Guilty (Dresden Files #8)
The Assault on Arctis Tor
It’s obvious that the climax of the book isn’t actually the fight (which is great fun, no doubt), but Molly’s trial. It’s emotional, and intense, and the stakes are incredibly high. But since this is a ranking of the best Dresden fight scenes, and yeah, I could squint a little and say that Dresden fought for Molly in that scene, that’s not really holding to the spirit to which this list was intended. So we’ll just have to settle for the mental image of Charity Carpenter strapping on a plate of armor and swinging her warhammer in the heart of Winter alongside Dresden, Murphy, and Thomas. It’s great fun, and the book is one of the finer entries in the series, but let’s be real: the real climax is, again, Molly’s trial.
11. Ghost Story (Dresden Files #13)
Molly and the Corpsetaker
Much like Proven Guilty, the climax here isn’t necessarily the actual fight at the end, but what comes after. Or, in this particular case, what comes right at the end of the fight. Here, we learn during Corpsetaker’s assault on Molly’s mental fortresses that Harry had himself killed. He remembered that he called up Kincaid and ordered up his own assassination so that he had a get-out-of-jail-free card after taking up the mantle of the Winter Knight, and had Molly remove that memory. The fight against the Corpsetaker is fine; the stakes start relatively low in the sense that Harry and team are sneaking in to save the ectomancer, Mortimer Lindquist. The Saving Private Ryan-esque assault on the beachhead is fun, the fight with Evil Bob is appropriately scary, and we get to spend time with the Corpsetaker, which is a great name for a villain. But in between Changes and Cold Days, this fight sort of fades to the middle of the pack.
10. White Night (Dresden Files #9)
The Second Battle in the Deeps
The book, to be honest, is a bit tortured for a good chunk of it. Harry is floundering for most of it, and wondering who’s killing women across the country. New characters are introduced by the dozen — it wasn’t easy for me to keep track of: Skavis, Malvora, Gray Cloak, Anna Ash (not to be confused with Hannah Ascher), Priscilla, the frumpy lady with the dog, etc etc etc all during my first read? And to make it even more confusing, some of these are the same character! Priscilla the Skavis. Gray Cloak the Malvora.
It’s a tad indecipherable, and not in a fun oh-hey-this-is-a-mystery way but a this-hurts-my-head way. But it does eventually coalesce a little more halfway through the book, and we get some badass and funny moments along the way: Lash exercising her free will, learning that Carlos is a virgin, Harry learning that he is star-born, Marcone becoming a player in the supernatural, etc. It’s a fantastic finish, and Harry’s Hellfire goes out with a bang, literally. But this book does suffer a bit due to its aimlessness along the way, and so the emotional stakes aren’t quite at the same level as they are on other books, so as fun as this fight is — and it’s a hell of a lot of fun — that lack of personal stakes puts it at the middle of the pack.
9. Death Masks (Dresden Files #5)
The Duel with Ortega
This is a book that significantly moves the Harry Dresden story forward in a number of ways — we meet the other Knights of the Cross, we meet Waldo Butters, Molly Carpenter, Kincaid and the Archive, and best of all, my second favorite villain in the Dresden Rogue’s gallery, Nicodemus Archleone (top spot goes to Gentleman Johnny). Oh, and we also get introduced to Lasciel. So it’s a bit weird that, with the exception of the Archive and Kincaid, the best fight scene in the book involves none of these people. The duel with Ortega is taut, almost purely psychological, a simple battle of the wills. The stakes here feel much higher than the final fight with the Denarians on the train, where frankly, Michael is doing most of the work anyway. That Harry, so lazy. Sheesh. It’s a short fight, but it’s more personal and more intense than his fight with Nicodemus at the end, so it gets top billing for this book and makes the list.
8. Cold Days (Dresden Files #14)
Harry Joins the Hunt
Cold Days is a lot of fun, and while the final showdown with the Faerie Queens atop the island of Demonreach is great, it’s not as fun as the joyride that takes us there. I mean, come on, Harry beats up Santa Claus! It’s great. It’s also a clear sign that Harry is originally from Philadelphia (this is now canon. Don’t @ me). Of course, we later learn that it’s not a coincidence that the Hunt goes after Harry; it’s Odin (disguised as Santa Claus) and the Erlking pulling a few strings to give Harry timely aid, and like the good jobbers they are, they throw the fight to ensure that he leads the hunt. He promptly puts it to good use, ambushing the Outsiders who are assaulting Demonreach. It’s a wild ride (literally) and it’s fun from start to finish.
7. Small Favor (Dresden Files #10)
The First Assault at Demonreach
This was a close one; the Ambush at Shedd Aquarium was thrilling, mainly because we got to see Ivy, aka The Archive, in action, and she clearly packs some serious juice. But I have to give the edge to the Assault at Demonreach for three reasons: the first is that we get to meet a new foe in Thorned Namshiel, the force behind the attack on Arctis Tor, and someone who we undoubtedly haven’t seen the last of yet; the second is for Eldest Gruff’s appearance; and finally, for Harry and Nicomedus’s showdown on the boat. It’s intense, and it’s personal, and escalates the tension between Harry Dresden and Nicodemus Archleone. Before, Harry was a source of intrigue and amusement for old Nick; now he’s a real threat. Who knew that Harry straightening Nicodemus’s tie could be so intense?
6. Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4)
The Battle at the Stone Table
Up until Summer Knight, the best fights in the previous books have been in the middle of the book, and the climactic fight never quite measured up to the fights that came before. This time, however, it’s different. In fact, just about everything about this book is different. Yes, there are the noir trappings at the beginning of the book — a gorgeous femme fatale, a corpse, authorities who want nothing more than for our protagonist to stay the hell away — but Summer Knight would never be confused for Double Indemnity or the Maltese Falcon. This is pure fantasy from the start and represents the moment where the series shifts from “noir detective stories blended with strong fantasy elements” to “fuck it, we’re going all in on this magic shit.”
And it is just splendid. The final fight is also when we see Jim Butcher start to seriously level up as a writer — not only is it big, loud, and badass, but it is also the culmination of the story, with twists and turns and a major payoff at the end that leaves you gasping (see, Butcher’s obsession with pizza wasn’t just an author being hungry and thinking about food — it actually had relevance to the plot all this time!). Not only that, it holds up on re-read, and you can see how Aurora was infected by Nemesis/the Contagion. Ultimately, what makes this fight stand out is that it’s not just the biggest fight in the book, but also the fight with the biggest emotional stakes.
5. Turn Coat (Dresden Files #11)
The Second Assault at Demonreach
This is the rare Dresden Files fight scene in the later books that isn’t the climax of the book, and no offense to Peabody and the Senior Council, and the Merlin’s moment in the sun, the entire sequence at Demonreach is thrilling from start to finish. Even if you don’t include the sequence where Harry performs the Sanctum Invocation, watching him battle Binder and his minions, with Billy and Georgia in the woods, and then standing up against the naagloshii on the hilltop, and Listens-to-Wind’s intervention, it’s just balls to the wall from beginning to end. And it features one of my favorite character moments, a small interaction between the Gatekeeper and Harry right before the fight. The Gatekeeper is one of my favorite recurring characters, and this scene is why. Mysterious, powerful, a little funny, and leaves me wanting more.
4. Skin Game (Dresden Files #15)
Butters Becomes A Hero
Skin Game is just packed with great sequences, and it’s so hard to narrow it down to just one. I could have gone with Harry and Karrin standing off against Nicodemus, or Harry and Michael standing off against Nicodemus, or Harry confronting Lasciel and Hannah Ascher, or Harry committing Acts of Parkour (“Parkour!”), but I had to go with this moment with Butters. Yes, the whole Hades Vault break-in sequence is thrilling, with a lot of great twists and turns. But come on, how are you going to top the moment when Butters gets the Sword of Faith and drives away Nicodemus, Tessa, and engages in some serious copyright infringement? It’s the culmination of a great character arc. Think way back to when we first met Waldo Butters in Death Masks — this scrawny little Jewish medical examiner, now a Knight of the Cross? Behold the Power of Polka.
3. Fool Moon (Dresden Files #2)
The Rampage of the Loup Garou
On the whole, Fool Moon is one of the weaker entries in the Dresden Files series, usually rating among the bottom of lists ranking Dresden Files books. The book as a whole could use some shoring up — the various werewolves are confusing, the plot with the FBI agents a bit too predictable, and there are some hard-to-believe character moments (like Murphy turning on a dime and arresting Dresden).
But this sequence? Hoo boy. This sequence alone makes this book worth reading. It’s perfect, it’s thrilling, it’s wild. If Fool Moon was a Broadway show, the scene with the loup garou would be the show-stopper.
I realize this is likely a controversial pick — why on earth is this rated above Summer Knight, for example? Well, more than these other fights, it’s arguably one of the most cinematic. It’s clearly written, and it’s chilling. The TVs in the prison going out. The prisoners screaming. The police officer standing his ground, firing his gun, before being torn apart. We don’t get a full look at the loup garou until right around this point, and it is fucking terrifying.
Then it turns its eyes on Harry, and then all hell really breaks loose. And we see who Harry and Karrin and Carmichael are. Karrin Murphy, the short little blonde with the cute nose, standing directly in the path of the charging, rampaging loup garou, firing her little pistol while trying to save Harry — I mean, my God, it doesn’t get much better than that. The whole sequence is wild, raw, desperate. It feels like an utter calamity, and when Harry finally blasts the fucking thing out of the building and ends the fight, it leaves the reader relieved and stunned.
Other fight scenes in the Dresden Files sequence might be bigger, might have more importance to the overall series arc, have better twists and turns, and moments of Harry Being A Badass, but none of them are this intimate, this claustrophobic, and this frightening.
2. Changes (Dresden Files #12)
Showdown at Chichen Itza
That showdown at Chichen Itza is so wild and all-encompassing and brilliant and harrowing and…yeah. It loomed so large in my memory of this book that I just plumb forgot whole sections of the book that led up to it. Remember the duel at the Erlking’s Court? I sure as hell didn’t! I could go on and on about the highlights, but honestly, I’d just be recreating the fight scene blow by blow.
But I will say that, after Harry killing Susan, my favorite moments involved Murphy using the sword (she’s got to be part Valkyrie at some point, no?), and anything with Lea (ranging from the costume changes before the fight, to her calling in reinforcements, changing everyone into dogs, and her own dazzling displays of power). Then there’s the reveal that Ebenezar is Harry’s grandfather, which is a pretty monumental one. But we also get some major foreshadowing of what the cost of being the Blackstaff might be. This ain’t going to end well for Ebenezar, that’s for certain. It remains to be seen how big the collateral damage will end up being. As big a gut punch as Susan’s death is, I have a feeling that we’re not ready for whatever will happen with Ebenezar. There’s no happy ending for him.
1. Dead Beat (Dresden Files #7)
The Tyrannosaurus Rex Rides Again
I mean, COME ON. Was it going to be anything else? Yeah, there could be an argument (a damn good one, too) for the best fight scene in the series being when Harry wiped out the Red Court, but this one? Man oh man. This one is just… *chef’s kiss*
Let’s start from the beginning, because there is a LOT to unpack here. First, we get to meet the Disciples of Kemmler, and the identity of Cowl is hotly debated — the prevailing theory seems to be that it was the wizard who was killed by the Red Court at Archangel, Simon Pietrovich, member of the Senior Council and mentor to Justin DuMorne. I’m not convinced that this is the right answer; Simon seems a little too far removed from the story to be Cowl. Could it be the Merlin? Maybe. We know that the Merlin is super powerful and Cowl is great with Ways (thus making it easy for the Merlin to slip in and out of places). Could it be Future or Alternative Harry? Could it be Ebenezar? Elaine? Or could it be Justin DuMorne?
Yes, Word of Jim says that Justin is dead, D-E-D, dead, but normally I’d believe him, but maaaybe just this once he could be lying.
So yeah. We don’t know who he is, just that he’s powerful and can pack one hell of a punch. And he’s not the only one.
Besides Cowl, we have Grevane and Corpsetaker (that is a great name for a villain, btw), and Liver Spots aka Snakeboy aka Quintus Cassius. We meet Lasciel (I could have done without some of the cringey descriptions of Sheila, but alas).
We have Evil Bob. We meet Warden Luccio and Ramirez.
And, of course, we are introduced to the absolutely legendary line: Polka Will Never Die.
And that’s all before we even get to the fucking dinosaur! I mean, come on! This isn’t fair.
This is one of the first of the extended climaxes in this series, where the action lasts longer than the 20 or so pages that had been standard in the books up to this point in the series. From the moment Harry realizes how he can find the Word of Kemmler, we are off to the races, and it’s nearly 100 pages of near nonstop action.
Dead Beat is Jim Butcher in full swagger from start to finish for the first time in this series, and it ranks as one of the best books for that reason. There have been awesome moments in the prior books in the Dresden Files, some terrific reads and wonderful storytelling, but Dead Beat represents a considerable step up in almost all ways, and is one of the finest entries in the series for that reason.
Honestly, how can you really top Harry Dresden riding a Tyrannosaurus Rex named Sue into the middle of a hurricane, with three necromancers slinging around power, Wardens of the White Council pitching in to fight, hundreds of undead, and all of this happening with Waldo Butters laying down a sick polka beat? You can’t. That’s the answer. You simply can’t. This is the best fight scene in the Dresden Files, hands down.