By Jim Butcher (Official Webpage)
Buy it here: Storm Front
I will openly admit: it was the covers of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files that first got me interested in the novels. They are all extremely similar: A figure with a staff and a wide-brimmed hat, his face cast in shadow, looking over some mysterious thing or another. This is complete with a title that usually is some funny joke on the monsters found within(ex. Fool Moon for werewolves or Grave Danger for zombies). Despite this, I found it very hard to find which one to start on, because there’s twelve books now (which apparently ends the first series), and after a point Butcher stopped putting “Book X of the Dresden Files” on the front, and instead just put “A Novel of the Dresden Files.” So, in order to find out which book you wanted, you have to look on the inside page and get the proper order.
But I digress.
The concept behind the Dresden Files is exceptionally clever. I like to think of it as “Harry Potter for adults.” Harry Dresden is a wizard-for-hire, a private detective living in the modern city of Chicago. The books cover one case each, but with an underlying plot involving Harry, his exploits, relationships, etc. that apparently all culminates in some huge, amazing ending in the last book, Changes. Which we will get to eventually on this 13 day Dresden Review Spooktacular.
But I digress. Again.
Storm Front introduces us to Harry just after a rather gruesome murder has been committed (a word to those interested: these books are very violent and contain profuse amounts of swearing. Just a heads up). Of course, because the murder was done so oddly that the police call Dresden (who has a teetering relationship with police-chief Murphy) to find out what’s going on. The story then hits full “hardbroiled cop mystery” novel, with splashes of fantasy for good measure. There’s a talking skull, fairies, demons, vampires, and more.
I said previously I really liked the idea behind this book series. It is, therefore, hard for me to say I’m not a huge fan of Storm Front (though the second book, Fool Moon, which I’ll review soon is quite good). It was Butcher’s debut novel and it shows; the pacing can sometimes be quick, but often I found myself trudging through the novel. Dresden is a witty guy, offering insights in nearly every impossible situation, but a lot of the humor seems forced (again, fixed in the later novels). While Butcher nailed the setting and theme, he fell flat with his prose and pacing. Not only that, but the mystery wasn’t even that intriguing to begin with, making the novel all-the-more frustrating.
On the plus side, Storm Front succeeds at that bizarre mix of “magic meets noir” that Butcher was going for. It’s written akin to thriller novels, with the whole story taking place over a handful of days, and things continuing to get worse and worse before getting better, which I appreciate. Butcher’s main failing (aside from those mentioned above) is the fact that he has to rely on lengthy descriptions to get the readers to understand the magic, world, and systems set in place. This is more of a “first book” (both in the series and in Butcher’s writing career) issue, so if you know it going in it isn’t a huge deal. Just be prepared for a lot of expository inner monologues from Dresden.
I’ve heard the series doesn’t really even “start” until the third book, Grave Danger. Judging by the way Fool Moon ends, I’d have to agree. Butcher was probably testing the waters with this book, which is fine, but it makes it just a step above mediocre. If you want to delve into this series (which gets better as it goes along), I’d suggest starting with Fool Moon, or Grave Danger. Fool Moon is a fun, exciting read, and there isn’t much learned in the first book that isn’t just re-stated in the second, so one should be able to just pick up and go.
Storm Front launched Jim Butcher’s blockbuster career, and as a novel that accomplished that, I can give it credit. However, he has become a much better author over the past several years, so I’d take full advantage of that if I were to begin the series today.