We’re back in urban fantasy land today with Storm Front, the first installment of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. But while this series belongs to the same genre as Little (Grrl) Lost, the tone couldn’t be more different, and the stakes in these stories couldn’t be higher. It’s a little hard to describe these books, but think “1920s noir but with 100% more magic,” and you’ll be pretty close.
In the first book of the series, we meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s premiere (and only) professional wizard. As the story starts, we find Harry in his downtown office, where business is slow. Before long, in walks (naturally) a beautiful woman with a big problem–her husband is missing, and she wants Harry’s help.
Harry’s old-fashioned sensibilities — not to mention his need for cash — lead him to eagerly accept the case. At first, it seems that the woman, by the name of Monica Sells, came to Harry mainly because she didn’t trust the police with her case; however, Harry soon learns that Monica is hoping to hide her husband’s strange behavior from the authorities — behavior that, to Harry, sounds suspiciously magical in nature.
By way of several misadventures with paranormal creatures, a slimy Chicago mob boss (what else, I ask you?), and a Warden who dogs Harry’s footsteps in hopes of catching him out for misuse of magic, Harry finds that the strange events he keeps encountering all seem to be leading to a mysterious drug called ThreeEye. The drug allows normal humans to gain the Sight, or the ability to perceive the hidden magical world around them. This is a big problem — even for those well-trained in magic like Harry is, the Sight can cause confusion and even madness; for mundane humans, it can be disastrous.
Harry soon finds that all signs point to ThreeEye, and to whomever is distributing it. Harry knows he’ll need to find the source of the dangerous drug and put a stop to whatever nefarious plot is behind it. But with so many leads, which one is the right one? And will Harry be strong and wily enough to face whatever is lurking in the shadows?
This series is somewhat different from my usual fare, but I’ve enjoyed it quite a bit thus far (I just finished book #2, Fool Moon). I was unsure about Harry Dresden as a character at first, but I’m sold on him at this point. His exterior of suave (and sometimes grating) bravado turns out to conceal a character who is flawed, uncertain, and a little bit reckless. He enjoys using magic because of the cool factor; make no mistake — however, his true desire is to use it to protect both the people he cares about and the innocent bystanders around him from the dangerous world of magic that only he and a minority of others are aware of. In short, Harry may be a wizard, but he’s a very human one. Top that off with a complicated past that is only just beginning to be revealed in book #2, and you have a character who will hook you in and take you along for the ride.
Though I’m really enjoying these books, I do need to add a couple notes of critique. For one, I noticed a couple of moments where things felt a little loose in terms of editing — Harry is suddenly using an object he left somewhere without mentioning when he picked it back up, it’s difficult to tell who’s speaking in a string of rapid-fire dialogue, the logistics of a fight scene are a little tricky to envision, etc. It’s nothing major, but it’s enough for my editor-brain to pick up on. And I have to mention that the whole chivalrous/old-fashioned/knight-in-shining-armor thing Harry has going strikes me as a little casually sexist at times (though I’m starting to think that’s more or less the point, as Harry himself acknowledges this perception of his behavior several times). My final beef with these books is the level of violence — it’s all done to good effect, and is largely necessary to the plot, but at some points it comes preeeetty close to breaching my threshold for that kind of stuff. However, do keep in mind that I’m more squeamish than the average bear, so scenes that bothered me might not be a big deal to others.
All of that said, I’m finding The Dresden Files to be a solid series so far, and I’m really looking forward to finding out where it’ll go next. I’m told that the books only get better as they go along, and for a series that’s already shaping up nicely, that’s encouraging and exciting to hear. I’m hoping things will keep on picking up steam in the third installment, Grave Peril.
Have you read any of the Dresden Files books? What did you enjoy about them? Are there other books like The Dresden Files that you’d recommend to those who enjoy the series? Let us know in the comments!
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