Today is a guest post from frequent commenter Gordon. Gordon writes the blog We Fly Spitfires, which deals with things I know absolutely nothing about–massive online computer games and imaginary Nigerians.
Storm Front: The Dresden Files, Book 1 by Jim Butcher
About a month ago, I asked readers of my blog to recommend me some books for when I went away on holiday at the start of August. Several responses urged me to start reading the Dresden Files, hard-boiled fiction meets fantasy novels about a wizard called Harry Copperfield Dresden who lives in modern day Chicago and practices, well, wizardry for anyone who’s willing to pay. It sounded pretty intriguing and, me being the impatient S.O.B. that I am, I decided to start reading the first one right away.
Just to give you a little background into the sort of books that I like, although I’m willing to read absolutely anything, I’ve generally been known to stick to modern fantasy (Robert Jordan-esque over Tolkien) or fiction with fantastical or historical twists to it (ala Bernard Cornwell).
Recently, I’ve developed a taste for novels with a darker tone, such as The Dark Tower series by Stephen King or anything by George R.R. Martin and right now the more screwed up the setting, the more it appeals to me. The Dresden Files novels don’t quite fall into the latter category but they’re a far cry short of the classic fantasy adventures of “happy-go-lucky-elves” or “boys-on-the-brink-manhood” in which nothing dreadful ever happens. That’s a definitely a good thing.
Storm Front follows the story of Harry Dresden, private investigator and wizard for hire and is written completely in first person style. The plot is surprisingly simple (compared to what I was expecting from a detective novel) and follows two separate threads.
One thread sees Dresden coerced by the police into investigating a double homicide which they believe to have been carried out by magic and the other sees Dresden being hired by a woman whose husband has recently gone missing. The book handles both storylines very well and, without giving too much away, both threads eventually turn out to be related and interweave graceful into one. This, of course, comes as no surprise to the reader.
Much of Storm Front is like that a lot actually – it contains no surprises whatsoever. In fact, the reader can usually sense events unfolding about 50 pages before they happen and, considering the book is only 300-odd pages long, it removes much of the atmosphere of suspense.
Butcher seemed determine to have cool or quirky events unfold periodically throughout the book and the astute reader can see them being setup from miles away, usually because they involve actions that are so obviously unnecessary at the time.
To give an example of this, no event in the entire book is as transparent as when Dresden decides to make up a love potion for absolutely no reason whatsoever, serving no point for either the story or the character at that stage in the book. Of course then later on (shocker!) the potion is “accidently” involved in a rather comical moment, fun maybe but one that’s only self-serving as a cheap laugh.
Regardless of this, the book is actually very well written and completely effortless to read. Butcher’s style is fun, fast and witty and very aptly suited to the style of character he creates and the shenanigans he gets embroiled in.
The protagonist Harry Dresden is not your usual leading man and is well thought out with (usually) plausible motivations, emotions and humor. He is definitely the best thing about the book and, considering it’s written entirely in first person, that’s a jolly good thing. The supporting characters, although a little one-dimensional, are also quite interesting and Butcher avidly avoids clichéd stereotypes which helps the book come across as a refreshing alternative to the standard fantasy novel.
Storm Front is the first book in the Dresden series and it feels that way, rough and a little uncertain. This doesn’t make it a bad book though, in the fact on the contrary I found the whole novel quite enjoyable, but you can sense that the author didn’t quite know how to unfold the plot devices he wanted to use or relate the chains of events required for a complex detective novel.
Still, the main character is interesting and appealing and the whole setting of the book is very unique, intriguing and packed full of potential. The novel is also effortless to read and fast paced which means you’re never stuck at a dull moment or feeling like it’s a chore to get through and that type of writing takes skill.
Overall I would certainly recommend Storm Front to anyone interested in the fantasy or hard-boiled genres or even to anyone just looking for a fast, fun read. It won’t change your life or move you with its earth-shattering drama or characterization but it’s a solid book all round. I’ve already bought the second novel.
Gordon was born on the mean-streets of suburban Holland and learned to fist fight without remorse in steel cage matches at an early age. He now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and their imaginary Nigerian bodyguard, Mr. Itunu. You can visit him at We Fly Spitfires.
And if you’re looking for more of the best fantasy novels (nearly always seems to be a complement to sci fi), just follow that link.