Review: “Storm Front,” Jim Butcher

Pros: Wild, weird, and fun
Cons: Mildly confusing at times
Rating: 4 out of 5

One advantage of the fact that I’m accepting fewer review books right now is that I’m finally getting around to reading certain books that I should have read long ago. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, for example. I saw the TV show, which I loved, so now it’s time to read the books–thankfully my library’s online collection has them (their collection sucks, so this was by no means assured). One thing I found interesting is that the descriptions of characters in Storm Front (Dresden Files book one) are good enough and ‘real’ enough that they overrode my pre-existing mental images that came from the TV series. That’s tough to accomplish and impressive.

The Dresden Files are about Harry Dresden, wizard-for-hire. In a world where most people think he’s crazy, a crank, or maybe some sort of children’s party entertainer, he takes on the cases other people can’t do much about. He doesn’t do love potions, and he certainly doesn’t do parties. He has to look over his shoulder the whole while, because he killed a man with magic once, and only the fact that it was done in self-defense saved his life. The White Council has given him only one chance: break one of the Laws of Magic again and die. Harry also acts as a consultant for the police from time to time, and in Storm Front he’s looking into the deaths of a mob-connected man and the escort he was spending the night with–deaths in which their hearts exploded out of their chests. No one should be able to wield that kind of doom from a distance. Blend that with someone who’s trying to kill Harry; the fact that Murphy, Harry’s favorite detective, is asking him for information that would put her in danger; and there’s a new drug on the street that open’s a person’s Third Eye. Harry will be lucky if he can make it through the day, much less survive the experience wholesale.

 

Paranoid? Probably. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.

I’m not even sure where to begin. We dive right off into Harry’s crazy world, in which there are demons and fairies, dark magic and light. Yet even he struggles to pay his bills. He has to deal with a sarcastic air spirit, a very independent giant housecat, a pissed-off police contact, and the temptation that is dark magic. He manages to get himself into all sorts of messes, getting attacked by mysterious assailants, hunted by a demon when he’s supposed to be on a rare date, ending up on the bad side of a mob boss, and even hanging from a balcony by a handcuff while fires rage overhead. Just when you think his sad-sack self can’t sink any lower, he screws himself over even further or falls prey to another bout of bad luck. It’s almost painful seeing how many times he can be brought low before he figures out what’s going on and flails like crazy trying to fix things.

It creates a wonderful dynamic, supported and reinforced by some fantastic secondary characters. Even the ones that seem one-note turn out to have more to them (notably Morgan, Harry’s ‘minder’ from the White Council, who’s determined to bring him down). In particular I love Lieutenant Murphy, Harry’s detective friend. She’s a marvelous balance of strong personality traits, some of which are at odds with one another in interesting ways.

Magic is a wild, weird, quirky thing, and it has a unique feel to it in Dresden’s world (I’ve seen other authors who’ve tried to copy that feel, usually without great success). It’s hard not to love a wizard who ends up running around in sweatpants and cowboy boots due to several calamities in series, and whose hair is usually stuck out at an unglamorous angle. I look forward to seeing more of Harry falling afoul of both bad luck and bad guys, while trying in his usual half-assed fashion to protect all of those he cares about.

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