Book Review: Storm Front: The Dresden Files: Book One, by Jim Butcher

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                  Storm Front by Jim Butcher                             

Genre: Science Fiction. Fantasy. Supernatural.
Pub Date: 2005
Publisher: Orbit
Length: 322 pages
Paperback : Local Library (£6.99)

 

“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown[sic] Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing[sic] professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there.” Harry Dresden:Storm Front. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Storm-Front-Dresden-Files-Book/dp/0356500276

Briefest Synopsis

Dresden is hired by a woman to find her husband, Victor. She tells Harry that Victor is an amateur magician who has been acting oddly; Harry suspects he is having an affair. The same day, Harry gets a call from Lieutenant Karrin Murphy, director of the Special Investigations (SI) Unit of the Chicago Police Department; Harry occasionally works for the police department on ‘unusual’ cases. He is shown the bodies of two people, who have died by having their hearts ripped out – apparently by magic. Dresden himself quickly becomes the chief suspect for these murders.

I’m one of those people who remembers all the films I have watched, well, pretty much all of them – 99%. I also remember the books I have read. So imagine my surprise when I took this title to the library counter and was informed I had already taken this title out some years earlier. I imagined I had borrowed it with a bundle of too many to read and re-borrowed – then when I began reading it, remembered I had started it and not liked it, so gave up on it.

I decided to read the whole thing to figure out what had curtailed my previous outing with Harry Dresden; after all, it apparently combines many things I am interested in; crime, Private Investigators, magic, humour. It was originally recommended by a friend in the Steampunk community, so I imagined it would have elements of this genre – it doesn’t.

Storm Front is, if you can imagine it, Philip Marlowe meets Merlin. A detective story with a large helping of magic; there are echoes of Raymond Chandler as Harry Dresden pisses associates off with his smart mouth in true ‘hard-boiled detective’ mode. Even when the Wizarding version of the police; the White Council, send a Warden, in the form of Morgan; with his huge muscular stature and mighty blade, Harry can’t resist deliberately annoying the guy.

As a wizard, Harry’s good – no, not good, the best – or at least that is what he tells us – and he is the only one in the phone book! The magic is actually well managed in this tale – Butcher gives explanations in some instances of how magic works, what faeries like to eat, and how wizards get assistance (a spirit in a skull in Harry’s case), there is psychological realism in the magic, which means it doesn’t go too far into the realms of ridiculous fantasy, the emphasis is on Harry’s interior character, his motives, and circumstances which create his external actions. Also, I like that Butcher has written a wizard into the modern world, usually wizards are to be found in high fantasy and wear robes, have beards and make grand gestures (don’t they?) – Harry’s a wizard for the modern age – though I have to say – I was never quite sure whether we were in Chicago of today, or the 1940’s.

I have heard that many readers do not progress beyond this book because of the portrayal of women; victims, seductresses – but it’s Harry’s POV – and he tells us he’s a chauvinist. I have no issue with that, besides Lieutenant Karrin Murphy and Susan Rodriguez are tough women; emotionally, physically, or both. And Harry doesn’t take himself too seriously; he doesn’t always have the upper hand – he has very human foibles.

I think what irked me initially, was my perceived theft of Philip Marlowe’s ‘voice’. Marlowe is one of my favourite literary characters and I could hear him in Harry Dresden – but to a lesser, feebler, weaker degree. But hey, don’t we all write under the influence of previous creators?! So I decided to forgive Jim Butcher and just get on with enjoying the book. And I did.

There are a number of layers to the story involving magic, gangsters, Harry’s history, supernatural elements, that are woven neatly together. You may guess early who did what to whom, but the journey there is pretty cool.

Butcher has an easy reading style to his writing, but is it enough to keep me in a long-term relationship with Harry? (17 books and counting!). I honestly do not know – I might skip a couple and see if Harry manages to grow up emotionally, get a new home (he lives in a basement flat), and get a wash! Often described as urban fantasy, Storm Front is set in the modern day so wandering around the city in a long leather duster strikes one as either immature (like a mardy teenager), or posy – plus, and I know this is not important(or is it?), he is portrayed on the covers as wearing a hat, a fedora to be exact – but he doesn’t actually wear one in the story! Go figure!

I am giving Storm Front: The Dresden Files

3 stars

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Alexandra

Writer of fiction, sci-fi, horror and more. Painter of magic realism. Grower of cabbages and currants.

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