|Submitted by cbosteve |
(Jul 01, 2010)
I donít think there are many people who havenít heard of Harry Potter. The Dresden books by Jim Butcher, starting with Storm Front, are quite dissimilar to those by JK Rowling, but they put you in the right frame of mind, one where the magical and mystical interact with the real world, and one where most people are totally unaware, despite the apparent abundance. Harry Dresden is a wizard, but unlike Harry Potter he isnít the chosen one, and there isnít an evil overlord to overcome, unless itís his landlord as he has a rent cheque to pay. Dresden is just a regular guy, as far as being the only wizard in the Chicago phone book goes, trying to make a living and get along.
In some ways it is difficult to talk about this book and indeed the series without spoiling it, but I will do my best because many of the joys come from the unexpected twists and turns Butcher delivers. I think itís on his website there is a story about how he became an author and it was a very long and difficult journey. Perhaps as a result of this there is very little waste in his stories. His style is tight and punchy for the most part, but also deliciously descriptive, but only when there is a need for it and not otherwise. So the stories always rattle along at a fast pace, chapters are short when the tension ratchets up and you could literally devour the whole book in one sitting as you just need to know what happens next. The stories are very tense and full of surprises, making them part thriller and part urban fantasy.
Dresden is a very likeable character and there are a wide plethora of creatures and other realms, some of them vaguely familiar and others his own creation. Dresden is funny, quick with the banter, and quite self-deprecating, but there is a lot going on beneath the surface. He is actually a lot more complicated than he seems at first. Each book in the series is a self contained story, showing us a slice of Harryís life, and in between or around the books, other events take place. There is a passage of time and reference to other places as if he lives in the space between. In this first book we donít know much about him or his history, but with each new book, Butcher peels back a layer, or pokes something he has already told us, unravelling it and destabilising the status quo. Harry just wants a quiet life and to earn an honest buck, but he rarely gets that.
So, in Storm Front, the first adventure of Harry Dresden, he is working on a job for Lt. Karrin Murphy, who runs a Special Investigation Division that occasionally calls him in to consult. Most people still think he is a charlatan and just stringing her along, but Karrin has seen enough to know there is something there, although she isnít exactly sure what. The other cops are less welcoming, but Harry is quick with the banter and can fend for himself. As a result he isnít that popular because of his attitude, but then he isnít there to make friends. A double homicide leads him down a dangerous road where he gets involved with Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the local crime boss, dark wizards and a new street drug with mystical properties. Iím being a little vague on purpose, giving an overall flavour of what to expect without too many plot details, because I donít want to spoil any of the surprises in this book.
Two areas where Butcher excels are his ability to create characters with real depth, and his ability to avoid clichťs and well worn and predictable plots. Karrin Murphy, despite being quite petite, is not a damsel in distress that constantly needs saving by Dresden, but nor is she a Ripley-like Amazonian warrior who never cries and hates all men. Sometimes she does get in over her head and Harry helps her out, and at other times she saves his life because he is only human and not invulnerable despite being a wizard. Karrin is complicated, has a history that is gradually trickled in throughout the series like Dresdenís, but I also donít take her for granted, because no one is really safe. Tragedies do occur, characters are injured and die, and everyone who survives does their best to carry on, because thatís life. For all the magic and monsters, for all the chaos and destruction, the stories contain an element of realism. People die, they need to pay the rent, and Dresden canít just conjure up some gold or pay a visit to the wizarding bank run by goblins when heís a bit short. For every action in the books, good or bad, there are repercussions and consequences that last. And despite being standalone novels, the story always builds on the last and Harry changes and adapts to his new life and new circumstances.
So if you want a fast paced supernatural, investigative thriller, with creativity and originality, check out Storm Front, the first of the Dresden books. It is a great read and like so many others you will quickly become addicted to this fantastic series.