Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Storm Front Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher: Roc
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Dresden Files Book One
Pages: 322

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Combining the mystery novel with the fantasy novel all set in an urban environment led Jim Butcher to creating one of the most successful literary franchises today.  Where Rowling created crack literature when she combined these two genres for her Harry Potter books, Butcher more or less gets the same addicting results, but with a more mature flavor.

Storm Front introduces readers to Harry Dresden, a wizard that works with the Chicago Police Department to solve crimes.  This may sound like a ridiculous notion for a story, but surprisingly it works.  Butcher’s dry humor, and urban setting has made the Dresden Files one of the most important series’ in the rising sub-genre of Urban Fantasy.

Harry Dresden is the world’s only publicly serving wizard where he works as a private investigator for magic related crimes and as a consultant for the Chicago Police Department. Called on to the scene of some brutal murders, Harry must find the killer responsible, before being known as the only recognized public wizard starts to get him into trouble.

Told in first person from Harry’s view, the reader gets to experience this alternate reality of Chicago, through this wizard’s eye.  Harry is an entertaining narrator.  He’s self deprecating and seems to be down on life, but he never turns into feel sorry for me type of character.  Rather you kind of laugh at his misfortune, while feeling bad for him – it’s black humor in a subtle way.  Butcher utilizes a deadpan style of humor that’s genuinely funny. It accents the ridiculous juxtaposition between lots of magic and the urban environment of Chicago.

I was surprised by how much magic there is in the story. The magic abilities of Harry are vaguely touched upon in the beginning, so much to the point that the reader begins to question what the word wizard means to Harry. The back half has lots of magic going on: powerful gusts of wind, summoning objects, shooting fire and lightening, and most impressively driving to Michigan on I-94 in 40 minutes – nobody could logically argue the last thing on this list was possible, so it has to be magic right?

The urban environment is really a hindrance to Harry.  While it’s eventually established he’s a powerful wizard, the close proximity of so many people in this urban environment renders his magic too dangerous, as it would kill lots of innocent people.  This results in Harry having to find a lot of creative solutions to dangerous situations. Magic becomes more of a last resort, and is only used when Harry is particularly upset or vulnerable – in other words when Harry uses magic, it’s like he’s putting on his man pants before taking his stick staff to crack some skulls.

The magical world in the Dresden Files is really a hidden underworld, and that puts this underworld at odds with Harry who’s so public about using magic.  An influential governing body in this underworld called The White Council, kills any magical being that kills any other person.  This is the primary reason why Harry can’t go blasting people with magic.  It also adds another interesting dimension to this story as Harry has to follow mortal and magical laws, both placing bureaucratic obstacles in his way that makes his tasks all the more difficult.

Butcher also introduces readers to a host of interesting side characters.  Harry’s employer with CPD, Murphy is both an obstacle and a friend – her ambition stops at nothing, and she’s not afraid to get what she wants.  The vampire Bianca runs an escort service and hides her monstrous qualities behind a beautiful face.  Morgan an enforcer for the White Council believes strictly in telling the truth and honor. He’s a bit slow, he doesn’t like Harry, and he’s a large man that carries a huge magic sword.
One of the concepts that I wished was explored more was the concept of synthesizing the third eye – something that wizards naturally have, but can drive regular humans insane – into a drug.  This drug starts to compete with regular street drugs in the story, and begins to set up some interesting social commentary scenarios.  These aren’t fully realized though, and this aspect of the story becomes more of a sideshow.

Storm Front was a quick read, which is a testament to the quality of the cliffhangers that end nearly every chapter.  I will admit solving the mystery was predictable, but the magic is not, and that’s what really keeps the story interesting.  Harry Dresden is an excellent character, and Jim Butcher crafts one hell of an alternate reality.  Don’t let the plot summary put you off, especially if you like urban fantasy or mystery novels, Storm Front delivers, plain and simple.

Score: 8.5

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