“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I’m in the book.”
Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files aren’t exactly new to the scene; in fact, it’s me who’s rather late to the Dresden party. I’d not even heard of the Dresden Files until the Sorcerer’s Apprentice film was released, and a friend complained beforehand that it should have been given a disclaimer of “based on the Dresden Files” after realising how its magic system would work. I enjoyed the film (so did the friend, in the end) and I always had that name at the back of my mind. Dresden.
Then, it was nominated—but didn’t win—in the Fantasy Faction book club a month or so ago, and so the name floated back to the surface. And of course, the release of Ghost Story only compounded the notion that I needed to start reading this Dresden fellow.
I didn’t look into the book before buying it, didn’t read reviews or look up the blurb—I just bought it. It was only after it was sitting pretty on my desk that I looked into reviews, and found a bundle of reviews on Goodreads, posted by people who were less impressed with Dresden’s charm. “Oh, goodie”, I thought, given that the mention of his basement, leather duster, potion-making and general pseudo-goth-nerd (though really, Dresden, a goth? I question you, reviewers, if the first book is any indication) comments piqued my interest, that I would really dig this book.
And you know what? I did.
It was my first timid foray into urban fantasy, and whilst I certainly felt disarmed without my sword, daggers, leather armour and longbow, I did rather enjoy the staff and the spelled trinkets that Dresden totes. In fact, it was everything I expected it to be. I can’t say it’ll make an avid reader of urban fantasy out of me, because it won’t. I like my other fantasy, far, far too much. However, I shall be reading the backlist of the Dresden Files, that’s for sure.
Harry is a likeable character, and whilst his first person narrative style is about as done and overdone as badly cooked beef, it doesn’t matter. Nobody complains (well, I will, because I dare, and it’s what has kept myself and urban fantasy at odds with each other for a while now) about self-obsessed vampire hunters who all have the same damn narrative voice, so I sure as hell will back Harry’s voice: he’s fun, he’s quirky, and whilst by now he might not be original, it doesn’t matter, because he’s entertaining. It’s nice reading a first person novel and seeing yourself in the protagonist, even if just a teeny bit. And Harry is a nerd. Harry rocks, quite frankly. Plus… what’s wrong with a leather duster?
The writing is surprisingly good. I don’t mean that I expected it to be bad, because I didn’t. I didn’t, however, expect it to be so well-written and rich. I expected urban fantasy equals plainer writing than other fantasy subgenres. I don’t know why, I just did. But, Butcher’s writing is perfect for the book, perfect for Harry, and perfect for the story he tells. The plot is as complex and yet as simple as any good detective story should be, with all the pieces there waiting to be found, waiting to be put together, and always just out of reach. It worked excellently.
I’m not a fan of the detective genre, I never have been (I like fantasy), but I think the mixture of supernatural and crime works like a charm. It felt like a better crafted, more case-driven version of Tanya Huff’s Blood books. Very different, but somehow, it worked better for me. Maybe, if you believe the Goodreads ladies and their damning reviews, because I’m a guy and I identify with Dresden. Someone called it “misogynistic shit”: baffled as to how Harry is misogynous, however. Not that it matters: Harry is all kinds of cool, the plot is exciting and different enough that no matter the urban fantasy you’ve encountered (I’m thinking TV here, too) you will be surprised by the originality of Butcher’s ideas. The supporting cast is interesting enough, and Butcher’s subtle worldbuilding—picking and choosing ideas from the buffet of folklore and our world’s paranormal/supernatural repertoire—presents a very tangible world which he populates realistically and attractively.
Basically, I liked it. I didn’t love it, and the Dresden Files won’t be steamrolling to the top of my extensive to-read list—I’m too starved of my lovely, comfy fantasy after my last two reads. But I will be buying the backlist, and I do now count myself as a Harry Dresden fan. In all honesty: what was there not to like in Storm Front? It’s a bit of fun, Butcher flirts with the idea of darker, deeper and stronger things to come, from Harry, and it’s generally an excellent stepping stone into a new genre for me. I’ll start with Dresden, and take it from there.
If you want a quirky, partly-geeky wizard-for-hire, and want to follow him around investigating weird and whack cases, then Harry is your man, and I suggest you become acquainted with him immediately. He’s in the book.