Fantasy Noir: Samuel Spade meets Gandalf the Grey

The Dresden Files is not a new series, but I hadn’t heard that much about it until a fellow editor loaned me the first book, Storm Front. I was a bit skeptical at first, but I was completely hooked by the end of the first chapter.

The premise of the book is that magic is real, wizards walk amongst us, and the general public is increasingly aware of the mystical aspects of the universe. Our protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a struggling private investigator who uses his otherworldly powers to help the Chicago police department investigate crimes with unnatural features. His life gets mighty complicated when a particularly grisly and bizarre double murder puts him squarely in the crosshairs of a calculating mafia don, a vengeful vampiress, and a deranged wizard.

The book moves at lightning speed (pardon the pun), but Butcher skilfully guides the reader through the twisted maze he has created, providing information only as needed to provide background and create suspense, avoiding information overload and confusion. Additionally, he paces the story expertly and deploys no fluff, so the plot never stagnates. The pages practically turn themselves.

Highlights

Harry Dresden’s character is at once complex and mysterious, yet open and forthright. He doesn’t mince words and doesn’t gloss over his own flaws and failings; he is sophisticated, powerful, and clever, but never pretends to be suave as he fights the bad guys while clad in sweat pants and cowboy boots. In fact, our anti-hero is hilariously self-deprecating. And since Dresden narrates the story, the reader is quickly drawn into his world.

My favourite scene: Dresden battles a toad-like demon and struggles with a delirious reporter while his helper spirit, Bob, leverages Harry’s precarious circumstances to negotiate a day off. (Well played, Bob, well played.)

Lowlights

I was a little disappointed by the portrayal of Karrin Murphy, the hard-edged director of Special Investigations who regularly summons Dresden to explain the inexplicable. Butcher works hard to make Murphy as multidimensional as his male lead, but the first person point of view combined with the rapid plot pacing actually causes the effort to backfire. For Butcher to present the many sides of Murphy, Dresden has to tell us so much about her in such a short period of time that it feels like her behaviour is merely being explained away, making it much harder to empathize with her. I sincerely hope that the reader gets to spend more time with her in the next book.

I was also surprised that Butcher introduces a piece of Dresden’s personal history that is neither explained at first mention nor revisited later in the book. I have it on good authority that this tidbit gets juicier later on in the series, so I will give Butcher a pass here; still, raising a shocking and revealing fact that merely disappears off the radar like an anomalous blip leaves me feeling distinctly unsatisfied. There are so many excellent reasons to read the next book that this gripping detail should have appeared in a later book rather than becoming a dropped thread in this one.

The Verdict

If you’re intrigued by magic, love a good mystery, can handle a little gore, and have a slightly dark sense of humour, then Storm Front is the book for you. It’s an excellent work  of urban fantasy, and I am very eager to read more of Butcher’s novels.

About quillsandqueries

My editing experience includes a wide variety of books, articles, and commentary in both fiction and non-fiction. I work with authors of novels and short stories, students preparing for their dissertations, and corporate clients who publish in the financial and education sectors.
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