Thursday, July 24, 2008

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Category: Fiction – paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Yes - Book 1 of the Dresden Files series

Harry Dresden – Wizard.

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses or Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P. D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a – well, whatever.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get … interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

This is a nicely plotted, convincing début. Before I go further, let it be known that this is a first-person story, narrated in deadpan and self-deprecatory humour by the wizard himself.

What I liked most about this tale is the protagonist. He is a vivid, likeable and decent enough fellow, who, despite his immense magical power, is down on his luck and lives in near-destitution. He doesn’t use his supernatural abilities for personal gain and he truly doesn’t want to kill anybody unnecessarily. He can almost pass off as one of the mundane muggles non-magical folks, however, the black duster that he never leaves home without, and the staff that he occasionally carries, give off the first hint that he is no ordinary person. And … uh, despite his name and his natural talent, he has no ties whatsoever with the other Harry … you know, the one who polishes his craft at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

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 Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing 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.

I will read the second book just for Harry alone. Not much is known of his background at this stage – carrot being dangled by the author, I’m sure – to keep us reading.

In this story, Harry is kept on his toes, simultaneously looking for the missing husband of a client and investigating a gruesome double murder that smacks of black magic. In the course of carrying out his duties, he runs into a crime boss; tricks a faery; tangles with a vampiress; fights off an assassin, battles a demon that resembles a large warty toad, and vanquishes gigantic scorpions. Oh, and not to forget Morgan – Harry’s Warden – who is hell bent on catching Harry violating one more Law of Magic, just so he may execute him. So yes, Harry does have a lot on his plate.

The action and intrigue aspects of this story are fast-paced and gripping but a tad excessive. I felt there are too many things going on at the same time, and the action sequence is relentless and somewhat overwhelming.

Another thing that didn’t sit quite satisfactorily with me is that, despite being such a powerful wizard, Harry seems quite clueless at first and he doesn’t truly utilize his awesome abilities until the last third of the story. Which is a waste, if you ask me.

Many secondary characters help flesh out the story, who I’m sure, will appear again in the subsequent instalments. Most definitely Bob, the smart-alecky air spirit that resides in a human skull, that is both a boon and bane to Harry. Then there’s Karrin Murphy, the Director of Special Investigations of the Chicago P. D., who has the thankless task of investigating any crimes dubbed unusual. She needs Harry’s specialized skills and Harry needs the paycheck, but aside from this humdrum arrangement, they have a grudging friendship going on – one that gives this story a nice but very light touch of warmth and sappiness.

I already have the next eight Dresden Files books in TBR. Yup. They're courtesy of a 14-year-old boy, who after tearing through Book One, proceeded to buy up the next eight in quick succession. Book Ten is currently available in hardback only so he’s cooling his heels until the paperback comes out in 2009. Book Eleven is currently in the making and will be released in 2009 as well. So yeah, there’s a lot of Harry Dresden to soak up … I just need to find the time.

4 out of 5. I like it. It’s a compelling page-turner.


Melanie said...

Great review J! I liked Storm Front enough to buy the next few books in the series...but they sit on the ever growing TBR pile.

Jace said...

Thanks, M. :-)

Why don't we read the 2nd book together sometime, eh?

I watched some snippets of the Dresden Files shows on YouTube (no SciFi channel where I live) - got to say that I like the book more in comparison. The Harry in the shows just doesn't match the Harry that I know from the book. And where is his long black duster ... the one that gives his so much wizardly character?!!

Melanie said...

I'd love to read the next book with you J.

I watched a few episodes of the Dresden Files show and it didn't grab me. It was so different than the book. That said...the guy who played Harry was really good looking LOL!

Laura Herbertson said...

Generally, I liked Storm Front. I picked it up because of the tv show. There was one thing that bugged me big time about it...

spoiler alert

Near the end of the story, Harry gets shot in the hip. The bullet is lodged in there, possible fracturing the bone. Obviously, he's bleeding and can't move his leg. Yet he's still the same sarcastic, quick thinking guy he's been throughout the book. There was no mention of the pain at all, just rationale thought. Okay, the house is on fire, the bad guys are reloading, scorpions are coming after me, I can't move, and an evil sorceror is lurking nearby. Hmm, let me see...I'll cast this spell, use those handcuffs, throw this at them, etc etc. Somewhere in there, I was expecting holy god, I've been shot and it hurts!

It's a shame, but that scene is the reason I won't get book 2 in the Harry Dresden series. I like the fact the main character got shot (that takes guts as an author), but I don't like the fact there was no apparent pain. It was just strange without it.

kat said...

thanks for the great review. I'm still not sure if I want to read it. mostly because of the first person- and Urban Fantasy-thing (ergo lack of love-story).
thanks anyway.


Jace said...

Laura, thanks for sharing your views.

I think the author succeeded in creating a character who's vivid and believable. However, the action sequences and paranormal aspect tend to take over the story ... they seem almost uncontrollable at times. Perhaps his focus on these aspects caused the lapse that bugged you enough to not want to read the 2nd book.

Jace said...

K, yes, this is not a romance, although there may be a love interest for Harry in the later book? ;-)

Frances said...

Jace, outstanding review of STORM FRONT. I enjoyed reading it, but it has been some time since I did so. I liked Harry, and wanted Bob as a friend. Oh, well. Can't win them all. :-)

Jace said...

Frances, thanks! Coming from you, that's an honour indeed. :-D