Friday, August 6, 2010

Book Review: Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1) by Jim Butcher

Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Roc; First Edition edition (April 10, 2000)
ISBN-10: 0451457811
ISBN-13: 978-0451457813

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files have long been a book series I've heard of but never investigated. Through the continued harassment of reading about it on twitter and hearing about it elsewhere I decided to finally rectify that.

Interesting, with a quirky wit, the book starts very strong. It's told in first-person, from the perspective of Dresden himself. Dresden is a hardened wizard, and Chicago resident, openly advertising his services in the phone book.

At 322 pages I flew through the book. This was its one weak point. At least for me. I'm of the class of readers that enjoys reading strongly developed magic systems in my fantasy, which are therefore complicated and can be time-consuming to absorb. Yes, I loved Lord of the Rings—which has no apparent rules—but that is because of how well developed everything else is. Not because of magic. Dresden's magic is what my ill-informed mind conceives of as "typical" magic. (Feel free to correct me, my esteemed witches and wizards.) Using circles, blood, potions made of strange concoctions (including motor oil and bus tickets... Huh?), talismans, and of course force of will. I won't say that it wasn't enjoyable, in fact some of the battles rocked the cool element, but there were other times where the use of bread and honey to catch a faery was cute, but just didn't seem to catch my interest. (However the following, interplay of dialogue was fantastic.) Yes, it is a current day book, so it probably works well within that context, and for at least the first book, magic was not the driving was the murder mystery.

With some interesting characters in the form of an animated skull possessed of an air spirit and a ridiculously amusing faery by the name of Toot (short for a beautifully long rolling of syllables that, by Harry's own admission, he would not share—names are power and he wouldn't share without good reason. Yeah, I know, it's an excuse. But it WAS funny.).

Butcher really sticks it to Dresden in this first novel: he has to deal with smooth, business-minded mafia, a haunted past, juiced-up magical law enforcers, a seductive vampire, a black mage that walks in the shadows, and to top it off: Dresden gets his apartment trashed and has to fight off a demon—naked! All the while with overdue rent.

As Butcher's first published novel, this doesn't read like a first something went obviously right. I'd give it an 8 out of 10. Go check it out.

What did you think? Have you read the book? I'm onto the 2nd one now, but it's not catching my attention as much as the 1st did. (correction: it started Meh, but has built to Yay!)


  1. Loving it. I've read up through book 4 and they definitely just get better and better. I originally stayed away from this series because I'm not all that into contemporary settings in my fantasy, but Butcher is a fantastic writer and Dresden is such a great character.

    My question is, do you think the book would be more or less enjoyable told in 3rd person rather than 1st??

  2. Honestly, I don't think I'm writer enough to do Dresden that well in third person. Give me another ten or fifteen years of third person writing practice, and /maybe/.

    Lois Bujold is the one who can rock character depth in third-person, while simultaneously keeping it fast, emotionally engaging, and /funny/. I want to be Lois Bujold when I grow up. :)

  3. Great comments, and one from the author himself. Wow!

    @Todd - #1 was great, #2 started a little off for me. Probably since I dived right into it and had to read all the rehashing of the character personalities and whatnot. But now the book is picking up a nice pace. The demon Chauncy's Oxford mannerisms was a nice touch.

    I'll concur with you regarding the setting--not my forté, but Butcher made it interesting.

    3rd person? I don't know. This is so well ingrained from Dresden's perspective it just wouldn't fly quite as well for me.

    @Jim Butcher - Thanks for the comment! Reading your break-in story about the first of this series was fascinating (off of Wikipedia--is it true?).

    Haven't read Bujold yet. It's funny. I always thought I was such a voracious reader when I was younger, but since joining the twitter community and the writer community at large I have found so much that I need to catch up on.

    Too little time.

    How are you finding the changing times affecting your performance as a professional writer?

  4. So - let me say a couple three things:

    First, I'm glad you finally read this book. Butcher is fantastic. He also has a series of 'epic fantasy' now called the 'Codex Alera' that you may want to check out. I have these books but I haven't cracked em open. Yet.

    B, Are you aware of the story behind 'Storm Front'? He wrote it as an assignment for a creative writing class. He felt it was good enough that he wrote a couple of sequel's and then began to shop em around. Still - not bad for a creative writing assignment, right? He later sold it by going to a convention where Laurall K Hamilton was appearing and snagged an introduction to her agent - it really is about networking and who you know these days.

    Third, the books get better. They can be a little formulaec, I'll grant you that (Harry is on a job when something bigger comes along, he gets the shit kicked out of him, he starts to figure things out, gets the shit kicked out of him again, figures out what's up just in time to barely squeeze his too tall ass out of the fire and win the day if not the war...), but that's also the fun of it.

    Harry's a wise-ass (I love that). The magic makes sense the more you get into it (it also keeps Harry human and not super-human - he's constantly trying to figure things out when people more powerful or knowledgeable are running amok in his town). The magic also has a price, a balance, which is always good in any magical system. You don't want people running around doing whatever the hell they want (not even Gandalf did, btw) without it costing them something. In Harry's case, it usually means that he ends up exhausted and helpless, which is why he started carrying a .44 around in his duster.

    Toot is one of the best minor characters ever (and he rises in rank... well, that's later. Don't want to spoil it for ya...)!

    Great that Butcher commented - I'm trying to get him on one of the podcasts - his agent said maybe in October :)


  5. You. Love a Wise-Ass? Go figure. ;-)

    The wise-cracks from Dresden are awesome. I'll give Butcher that for sure. The intro to Storm Front was great with the postman scene. Had me hooked in the gills--hard.

    I certainly like that the magic has limitations. Wouldn't be near as interesting otherwise. The system actually did grow on me. It just didn't grab me at first. I love the One Power system in WoT. The commonality to the magic in Dresden Files is good for humor, but lacks some of the punch I usually go for. However he certainly ups the ante at times and has made me an overall convert.

    When I was writing the review I was curious if it was his first foray into publishing or not so I did read the Wikipedia page. Interesting backstory.

    Butcher on FN? Cool. Work that mojo! I've been getting caught up to the 'casts and have listened to almost every single one so far. I would readily plug in for that one too.


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.