Thursday, 12 April 2012

Review: Storm Front (Book 1 of The Dresden Files)

Cool hat, bro. 

Storm Front is the first book in Jim Butcher’s series, The Dresden Files. I thought this book was more than deserving of a review, as it is a highly original and thoroughly entertaining take on what might be loosely be termed urban fantasy.

  The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is essentially a mystery. Yup, that’s right, a good ol’ fashioned whodunit. A prostitute and her patron are executed in a style that would make Jigsaw proud, and the Chicago police are stumped as to how it happened, and who might be behind it. Desperate times call, as they say, for desperate measures, so tough-chick Detective Murphy calls upon her friend Harry Dresden to pick his brains about the whole gruesome situation. Badly in need of the consulting fee that he receives from the police for his work, Harry shows up, and becomes embroiled in a situation which is as warped as it is dangerous.

  Storm Front is told in first person, from Harry’s perspective, allowing readers to get to know him quite well. If I were to situate him in pop-culture terms, I’d describe him as being comically cynical like Hugh Laurie’s House, but ultimately altruistic in nature, despite his constant sarcasm …a little bit like Dr Venkman from Ghostbusters. He is a wizard – but definitely not of the Hogwarts variety. The magic in Dresden’s world stems more from the arcane and occult than it does from fairy-tales and castles, and somehow that serves to make the book all the more gripping. It also works quite well with the noir-like, hard-boiled detective fiction theme. I found it interesting that magic, as Dresden uses it, is openly acknowledged by society as a legitimate force, although it’s regarded by many as something to be wary of. It was one of several things about the novel that reminded me of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, in that it’s similar to the way in which vampires “came out of the coffin” and are treated as a warily accepted part of regular society.
  I also enjoyed the many aspects of the magic system that were casually thrown into the story. For example, a pizza-loving fairy called Took and the lecherous talking skull named Bob, who stores Harry’s information for him, made me laugh out loud at times. I suspect that there’s much more about the magic world, the NeverNever that Harry refers to rather obliquely throughout Storm Front, and the White Council who police the use of magic, that will be revealed in later books. In the same way, I imagine that Harry’s past will be explored in greater detail throughout the series.

I loved the uniquely stylised magic system that Harry operates within, and the way that it was juxtaposed with his mundane “real-life” problems, like paying rent. I was also drawn into the actual murder mystery, particularly in the second half of the book. This is a novel which does not take itself too seriously – something that some fantasy authors are certainly guilty of. Storm Front is a highly entertaining read, but I didn’t feel the need to move straight onto the next book immediately. As a relatively short novel, it was an excellent buffer between major fantasy series’. Although I have now moved on to the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s acclaimed Mistborn series, I do plan to return to The Dresden Files at a later time. I give it three and a half talking skulls, and an enthusiastic thumbs-up.  

Have you read The Dresden Files? What are your thoughts on the rest of the series? Or, alternatively, do you think you will read it, having read this review?