Monday, January 23, 2012

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front, the first novel in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series, is a fast-paced and exciting read with a twisty mystery and plenty of magical action. The main character, Harry Dresden, is a professional wizard with a tarnished past living in Chicago and trying to eek out a living doing private investigation work and consulting with the Chicago PD’s Special Investigations unit.

Urban fantasy is all over the place these days. We’ve got shelf after shelf of books about witches, vampires, shapeshifters, and fairies who solve crimes and fight evil in a gritty modern setting. As much as the genre appeals to me, I’d tried a lot of urban fantasy series without finding one that really held my attention. For one thing, most of what I’d tried was paranormal romance and I don’t have a lot of patience for angsty longing or meaningful glances. Butcher leaves the romance out and draws inspiration from hard-boiled detective novels, which suited me fine.

Storm Front opens with Dresden in his office worrying about his rent payment. He’s interrupted by a phone call from a woman in distress and then another from a police detective who needs his help with a grisly magical murder. The plot quickly develops into a tangle of demons, mobsters, and thaumaturgy as Dresden chases down leads and leans on informants. It’s not unlike a Raymond Chandler story expect Dresden is more likely to pull a wand than a gun. Butcher doesn’t break a lot of new ground in either the mystery or fantasy genres but he gives each some new twists and combines them with a well-developed voice and highly readable style.

I’d been meaning to check out the Dresden Files ever since I heard their virtues extolled by Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicles. I’m often in the market for some unpretentious plot-driven fantasy and am quite happy to have a well-established series to add to that reading list. The trick now will be to keep myself from plowing through five or six of them in quick succession like a foolish child with a sack of Halloween candy.


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