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The Dresden Files Reread and Review: Storm Front

Harry Dresden--Wizard Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates. No love potions, endless purses, parties, or other entertainment.

Harry Dresden–Wizard
Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable rates. No love potions, endless purses, parties, or other entertainment.

Hey, remember that New Year’s resolutions for 2015 list that I made? I’m finally ponying up on one of them. We’ve got 14 books to cover and I might as well get the candle burning. As expected, mild spoilers for The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. These are of course informal reviews that are both plot-recapping and my reactions to elements of the stories. Though I will give each book a star rating to make you happy because I love you. Yes, you.

The gangly smartass wizard known as Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden crashlanded into my life in 2013 thanks to my big brother. I began reading Storm Front on a whim since I remembered a friend had bought it for me and I lent it to my brother, and quickly discovered it was the best decision ever. Gleefully intrigued after finishing the first book, I grabbed the remaining paperback copies my brother had collected and smashed through the entire series in the span of one summer. I read them so quickly that I think I actually missed some of the subtle nuances, and that’s what has prompted me to do a reread and review of each in series.

I think what first caught my eye about Storm Front—aside from the handsome son of gun representing my beloved wizard on the cover—is the fact that the beginning is actually sort of quiet and subtle. We get some choice snarking from Harry and a quick, efficient set up for his world, for the plot of the series, and for the plot of this first novel. As you get further into the Dresden Files, many of the other books open with a bang—hell, Blood Rites and Changes are actually famous for having incredible opening scenes—but this one is surprisingly tame and yet interesting enough to get you to turn the pages. If you know anything about me, it’s that my first language is sarcasm. Give me a sarcastic little shit of a narrator and I am yours. Harry won me over from page one with his knack for being a surly snarker, but it helps that we’re immediately led right into a good murder case and missing person’s case as well.

Another thing that immediately warmed me to Storm Front is the established friendship between Harry and Lieutenant Karrin Murphy. It’s very common for supernatural P.I. characters or magic practitioners in urban fantasy or paranormal fiction to work with cops. It would be a thing that would happen for real if we lived in that world. However, Harry and Murphy are a departure from your average cop/consultant relationship because of the strength of that friendship. When you first start this series, you probably don’t figure Murphy will be much more than an ally or an occasional roadblock, but once things start going, you realize how awesome it is as part of the overall series. Harry and Murphy’s professional relationship could have been cliché or boring, but it’s not because they have maddening amounts of chemistry, and not just the romantic kind. It’s quite rare for such a grounded friendship. It works incredibly well against the grisly murder Harry is called in to consult on, and it’s also a really good set up for the evolution of their relationship.

I absolutely adore the fact that Harry and Murphy are good friends who occasionally engage in harmless flirting and think nothing of it. I adore it. It’s so rare that you have a platonic friendship of this magnitude in this particular genre because most of them like to give you pairings and sexual tension early on, and to be honest, Harry and Murphy don’t start showing signs of sexual attraction until a few books in. It’s a testament to Butcher’s excellent comprehension of character development and style that he wrote them this way. A lot of Harry’s actions work better because he isn’t strongly attracted to Murphy (or rather, doesn’t realize yet that he’s attracted to her) and so it says so much more about him as a person that he does things out of loyalty and friendship than out of love for her. Sure, he loves her to pieces already, but not romantically, and there is a sharp difference between those two kinds of love. It’s something you’ll see down the road when their relationship starts to develop into something more as the books progress.

If you can’t tell already, I ship the ever-loving crap out of Harry and Murphy. It’s extremely unhealthy. It’s a huge hindrance for rereading the series because I keep wanting these two oblivious idiots to snog each other senseless since I know what happens further down the line. It’s going to be the hardest part of my reread to not let my shipping needs interfere with my analysis of the books.

To be fair, my theory is that Butcher kept writing them and writing them and then one day reread his work and went, “… ‘allo, wot’s all this then?” In the early books, as mentioned above, they flirt a little just because it’s good fun, but I don’t think Butcher planned on them starting to develop feelings until a good ways into the series when he realized just how compatible they are and how much they respect and care for each other. Their relationship has so many layers that I think he just realized it and then went for it. It’s not spontaneous, but it is a delightful development that I think just snuck up on him one day.

Moving right along, we meet “Gentleman” Johnny Marcone, Chicago’s premiere crime boss, in just a couple of chapters in. I don’t know how I feel about Marcone overall. I think since I’ve read all the books (except Ghost Story, shut up, stop judging me) and I know what direction they head in, it’s hard for me to like this guy as a character. To me, Marcone feels the most like a tool that Butcher used for the story than a naturally existing character. He’s not forced or anything, but compared to the other villains we meet along the way, he’s the least interesting to me. It’s not because he’s human, mind you, but because he’s just a common kind of bad guy. Eloquent, sophisticated, dangerous, and patient. He’s basically just a less maniacal Lex Luthor, and that might be why he’s never impressed me over the length of the series. He’s a means to an end. A good foil for Harry, but little else than that in my eyes.

After our encounter with Marcone, we get to see Harry in his professional environment of helping a client. One of the things to note about the first book is Harry is still an old-fashioned guy with no social life, so he tends to fixate on pretty women a lot, and it’s a general character flaw. I get so bent out of shape about people who complain about Harry’s sexism in the early books because it is fully intentional. Harry not only acknowledges that he’s old-fashioned, but he pokes fun at himself and knows it’s not something he needs to do but rather is just built into his personality. I don’t mind it so much because it’s an actual problem that gets exploited in the series more than once, and because Harry learns from it later on. Hell, one of the reasons I instantly liked him is because he so clearly has real flaws and quirks about him rather than being a cool guy 1940’s-style P.I. or an alpha male lead. Things scare him. Things worry him. I hadn’t seen much of that in my various readings, and certainly not in the urban fantasy genre.

Next, we’re introduced to McAnally’s pub—a neutral zone for the paranormal folk of Chicago—as well as Susan Rodriguez, a gorgeous, nosy reporter with a focus on the supernatural. Like Marcone, I’m not sure how I feel about Susan as a whole, though I hold her in much higher regard than him. She feels like she’s supposed to be here more than she really needs to be here. It’s tricky to explain why, and it’s even harder to do that without inviting massive series-wide spoilers into the mix. I feel about Susan the same way I felt about Rachel Dawes from The Dark Knight saga. Both are written adequately, both are important to the plot and the main characters, but for some reason, I never quite liked them. I don’t dislike either of them, but I never gravitated towards them. It could just be a personal taste and preference thing, though, so keep that in mind. As a writer, I tend to like people who are more similar to me, and while I couldn’t hope to be as cool and useful as Karrin Murphy, I like her because we’re still cut from the same cloth, whereas I am nothing like Susan Rodriguez. She’s smart and sexy and manipulative, and I can’t be any of those three things simultaneously. Hell, I can’t even be two of the three, which is probably why Harry and I get along so well.

Soon afterwards, we’re introduced to Harry’s home life, which I also happen to adore because it’s modest without being depressing. He has a cat named Mister who acts like a real cat—affectionate when he feels like it, but with plenty of attitude—and a piece-of-junk car called the Blue Beetle that is lovable (I had one just like it named Old Bruce in my youth) and an apartment with zero things that the average person has that would drive any non-wizard crazy. However, Harry takes it all in stride with humble appreciation and that’s pretty much what makes it work.

We also get both Harry working some magic in order to get some information from the fairie Toot, and an introduction to the colossal asshole Warden Morgan, a member of the White Council of wizards assigned to monitoring Harry. Both are recurring characters with distinctive quirks that make them easy to remember. The good news about Morgan is that he’s a relevant source of conflict with justified reasons for hating Harry’s guts. The bad news is he’s still a massive prick and you kind of want to curb-stomp him. The White Council is by far one of the most brilliant aspects to Harry’s universe because they’re supposed to righteously uphold the Laws of Magic, but they really are a bunch of pompous assholes, like a real form of government. That’s brilliant, if you ask me.

Next, we’re introduced to Bob—an air spirit of near-infinite knowledge who lives in a skull in Harry’s basement lab. Bob is a riot. That’s pretty much all I need to say about him.

Then zoom! We’re off to plot stuff. It’s gritty and paced quickly, getting one beyond the halfway point of the novel in practically no time flat. We’re also treated to a little cool down time in Chapter 12 with Murphy getting the injured Harry home and taking care of him so sweetly that it sent my inner shipper off on a pleasure cruise. Get used to it, folks. I’m sorry. I ship them so hard, and they’re not even romantically involved in this book. I need professional help after the way this chapter ends.

We also get to the scene that literally made me decide that I was going to not only read but love the rest of this series. A giant toad demon infiltrates Harry’s home while Susan is there, and while they’re in the basement hiding behind a temporary shield, Susan accidentally drinks a love potion and tries to have sex with Harry while he’s trying to kill the demon. Sweet mother of God, that is the most hilarious scenario anyone could ever come up with. I remember sitting on my brother’s couch cackling hysterically at that entire scene. Sheer brilliance.

And of course, we also get treated to a staple in the Dresden Files, which is scenes where it feels like someone tied you to the floor spread-eagle, taped butterfly knives to the front of their shoes, and started gleefully kicking you in the chest. Yes, Mr. Butcher is proficient at making you feel like shit warmed over by a toaster oven. This time it’s because Harry screws up and can’t tell Murphy what he knows because it could get her killed and they’re at odds with each other. I’d rather have hydrochloric acid dripped onto my tits than have to feel this all the time. These kinds of scenes have always been Butcher’s best work—making you love and care for these characters, and then drop-kicking them emotionally (and sometimes physically).

The climax of the novel is a big, ugly, crazy explosion, pretty much. It sets up a lot of great things for the future, as a good first-in-series should. It has just a slice of nearly everything that you will get to see in further detail for later books, with a few exceptions here and there.

This reread went amazingly fast, and that’s probably what got me so deeply into the series. I blasted through nearly 400 pages in one afternoon and you never feel the time when you’re hanging out with Mr. Dresden. I love the pacing. I love the diction and style. I love the careful world-building and the grounded characters. I love that Butcher knows when to joke and when to reach into your chest and squish your heart between his fingers. I love this series. Love, love, love.

5 out of 5 stars.

Next time, we’ll be diving into Fool Moon on my Dresden Files reread and review. Don’t stay out too late, kiddies. The monsters mostly come at night.