Okay so I know I’m not the only non-young adult reading mostly YA fantasy. It’s just a thing where young adult narratives remain far more compelling to me as a reader. But it’s also weird, and sometimes a little bit frustrating, being a verifiable adult stuck in the head of a teenager. I figure, you know what? I liked Wheel of Time. Maybe it’s time to start branching out into more adult fiction.
Dresden had the seal of approval from fantasy booktuber Daniel Green. It seemed as good a place as any to start.
This will be a spoiler-free review.
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files; book #1
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 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.
A Questionable Setting
Okay, we’re going to start with an easy one here. It is a common ailment of urban fantasy, of paranormal fantasy especially, for the secrecy revolving magic and magical creatures to be written off as expected, never explained. Vampires can exist in plain sight and no one needs ever question their strange behaviors, wizards have secret councils, and only those lucky enough to be “in the know” have any chance of seeing something supernatural.
Such is the case with Dresden. The setting can never really decide if people know whether magic exists or not. Dresden is the only wizard in the phone books that a person can hire–other wizards do….whatever it is other wizards do–and seems to be the only one willing to interact with common folk. We hear about other wizards, but never really meet any. So then it seems a bit incredulous for anyone to actually believe in what Dresden is capable of.
More than that, the way the police force interacts with supernatural cases implies that supernatural cases are a recent development, as if such things were not a concern until recently. They write it off. They write Dresden off. But if people can be killed in the way that they are in Dresden’s main case of the story, I really cannot set aside the belief that it has happened before, that people should know about it. In the real world, it would be all over the news.
Of course, this is more of a genre-wide issue than something out of just one book, and Butcher does hint at some form of explanation. He just never gets around to giving it, which is mildly irritating.
In order to explain why I wasn’t too crazy about the plot, I must first delve into my least favorite part of the whole thing: character. I, as a modern female reader, do have certain expectations for how I want fellow women characters to be portrayed in books. And if the male protagonist has to describe to me how alluring each female character is, if I have to read about how some female character uses her feminity or her body to play with the male protagonist’s head… I just can’t.
Honestly. Dresden is the kind of guy that says he’s a feminist for brownie points. It was the same character traits that turned me off from Quentin Coldwater in The Magicians book. Some people say they can read an unlikable protagonist; some people may actually enjoy it somehow. Me? Nope.
I’m not saying that his character is fundamentally evil or wrong. I’m not even saying it’s unexpected. Storm Front had a very… roman noir feel. Very crime fiction, with supernatural elements thrown in, and noir novels usually feature a male lead, with similar ideas on what a female character ought to look like. I’m just saying that the way that Dresden interacted with members of the opposite sex made me feel slightly uncomfortable, and that’s not what I’m looking for in the books that I read.
The combination of two very different genres doesn’t always work for the better, but this was one thing that Butcher got right. Not that it’s a far stretch; hunting down leads on paranormal activities is not exactly a new type of plot. But Dresden does actually talk and act like many of the private detectives you get in crime novels.
The pacing, too, made the book a pretty fast read. There were some moments where Dresden only survived by realizing some key information literally in the nick of time, and the only reason I wasn’t doing heavy eye-rolls each time is that Dresden was pretty sleep deprived for most of the plot so it makes sense his brain was a little slow. That said, the plot was rather predictable in a few instances.
Overall Rating: 3 Stars
Ultimately, the world-building was a little too clunky, trying to introduce as much as it could while never really providing any in-depth information to things the reader actually needed to know. The book’s not bad. It just doesn’t seem to do anything new, and the character work is less than ideal.
If you’re the type of reader that doesn’t mind some raunchy dialogue or scenes, Dresden probably won’t bother you and you might actually enjoy the book. But the good news is that even though it’s a series, the first book, at least, reads as episodic, which means you can always pick up the first one and see if it’s your cup of tea without worrying about cliffhangers or anything like that. Personally, I plan to read the sequel, Fool Moon, and if it’s pretty much the same feel as Storm Front, I’ll probably put the series aside and say it wasn’t for me.