My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Like many people, I suppose, I was introduced to the Dresden Files novels via the short lived television series that ran on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 2007. Yes, it was still properly named “Sci-Fi” back then. Soon thereafter I bought a copy of Storm Front, the first book in the series. I was hooked. Urban fantasy meets Sam Spade! What’s not to like? I didn’t read any further in the series, always meaning to, but always having other books ahead of it on the “To Read” list.
That changed when I saw the paperback of the 13th book Ghost Story in the airport bookstore while on vacation. It was time to get caught up on the adventures of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. A quick search through the B&N nook offerings turned up this gem, The Dresden Files Collection 1-6, and another collection for the next six novels. For my money this is by far the best way to get into this series. This is the sort of thing for which e-books are particularly well suited. I read the complete works of H. P. Lovecraft in similar fashion. Reading all 6 of these novels back-to-back definitely gives one a feel for the breadth of the story as it builds through each installment.
Jim Butcher’s writing style is airy and brisk. Each book is under 400 pages and a fully contained story in its own right which could easily stand on its own. However, one really comes to appreciate the scope of Mr. Butcher’s world building efforts as the series progresses. I am not sure if he had the whole framework thought out when he started or just added on to what came before. Regardless, the world he presents is internally consistent and wonderfully imaginative while at the same time adhering to many well known and established tropes of magic and the supernatural.
Each of these first six books highlights a different supernatural aspect of Harry Dresden’s world. In Storm Front we learn that magic does exist and some of the rules thereof. The second book, Fool Moon, centers around the lore of the four types of werewolves. Naturally, in the next book, Grave Peril, we are introduced to this world’s vampires, as well as a brief look at the land of Faerie and the NeverNever. We get a deeper exposure to the Faerie Courts in, Summer Knight. Next up is Death Masks in which a bit of Christian Mythology is added to the mix, especially demons and a special trio of Holy Warriors known as the Knights of the Cross. The final book in this collection is Blood Rites which delves a bit more into the politics of the White Council, the ruling body of magicians, sorcerers and such like.
Another fun part about reading these books one after the other is seeing how Mr. Butcher’s style develops as he goes. Storm Front is a worthy introductory novel. The tone is wonderfully reminiscent of Chandler-esque hardboiled detective novels. This tone lightens somewhat as the series progresses, but is never entirely done away with. Mr. Butcher refines his style as he goes and one can sense his growing maturity as a writer. It is also great fun to watch Harry grow as a person.
Some may find the Dresden Files novels to be a bit formulaic, and they’d be right. There is a particular cadence, an ebb and flow to Mr. Butcher’s narrative style that remains consistent throughout. Far from a detriment, I find this to be a comforting aspect. I know somewhat what to expect from the following novels, not in detail, but in feel. I know that every gripping action scene will be followed by recovery, examination, and a jump in a new direction. Knowing the pattern is like knowing that dinner will be followed by dessert.
If you get the urge to enjoy a solid piece of story-telling with witty, intelligent, well defined characters, fast paced action, and captivating mystery, I suggest you check out the Dresden Files. Only one thing really bugs me about this series. The cover art for each novel features a man who is supposedly Harry Dresden wearing a duster and stetson. While the duster is part of Harry’s signature look, no where in any of the books I’ve read does he ever wear a hat. I hope he gets one somewhere in books 7-12 or I will be sorely disappointed.