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Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front – Jim Butcher (Published 2000)
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Urban, with a liberal dose of Hardboiled Crime Fiction
Completed: October 19 2010

Urban Fantasy… it’s been hijacked by vampires. Sparkly vampires. More than enough has been said about Twilight and its sub-genre companions, so I’ll simply say that if it pulls more readers into genre fiction it should be a good thing. Nonetheless paranormal romance informed (however incorrectly) and colored my impression of Urban Fantasy and I stayed away, even though on some level I knew that a series like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files was quite removed from these other stories.

The sheer popularity of Butcher’s work among readers who fit much more into my demographic, and the regular praise he receives on the Writing Excuses podcast was enough to push me to pick up Storm Front. I took the (very small) risk, blew one of my monthly Audible credits on it… and devoured it (um, through my ears). I’m pretty late to the Dresden Files party but I’m very glad I came.

Harry Dresden is the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook, which makes him the man the police reluctantly turn to when routine investigations get spooky. Unfortunately, it also makes him a potential suspect when magic has been used to murder a mobster and his girlfriend. Harry’s connection to the case also draws the attention of the mysterious White Council who have already placed him under the ‘Doom of Damocles’ for unethical use of magic. Suffice it to say that Harry lacks for allies in both the magical and mundane worlds.

Storm Front makes me want to use clichés! It’s an intense, action packed thrill ride. Enough said. I was utterly drawn into Harry Dresden’s world. The first-person narrative is so immediate and visceral, and in my opinion it is only enhanced by the audiobook reading (from James Marsters). Harry has a lot to like about him. He is a play on the hardboiled anti-hero (not the only trope Butcher borrows, but he does so with flair), but for his flaws he is actually quite heroic, refusing to let the supernatural world he inhabits harm the ignorant. He’s just an average wizard trying to pay the rent in a modern world that refuses to recognize the supernatural. Ultimately, he feels real.

Harry’s authenticity as a character means that his attitude is rarely politically correct. He can be chivalrous, and he can be chauvinistic. His experiences have made him a cynic, yet there are glimpses of a man who wants connection – he just inhabits a different world, and constantly has to hold back secrets from those he could pursue relationships with.

It’s amazing to think that Storm Front is Butcher’s first published novel. Had it been published this year it would have supplanted Bitter Seeds as my ‘debut of the year.’ It’s exciting to think about the fact that Butcher fans say the series grows, the writing improves and the story only gets better with each book. I want more. I give it 4.5 stars, and could nearly go the full 5.

Read it – if you have any interest in Urban Fantasy. This is the sub-genre defining series and Storm Front lives up to that level of expectation.
Don’t read it – if you can’t set aside your literary sensibilities. This is as genre as fiction gets.

1 comment:

  1. Once I started this series I couldn't stop. Listened to all 12 of the current audiobooks in the last 10 months. They're great! A little formulaic in the first few novels but there is so much good that it completely outweighs the bad.