The Dresden Files #1
- Media: #Books #Books 2020
Summary (feat. Spoilers)
Harry Dresden is Not Like Other Guys™, he's smart, determined, and the only publicly operating wizard (a fact he likes to remind you of at every opportunity). He's also permanently broke and got a hero complex bigger than your average police precinct. Not a good mix for a private investigator.
Down to his last few bucks, Dresden gets sucked into two cases: a brutal double homicide that can only have been committed by a rogue wizard and a helpless housewife searching for her missing husband. To no one's surprise (except Harry's), the two cases intertwine as Dresden plods his way across Chicago, interviewing vampires and mafia bosses and getting on the wrong side of the magical council.
Dresden dodges from one over the top action set piece (fighting a frog demon naked) to the next (hanging above giant scorpions in a house on fire) and generally getting the crap beat out of him. But quitting is not an option as the bodies start to pile up and he becomes next on the killer's list. If he doesn't catch the true culprit before the end of the week, either the killer or the police and the white council will make sure he takes the fall.
Spoiler: this is an 8+ book series. He survives and catches the perp.
"My head was throbbing, and my hands were shaking, but I went down the ladder to my workroom – and started figuring out how to rip someone’s heart out of his chest from fifty miles away. Who says I never do anything fun on a Friday night?"
Dresden Files is that iconic urban fantasy series I'd always known about but never read. Mostly I'd heard of it as a mixed bag of pulp detective fantasy with all the potential pitfalls of that (namely poor characterization and sexism). So when I finally got hold of the first book in the series, I decided to take the plunge and see for myself what all the fuss was about.
Things I loved...
- The style of narration was fun but felt like it could have been so much more.
- It feels like a new take on classic pulp: a quick, easy read perfect for a rainy afternoon where you don't want to think too much.
- Some fun worldbuilding ideas: not too bright fairies you can trap for gossip, alchemy with a talking skull, magical 'third eye' senses and a drug that can open it in normal mortals and drive them insane, He Who Walks Behind, etc.
- The action set pieces felt almost ludicrous at times (of course Harry got in the shower just as the frog demon attacked) but I enjoyed the break from the norm and touch of comedy. It reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and tv detective action.
Things I didn't...
- Harry Dresden is annoying. Please, Harry, stop saying you're so smart and then doing terribly stupid things. Oh, and describing the makeup and quivering lips of every woman/damsel in distress you meet in excruciatingly creepy detail. Maybe this is a case of unreliable narrator and actually part of the characterisation but the world didn't go far out of its way to contradict most of what he said.
- Speaking of describing female characters, Harry's hero complex has him seeing everyone in a 'damsel in distress' light. Circumstances then tend to conspire to make this true (feisty reporter? Tough cop? Doesn't matter, you're going to be paralyzed by fear or knocked out at some point so Harry can save you). This felt compounded by the sexed up elements of the plot (lust driven spells, vampire prostitution ring, all the victims prostitutes and/or abused women) and just not very nice.
- The setting felt quite untethered, especially for an urban fantasy. We get told a lot about Chicago but I never had a sense of place or where all these warring supernatural forces are. The focus hopped more from character set piece to character. Grand, except...
- The characters felt one dimensional. That's not the end of the world, especially for a bit of pulpy fun, but I wish I could feel a bit more invested in any of them. The mob boss seemed more interesting than the whole cast.
- The other downside of the narration is that it slips into 'telling' (see [[!Show dont tell]]) which destroyed some of the mystery for me. Some of the best worldbuilding are the ideas that are just mentioned in passing but then Harry has to go and explain everything (oh yeah, here's who and why I murdered that guy, oh and here's the truth about the mysterious shadow stalking me, oh and did I tell you about my dad?, etc.). This helps with the speedy, conversational story but sucked out what could have been intriguing worldbuilding and characterization for me.
I wanted to like Storm Front but couldn't. Elements of the plot and characterisations especially felt icky too me. That said, I read the whole thing in an afternoon and if you don't think too hard and can overlook a dose of ickiness, it's a decent diversion. Not sure I'd pick up another in the series unless one of the later volumes work out the character/narration issues and a bit more mystery is introduced.
- "But those dollar-bill-colored eyes, backed by that cool and nearly passionless soul, had me shaking as I took the stairs back up to my office." Mob boss ghoul in suit. Completely controlled. Pure business
- "Like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994, when the entire city of Milwaukee had simply vanished for two hours."
- "It was a perfect night for catching faeries."
- "it wasn’t in the nature of the fae to keep memories for very long,"
- Talking Skull (Bob) who recites alchemy recipes but insists on which potions you make.
- I unfolded a clean white cloth where I’d had a flickering shadow stored for just such an occasion, and tossed it into the brew,
- "I had to maintain a fine balance between going in ready for trouble and going in asking for trouble."
- A wizard’s death curse
- "‘Wizard!’ he trumpeted. ‘Wizard! I see you! I see you, wizard! I see the things that follow, those who walk before and He Who Walks Behind! They come, they come for you!’"
- "For reasons I don’t have time to go into now, I am marked, indelibly, with the remnants of the presence of a hunter-spirit, a sort of spectral hit man known as He Who Walks Behind."
- "like a cluster of buzzards around the exposed head of the outlaws they used to bury up to their necks in the Old West."
- "I looked at the trees. Saw them, not just in the first green coat of spring, but in the full bloom of summer, the splendor of the fall, and the barren desolation of winter, all at the same time."
- "Shadowy spirit-beings that weren’t wholly real, only manifestations of the negative energy of the place, clung to the walls, the rain gutters, the porch, the windowsills, glutting themselves on the negative energy left over from Victor’s spellcasting."