Type Book
Date 2000-04-01
Pages 322
Tags urban fantasy, male protagonist

Storm Front

The Dresden Files

Monica Sells approaches Harry with a missing persons case. The subject: her husband, Victor, who has begun dabbling in magic. Meanwhile, Murphy calls Harry in for a consultation on a gruesome murder. A couple have had their hearts messily exploded.

Before all is said and done, Harry finds himself a suspect in the police investigation, and under suspicion from the White Council, as well. Somehow, Harry must find the real murderer and stop him, or, one way or another, he's not going to survive the weekend.

Storm Front is a middling quality book. The writing is just okay, the world-building is a bit thin, the plot is too simple, and the protagonist is often annoying. However, I'm told the series gets better as it goes along, with the world-building filling things out and the characters getting much more development. The book was good enough that I'm willing to continue the series in anticipation of that improvement.

The book is set in the near future (as of the book's writing), in a world where magic is real and, we are told, the public has a growing awareness of it. That awareness, in this book, at least, seems to be restricted to a few scattered people--we are also told that Harry is "the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country".

As for the writing, let this extract stand as a witness of its quality:

“Oh. Is this, um, Harry Dresden? The, ah, wizard?” Her tone was apologetic, as though she were terribly afraid she would be insulting me.

No, I thought. It’s Harry Dresden the, ah, lizard. Harry the wizard is one door down.

Butcher makes some half-hearted gestures at world-building, but it doesn't amount to much:

  • Vampires, demons, faries, and presumably various other fantastical creatures exist (and may be walking among us)
  • True Names are a thing
  • Sympathetic magic is a thing
  • Magic circles are a thing
  • Magic somehow interferes with technology
  • There's a group of wizards called the White Council who enforce some laws like "don't kill people with magic"

That's about it. Hard fantasy, this ain't.

It's pretty obvious where the plot is going from pretty early on, and on a smaller scale Butcher leaves Chekov's guns lying around--e.g. a love potion, Murphy's handcuffs--and then uses them, as you'd expect. No surprises here.

As for Harry, himself, well, he's explicitly described as a magic nerd. He's a wish-fulfillment reader proxy (or author proxy, perhaps), and it really shows. When he is surrounded by bruisers from the local organized crime syndicate, he muses, "I felt like I was in high school again, surrounded by bullying members of the football team." He periodically does some stupidly macho thing to retaliate against such 'bullies', and he's mysteriously attractive to women (all of whom are unusually attractive, themselves) despite a lack of hygiene, funds, or hobbies other than getting beaten up.

And, speaking of women... Harry occasionally speaks of women. Like this gem:

“Women are better at hating than men. They can focus it better, let it go better. Hell, witches are just plain meaner than wizards. This feels like feminine vengeance of some kind to me.”

Harry's not a woman-hater--his general opinion seems to be that women are just as good as men, but that they need to be protected and treated specially (by him, at least), because he's "an old-fashioned sort of guy", apparently. A standard-bearer for equal treatment, Harry's not.

To be fair to Butcher, though, this isn't really presented as being right, except insofar as the book is narrated by Harry and so he's advancing his own opinion. Harry's 'feminine vengeance' theory turned out to be wrong, and his attempts to protect the women around him by keeping them in the dark don't really work out very well.

So, that's a lot of bad stuff. What was good enough to make me willing to carry on with the series?

First, I like urban fantasy, and a wizard PI has a lot of potential. The premise is strong.

Second, though the world-building isn't very extensive, it does hint at there being more going on than we're seeing right now. It's not just Harry the Wizard and a bunch of mundanes desperate for his help. There's a vampire running an escort service, a crime boss who is aware of magic, and apparently a lot of dabblers. Assuming later books develop things further, this world could get very interesting.

Third, it seems to me that one or two books is about as far as you could ride stupid-nerd-wish-fulfillment before you just run out of dumb comments to make. Since the series is substantially longer than that, I take this as evidence that it must have improved.

Well, it boils down to: I like the premise, I like long-runners, so I'm going to be optimistic.

Character Type
Harry Dresden Main
Name Role
Jim Butcher Author