Review: Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

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Rating: ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: August 25 to 28, 2014
Read Count: once all the way through; first chapter too many times
Recommended by: a lot of people
Recommended for: no one

HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

Here, let me ftfy.

HARRY DRESDEN—WIZARD (and good guy chauvinist)
Lost items found… maybe, depending on what or whom you lost and when and where you last saw him/her/it. If black magic is involved in retrieving the item or person, then I can’t help. I’ll feel bad about it for awhile, but I can’t help… (okay, I can try, but it’s gotta be off the books.)

He’s on magical probation or something like that. It’s a long sordid tale, one which he only hints at in this book. I’m mildly interested, but not invested enough in the series to get to the bottom of this mystery. People, much wiser than I, say skip all the way to book #7 because that’s when the writing improves noticeably. Which begs the question: it takes Jim Butcher SEVEN books to get the ball rolling? OY.

I’m glad I finally got through this one though because now I can stop wondering and cross it off the DNF list. Harry Dresden, as I predicted, is inherently unlikable and annoying, and the story told from his POV just grates on me, but I hear it’s supposed to get better later on in the series. Hopefully that’s the case.

Of all the narrative modes, first-person is my least favorite. I can’t stand it most times, but I like urban fantasy and, since almost all UFs these days are written in first person, I have to tolerate it. Sometimes it’s okay when it’s written from a compelling perspective, like when there’s an interesting main character with a captivating inner life and hilarious commentary; when it’s done well, you don’t even notice you’re spending too much time in just one character’s head. When it’s not done well, it feels like being stuck on a long flight next to a tiresome obliviously egotistical seatmate who would not shut up.

The narration in this book isn’t quite as tiresome as that oblivious seatmate, but it comes awfully close. Dresden’s POV is ostensibly self-absorbed while also being self-conscious which seems to suggest he’s “just a regular guy” who’s in over his head, but the thing is Dresden himself isn’t particularly interesting, and the world he lives in also isn’t interesting. And so the combination is tedious, instead of nuanced. In other words, there’s a lot of bravado and showmanship, but not much depth to the characterization or world. On top of that, Dresden’s inner thoughts are just rife with quips like these:

Maybe my values are outdated, but I come from an old school of thought. I think that men ought to treat women like something other than just shorter, weaker men with breasts. Try and convict me if I’m a bad person for thinking so. I enjoy treating a woman like a lady, opening doors for her, paying for shared meals, giving flowers–all that sort of thing.

[…]

Magic came from life itself, from the interaction of nature and the elements, from the energy of all living beings, and especially of people. A man’s magic demonstrates what sort of person he is, what is held most deeply inside of him. There is no truer gauge of a man’s character than the way in which he employs his strength, his power.

Wait, it’s gets “better”:

I gestured toward the room. “Because you can’t do something that bad without a whole lot of hate,” I said. “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.”
“But a man could have done it,” Murphy said.
“Well,” I hedged.
“Christ, you are a chauvinist pig, Dresden. Is it something that only a woman could have done?”
“Well. No. I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?” Carmichael drawled. “Some expert.”

Then again, this is exactly what I expect from an unapologetic self-professed chauvinist. Mr. Butcher really knows what he’s talking about.

Dresden also makes a powerful vampire (vampiress) cry.

She was furious that I had seen her true form, horrified and embarrassed that I had stripped her disguise away and seen the creature beneath. And she was afraid that I could take away even her mask, forever, with my power.

[…]

I’d made the vampire cry. Great. I felt like a real superhero. Harry Dresden, breaker of monsters’ hearts.

Good grief, man, have you no mercy! Absolutely none. He also brings “tough-as-nails” Chicago PD cop Karrin Murphy to tears when he wouldn’t let her in on a lead. (I headdesk’d so hard, almost gave myself a real concussion.)

After 30 or so pages of this, I’d had enough. If it hadn’t been for James Marsters’ narration, I would’ve DNF this book again for the Nth time. If Mr. Marsters should decide to continue narrating books outside the Dresden realm, I’m so there. Unfortunately he’s restricted his voice to just this series, which puts me between a rock and a hard place. Continue the series even though I can’t stand it just to hear Marsters narrate or abandon it because life’s too short, tbr list’s too long, and I’m not getting any younger? Decisions, decisions.

And another thing. Did Jim Butcher spend any time in Chicago before writing this book? Because I got the feeling he didn’t. It looks like he did his research by perusing travel websites because all descriptions of the city, which is a huge character itself in urban fantasy, are so generic that you could replace the word Chicago with New York or Detroit or Philadelphia or Washington DC and the change wouldn’t affect the story much. As a character who’s familiar with the seedy underground world of magic, Harry Dresden should also be familiar with the seedy underground locations in Chicago, the actual seedy underground locations of Chicago; anyone who lives in the city and has this particular background would know these places. But Harry Dresden does not. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t seem all that familiar navigating the city, and that’s a huge setback for the story, that Dresden isn’t as knowledgeable of the locales as he should be.

 

Some years ago, the Sci-fi network (before it became “Syfy”) produced a show based on these books starring Paul Blackthorne as Dresden. It ran for only one season and got canceled before it could find an audience. I was sad to see it cut so soon because, as far as SFF procedurals went, it was a fun show and the only one of its kind at the time. It had all the action and mystery of the books without any of Dresden’s usual hang-ups, like his personality or casual chauvinism.

I went into this book expecting it to be like the show but better. Then I found out quickly they’re two different animals. This is one of those rare moments where I say something blasphemous like the adaptation is much better than the original because it was better made. Chicago and urban magic minus Dresden himself was basically what the show was like. It was a good decision to cut out book-Dresden’s personality and replace it with a better one. The show didn’t do well because it was on the Sci-fi channel, not because it deviated so much from the book series.

 

One last thing

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2 thoughts on “Review: Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) by Jim Butcher

  1. stephswint August 28, 2014 / 8:10 pm

    Love, Love, LOVE THIS REVIEW. You crack me up!

    Like

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