Scathing Review: Jim Butcher’s Storm Front (Dresden Files Book 1)
Just really quickly before we begin. I’ve had some downtime recently, brought on first by a concussion, followed closely by the flu. Today is the first day I’ve felt like a normal person (so there is potentially still a problem) in nearly three weeks. Or two weeks? I’m still a little unclear about the time I spent concussed.
Anyway, all for the best. I used the downtime to research and write a short story, the Vampires of Bifurquer Veine Marais, which made it onto Amazon over the weekend. What an incredible feeling. What I didn’t use that time for was making videos. Or readings. I certainly did a lot of reading, and also a lot of reading aloud, especially when concussed. It was very helpful just to be able to focus on the words, and have the thoughts aligning in my head instead of being a jumbled mess. Since having the flu and the raw throat that goes with it, I haven’t done any audio readings. Still reading, no readings.
That should be resolved in the next few days. I have about a dozen things I want to do readings for, and the sore throat is just going to have to lump it.
You know what else is gonna have to lump it? Harry Dresden. Yeah, I got some words for ya, Harry.
Let’s get to it.
As you may know, Storm Front has been on my reading list forever. It was published in 2000, and the series has since accumulated 14 books (soon to be 15), five ombibuses, and even a single season TV show. I’ve heard mixed things about the series; most people who comment on it really like it, but say it takes a few books to really get good. In that case I may have to keep reading, because Storm Front, despite the anticipation and the premise, did very little for me.
Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a wizard, the only one listed in the Chicago phone book. He’s a kind of cross of Anita Blake, Harry Potter and Thraxas, a loner wizard PI who is just too darn powerful for his own good.
The world is contemporary, with a few nifty differences. Magic abounds in Butcher’s Chicago, but it isn’t commonly accepted; it’s well known that a vampire runs a successful escort service, but mentioned you summoned a fairy last night and people will laugh.
We enter on Harry, behind on his rent, taking up a missing persons case for a new client. His client’s husband has gone walk about, and she’s willing to pay big money for Harry to find him. Her suspicion is that her husband’s disappearance has something to do with magic, and she would rather deal with Harry than the police. Harry has no sooner agreed to take on the case then he’s given another: the local police want his opinion on a gruesome double homicide, where the victims’ hearts have been torn out of their chests … apparently by magic.
So Harry’s in a pickle. As one of very few wizards in the city, he is an obvious suspect of the crime, even if he is helping catch the killer. It’s not only the police watching Harry: those old wizard dudes in the White Council are also keeping a very close eye, and a very close sword, on our man.
There were plenty of things I liked in Storm Front. I thought the world was very interesting, the magic a good mesh-up of systems where humans are limited by their physical forms – you can’t have too much energy going through you. Then there’s a little Harry Potter to it; Harry can call up spells in quasi-Latin and cast them at varying power, and the power given depends on the emotional angst put into the spell. So when Harry is frightened or angry he can cast more powerful spells than if he’s relaxing on the beach with a pina colada.
I also liked the abundance of magic. There are fairies and demons and vampires, really interesting, chiropteran-style vampires rather than that Twilight crap, and it’s all pretty hard-edged and grungy, a good Gotham City atmosphere. There’s mystery, although it’s pretty easy to work out even in the first chapter what happened. It has more of a 90s vibe than a new millennium vibe, no cell phones, no internet, no digital cameras, although Butcher explains this well with Harry’s magic fouling up any technology it comes across. This is consistent throughout the book and makes for several decent subplots, and it’s used very well.
What I didn’t like – in fact what I positively loathed – was Harry himself. Harry is a complete basement nerd wannabe hero. He falls short of both the hero and the antihero mark by a sizeable degree: Butcher tries constantly to make him tough and charming and human and Harry consistently comes across as self-absorbed (particularly in his views towards women), filthy, and unbelievable.
And I mean filthy. This guy seems to think it’s okay not to shower or change his clothes regardless of the company he might keep. He’s guilty of saying, “I hadn’t showered in a couple of days or combed my hair or shaved or anything else that might have made me marginally less unappealing. Ah well. I got the impression that with Linda, that sort of thing didn’t seem to matter too much. Maybe she was into eau des hommes.”
Let’s just get this clear: Linda is an ex-escort. She comes across as a bit of a minx, but also one with valuable information to share. Harry makes the connection that because she’s a prostitute, she’s into men who look and smell like hobos.
I can’t tell you how much that pissed me off when I read it. Of course, stand alone, I wouldn’t care. But in a book where Harry constantly references the length of his own legs, how huge he is compared to every woman in the book, how tiny and petite and weak they are, it drove me crazy. Harry, you are a big gross jerk who can’t stop talking about the length of your legs. You’re only six foot tall! Above average, yes, but it’s hardly gigantic. Unless the women in the story are all four foot high, you’re not going to completely dwarf them.
Nor was I impressed with Harry’s character development. That is to say, he didn’t. There were a few faux pas made; will Harry leave someone to die, will he switch to the dark side. But considering they spring up out of nowhere, no lead-in, no prior thought or action in their favour, they are more of an irregularity, and seem unnatural for Harry to even consider.
So that was my Harry rant. I didn’t like him. I didn’t mind the book. The prose was clean but a little over written, I had the feeling I should have been laughing, but the book got one or two snorts from my cute lady nose, and a lot of flats. It’s very comparable to other paranormal crime works, Anita Blake in particular. But Harry has nowhere near Anita’s balls. He lacks the wit of James L. Wilber’s Christopher Yan. He’s pretty much the anti-Johannes Cabal (who is the same height, by the way, and never mentions it once.) I DID like the world, I liked the magic, and I would probably read volume two … though I’m not in any hurry for it.
If you’re into paranormal crime, you’ve probably read this and read better. The biggest appeal here are to fans of paranormal fiction looking to further explore the genre.
I’m giving it 2.5 stars.
Okay! Now please please please check out the post below. If you haven’t seen it, I promise it will make your day. It’s nothing out of my mouth, so that should help.