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Review: The Dresden Files (Storm Front)

25 May

I’m not sure how I managed to go so long before discovering the Dresden Files series.  The series has run for about 12 years so far, composed of 13 novels and 2 short story collections and even had a short-lived TV series on Sci-Fi/SyFy.  Yet somehow the first I heard of it was about 3 years ago through the blog of one my favourite authors, Patrick Rothfuss.  Since then I’ve heard about it everywhere, like a word you’ve never heard before then everyone else seems to say it all the time.  From the many times its come up on my favourite book club podcast, authors blogs and my friends who are a little more clued in than me, it seemed pretty obvious that this was one to look out for.

The Dresden Files is a fantasy/mystery series set in modern-day Chicago and follows the investigations of a wizard named Harry Dresden who spends his days working as a detective, occasionally doing some consulting for the local police force.  It seems that a major side effect of being a wizard is that technology starts to fall apart when he gets too close, whether it’s a fancy mobile phone, a car, or even a simple gun.  Between this and the inhabitants of Chicago not being too confident about hiring a “wizard” to help them out he’s forever struggling to make ends meet, giving the series the feel of a 1930s hardboiled detective novel, which I just so happen to be a casual fan of.

The series starts with the unfortunately named Storm Front (sharing a name with a white supremacist neo-Nazi group is rarely a good thing).  I started reading this one partway through The Amber Spyglass, after thinking that the way Lyra’s dream sequence just cuts out at the end of the first chapter was a result of a badly assembled eBook, rather than artistic style.  It wasn’t too long, so I expected it would take me maybe a week or so of bus journeys to/from work to finish up.  Instead it took 3 days of reading it every chance I could bring it up on my phone or Kindle, whether it was waiting for the bus, standing in the queue at the chip shop, or missing the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

Harry Dresden doesn’t seem to been cast the best lot in life, as the book reveals early on. Trained in the ways of magic by a fairly unscrupulous teacher who he kills in self-defence when he refuses to become involved with the dark arts he finds himself blacklisted by the higher-ups of the wizarding community. Even worse, the warden assigned to keep an eye on him is particularly zealous, ready to execute him at the slightest sign of him breaking any of the rules governing the use of magic.

Back in the present day, the police have a new case for Harry Dresden, investigating a particularly gruesome killings performed using dark magic. Unfortunately, this case seems to have drawn a lot of attention from other less-reputable members of society, leading him on a merry chase involving vampires, crime lords and even the odd demon. Worse still, his ever-likable warden suspects that Dresden himself is responsible for the killings, and is eager to have him put on trial and executed for his crimes. On top of all this the police don’t pay in advance, and Harry’s already overdue on next month’s rent. Luckily he does have one client who’s willing to pay in advance, but trying to find the time to help her out on top of everything else proves a little tricky.

As you can gather from my quick summary, this book’s pretty damn packed. There’s not a single chapter in which didn’t have me glued to the pages and desperate to find out what happened next.  You’d worry that a wizard might have an unfair advantage over many people, but as it turns out that’s not really the case unless you’ve had enough time and resources to prepare. Trying to wave your arms around and mutter some half-remembered words of power doesn’t really have the same effect when someone’s repeatedly hitting you over the head with a baseball bat. The author, Jim Butcher, manages to take things such as magic, demons and vampires and merge them in such a way that it doesn’t really feel out-of-place in the otherwise regular, mundane world.  It’s also worth noting that the audiobooks are read by James Marsters of Buffy and Angel fame, and that’s pretty damn awesome.

The only thing stopping me from reading the rest of this series immediately is that we’re already approaching the end of May, yet this is only the 3rd of the 12 books I decided I’d read this year, and most of those are pretty hefty reads. Once I’m back on track with them, I’ll be coming right back to find out what happens next.

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