REVISITED: Storm Front (Dresden Files #1) – Jim Butcher

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Author: Jim Butcher (website / twitter)

UK Publisher:  Orbit

Genre: Contemporary fantasy

Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I.
Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.

Harry’s business as a private investigator has been quiet lately – so when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, he’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name.
Magic – it can get a guy killed.

I first started reading these books when I was at University, on the recommendation of a friend. The same friend, actually, who recommended The Raven Cycle to me. I had never read anything like them, I loved them. I forced myself to ration them in the hopes that I wouldn’t run out, although alas it eventually happened. Orbit books announced on the 16th December however that the next book in the series, Peace Talks, is due out in Summer 2020, so this seems like a good time to start revisiting them. Not least because I can’t quite remember what happened throughout the series.

As you might remember from my review of Alice’s Nightmare In Wonderland and the Avatar comics, I have been working with a student to build his reading skills after a very late dyslexia diagnosis revealed he’d been basically left without the appropriate support for literacy for his entire school life. He’s worked so incredibly hard and come amazingly far during our time together, and we decided it was time to try a novel. As he’s a fan of fantasy books, I thought this would be a fun starting point. I chose it because I knew he’d enjoy the premise, but also because Harry’s voice is very colloquial and informal. The narrative doesn’t get bogged down in trying to be too poetic because that’s not the way Harry thinks. He has moments of a little floweriness, but mostly he’s grouching and sassing his way around the city in his own inimitable way.

It’s been a while since I read Storm Front and, on a revisit, I can see that perhaps it’s not the strongest of the series. Which is very fair for a first novel, before the whole scope of the world and plot came into play. Unfortunately the other thing I noticed was that in the early books at least Harry is a bit of a dick. Every woman he meets is assessed by how attractive she is (and most of them are attractive because why would a PI come across any other kind of woman?). He insists he’s being a gentleman by constantly opening doors for Murphy, even though she has expressly asked him not to because it undermines her position in charge of a very masculine unit, a position she has had to work hard for. He’s there going “well it’s the gentlemanly thing to do, even if she doesn’t want it,” when the real gentlemanly thing would be listening to what the woman has expressly said she wants and doing that instead you jackass.

Butcher has come under a fair amount of criticism for the way he portrays women in his books – the fact that Harry can clock the exact amount of makeup a woman is wearing every time is interesting, because as a woman I can’t always tell when other women are wearing makeup. There’s also a small meme doing the rounds about how yes women wear bras, they’re not always wandering around braless, although I think that one is more pertinent to later books than Storm Front.

With this, it’s a much more traditional PI story, contained within a set storyline with only a few hints to the wider world. There feels like quite a few references to sex in it, which I had forgotten about in these early books, and I wonder if there are more in this one because Butcher was trying to create a sexiness which perhaps is lost when reading the book as a pair for tutoring purposes. I know there are actual sex scenes in later books, but I didn’t recall these references appearing so early on and suspect that Butcher was hitting harder for book one to try and grab an audience.

Despite it all, though, I still love these books. I will keep striving to try and find books which make me feel the same way but which give me a woman’s perspective (I feel like I’ve got very close with Trail of Lightning), but this series is so incredibly expansive as it goes along, and I do want to know more about the world and how it resolves. I wonder, as well, if Harry mellows a little as the books go on. I will try and re-read more of the series prior to the release of Peace Talks, to see if Harry’s White Knight complex is still as strong as in book one (I mean, one of the books is literally called White Knight, which would suggest… probably it is).

As an introduction to the world, I feel like you’d be better starting with book two, Fool Moon. That book feels a little stronger in terms of plot but also broader in the scope of its world building. Storm Front is designed to be a standalone, so you don’t miss much by skipping it. Perhaps the only part you’d miss would be the introduction to Harry’s antagonism with Morgan, and the background of the Doom of Damocles that Harry is under (sort of a Wizard probation, which means he’ll be executed if he looks like he’s going to turn evil). But I think the world is rich and developed enough in later books that missing that small detail won’t impact on your understanding or enjoyment.

I’m a completionist though, so there was no way I was going to miss this out of my collection. It’s quite a quick read, it’s short and easy to get through, and if you want something fun and accessible then it’s worth checking out.

Briefly:

  • An accessible contemporary urban fantasy, the first in a series which grows hugely expansive and ambitious in scope, although this particular instalment is perhaps a little flimsy in comparison to later books.
  • There are some elements which seems to have been included perhaps for shock value to show that this isn’t just any other nice book about wizards. I’d perhaps not recommend this for younger than older teens really.
  • I really hope that Harry tones himself down in later books, since I had forgotten his “I’m a gentleman, that’s my weakness” thing, and I find it a little grating on the re-read.

Rating: 3/5 – I do have great affection for these books, but this one really isn’t the strongest I don’t think.

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