Storm Front by Jim Butcher
(First of the Dresden books)
(That's three and a half canaries, but who's counting?)
When I first picked up Storm Front by Jim Butcher, I was prepared to fall in love. It was an urban fantasy series that had snagged itself a strong enough fanbase to get one TV show season on the air (a series I watched and of which have no clear memory).
Harry Dresden is a PI. He specializes in finding lost things—especially people.
He also happens to be a wizard-on-retainer for the Chicago PD.
On the same day the down-on-his-monetary-luck Dresden finally gets a PI case, he’s called in by the Chicago PD to investigate a brutal murder that has the distinct whiff of dark magic.
I’m a sucker for these kinds of stories. It was a done deal I’d make friends and whip my way through these books.
That didn’t happen.
I ground to a halt in the second chapter, irritated by a narrator who was trying too hard to be witty and a story that was hitting just too many paranormal detective cliches. I switched over to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and thought of it no more.
A few weeks later, TheOtherCanary kicked me yet again and I reluctantly uploaded an audiobook version of the story onto my mp3 player. James Marsters-Spike-from-Buffy-the-Vampire-Slayer’s reading gave Harry Dresden voice a world-weary wryness that chucked that first problem right out the rolled-down windows of my car. Harry’s narrative voice no longer grated–I’d been reading the book wrong.
But the story itself still dragged, and I left off reading. That was two months ago.
Yesterday, on a whim, I started idly leafing through Storm Front again, and, on page 107, I realized that something extraordinary had happened. I was really and truly enjoying myself.
Once the waffle and shuffle dust of the set up disappeared in the rear view mirror, Jim Butcher crafted a damn good ride. Harry Dresden finds himself on a case–and the best part? Beyond the general sense of good-guy-will-triumph-in-some-final-confrontation, I did not (and could not) predict the twists of the story. It was a blind cliff-side trail leading up towards a foggy destination, and I loved the suspense.
Harry Dresden’s investigations lead him to the den of the city’s most powerful blood-sucking vampire (who happens to run a brothel),into the arms of a giant magical scorpion (roughly the size of a Smart car), and on the trail of an evil sorcerer (whose power feeds off sex).
Oh, and the Wizard Council—who thinks Dresden is one bad tracking spell away from going to the dark side himself—has sent a broadsword-wielding Warden to hound his steps, just waiting for a chance to cheerfully lop off his head.
By the end of the book, Dresden even managed to prove himself to be pretty badass, even if I still can’t buy the premise that wanting to protect and defend women is his Achilles’ heel (something he harps on quite often, as the women around him collapse into tears, try to rip his throat out, get poisoned, decide to arrest him, and/or die with alarming regularity).
The whipped-cream-icing-in-the-fridge treat in all of this was the fact that Butcher does not pull his blows when it comes to his darling character’s physical and mental well-being. Harry Dresden is dumped on the proverbial story road and then rammed several times by passing minivans. A metaphorical steam-roller meanders over him, closely followed by a drenching rain and a couple buggies drawn by horse with iron shod hooves. Harry Dresden did not have a good time in Storm Front–but I had a blast.
TheOtherCanary tells me that the series–and Marsters’ reading of it–gets even better. Yes please.