21 May 2012

Storm Front (Jim Butcher)

Storm Front is the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, currently at 13 books and assorted short stories, all starring Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the only professional wizard on the Chicago PD's payroll. In other words, borrowing a phrase used by Salon to describe Kelly Link's Stranger Things Happen, it's a mix of Raymond Chandler and Buffy the Vampire Slayer--and as such, pretty darn irresistible.

I will say this: Butcher doesn't have the writing chops of Link by a long shot. I'm told he gets better as the series wears on, which is good to hear--it's not so much that Storm Front is badly written, but it doesn't always know when to stop, particularly when it comes to punchlines. And the female characters are not great.  Me, I'm willing to forgive these authorial flaws for a premise like "wizard detective," because COME ON WIZARD DETECTIVE.

It's also necessary in a Book One to unfurl a lot of exposition. Thus, we learn how magic works in this context: largely by harnessing emotional energy, though natural phenomena like thunderstorms can also provide power. Harry's got fraught relationships with law enforcement both municipal--obviously, not everyone at the CPD likes having a mage hanging out at crime scenes--and magical, as he's shadowed by a gruff representative of the White Council, who enforce the Laws of Magic. The first of which, of course, is not to use it to kill; when Harry's called to investigate a couple murdered in flagrante via their hearts literally exploding out of their chests, he's sickened by this perversion of profession, and shocked to learn that the White Council suspects him. We also meet other recurring characters: two possible love interests, a cop and a reporter; the barkeep at the local wizard watering hole; Harry's air-elemental lab assistant,Bob, who lives in a skull in his basement; his giant gray kittycat, Mister.

Really, Storm Front feels a lot like the pilot of a pulpy sci-fi TV show--again, Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes to mind, particularly that clunky first season. I'm willing to bet the series gets better in some ways (like Buffy's special effects) and doesn't in others (like Buffy's costumes), but that it always stays fun. Sometimes, that's all entertainment needs to be.

1 comment:

  1. If Jim Butcher continues to deliver fiction like this-and I truly hope he does-then the genre has just found another master. I recommend "Storm Front" to anyone who wants to lose themselves to a humorous, action-packed variation of the modern world for a few hours. Better than a good movie.


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