Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Storm Front, by Jim Butcher

Jim Butcher's debut attempt at crossing Urban Fantasy with Hard-Boiled Noir is not that bad, but it's not that good.

Storm Front

ROC, 2000, 322 pages

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever.

There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry'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. And that's when things start to get interesting.

Sometimes it seems like I am the only person in the world who has not yet read Jim Butcher. I know people who looooove the Harry Dresden series, and then there are people who, well, don't. (And holy shit, the comments she gets on that post! Jim Butcher fans are really, really devoted to Jim Butcher! She doesn't get that much reaction to "Kill all men" and "Death to America.")

I'm gonna say that the inimitable acrackedmoon is not wrong in her analysis, but whether or not you actually hate Harry Dresden will depend on your tolerance for annoyingly cliched tools used to entertain you. I mean, I like reading Ian Fleming, so it would be silly (or at least inconsistent) for me to claim that Jim Butcher is particularly egregious or untalented. Butcher is not a great writer — at least not in this book — but he's not an altogether bad one, and Storm Front is a moderately entertaining caper about a Chicago wizard/PI who has the usual problems of scraping up rent, a missing person to find, mobsters on his case, shadowy nemeses who want him dead, femme fatales, and magic and vampires and faeries and a lecherous talking skull thrown into the mix for fantasy flavor.

Suspensions of disbelief are always required in UF, and my biggest one was actually a fairly prosaic concern: dude has magic powers, in a world where those are pretty rare (the book is not altogether consistent about whether the wizarding world — yeah, I'm gonna call it that — is "secret" or just generally goes incognito) and yet he's struggling to pay his bills. Okay, I get it, Magic Has Rules and you can't just conjure up a pile of gold, but still, as the only wizard in the entire Chicago area, and supposedly a pretty formidable one (despite the fact that he gets his ass kicked by everyone he meets, magical and mundane alike), you'd think Dresden could come up with more innovative ways to profit off of his talents than advertising in the phone book as someone who will find your lost wallet.

Some of the worldbuilding is intriguing (the White Court, the rules of wizardry which seem to be reasonably well thought out without being excessively infodumped) and some are just lazy (vampires, faeries, ghosts, etc., Butcher seems willing to drop the whole fantasy kitchen sink into his universe).

As a character, Harry Dresden is indeed a neckbeardy fanboy's wet dream, a clueless virgin who most of the gorgeous women he meets (all of the women he meets are gorgeous) throw themselves at, so he can manfully refuse their advances and congratulate himself on what a stand-up guy he is for not exploiting the chicks whose boobs he's totally not ogling. We get lots of passages about what a tortured bad-ass he is: his "soul-gaze" routine, where he looks into someone's eyes and they see into each other's souls and most people faint because Dresden is so, so dark inside, man! — is kind of contradicted by everything else he does, which is bumble around cluelessly, get bushwhacked by thugs with baseball bats, bullied by cops and mobsters, and try to figure out those mysterious confusing lady-creatures.

That said... the book was fun in a well-trodden way, there were some small bits that were neat, and I found it passably entertaining. Do I really want to go on and read the rest of the series? Practically every Dresden fan says that the first few books aren't very good but Butcher gets a lot better deeper into the series. That's not exactly an alluring prospect: "Read two or three mediocre books before you really get into it." But at some point I'll probably pick up the next one.

Poll #1919287 Storm Front

Have you read Storm Front?

Yes, and I liked it.
Yes, it was okay.
Yes, and I didn't like it.
No, but now I want to.
No, and I'm not interested.

Have you read the other books by Jim Butcher?

Yes, I'm a fan.
Yes, but I didn't like them.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, fantasy, jim butcher, reviews

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened