Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Book 1 of The Dresden Files)

I’ll be honest. We’re three weeks away from the release of the new Kate Daniels book and I am desperate to find things that will tide me over until I can get my hands on Magic Breaks.* The obvious nicotine patch was The Dresden Files, one of the most popular ongoing urban fantasy series. It didn’t hurt that my husband (whom I have successfully hooked on Kate Daniels) has been advising me to read Dresden for months.

Book 1 of The Dresden Files, Storm Breaks, introduces us to a modern Chicago that’s just a tiny bit different from our own. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is the only wizard in the Chicago phone book, and most of the calls he gets are from cranks who want to mess with him. He gets by, however, because Detective Karrin Murphy of the the Chicago Police Department calls him in as her consultant when a crime scene is just a little too weird.

Storm Front follows Harry as he tries to juggle two cases. The first involves a missing husband named Victor Sells, whose wife Monica seems to actually think Harry is the real deal for once.

The second, and more disturbing, case involves two murders: a high-class prostitute and a mobster killed when someone caused their hearts to explode out of their chests.

I enjoyed Storm Front; it was a quick and compelling read. And yet, it felt a tad predictable. Nothing about the mystery, or about the world-building, really surprised me or made me sit up and take notice of Dresden’s world. I felt like I’d read this all before in other urban fantasy books.

Which is a slightly unfair reaction. Storm Front was published in 2000, after all. Fourteen years later, things that were innovative when Butcher first wrote them have become routine, even clichéd, parts of the urban fantasy landscape. But in a genre that I expect to surprise and intrigue me, that sense of familiarity was definitely a drawback.

I also didn’t love Harry’s attitude towards women, which occasionally verges on chauvinistic. However, Butcher manages to pull off a rare feat: in a first-person narrative, he finds ways to undermine Dresden’s worldview, whether it involves Murphy being a total badass or a sharp reporter getting the best of Dresden almost every time they meet. I think we’re supposed to roll our eyes at Harry when he gets a bit dumb about women, but I kind of wish Butcher had picked a less annoying character flaw for Harry.

In the end, however, the true test of a series’ first book is whether you want to read the second. I definitely did. This classic series may now feel a little worn, but it still has a lot of charm.

Rating: Library Loan

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Moral dilemma time, folks. Should I buy Magic Breaks for Kindle? I adore Amazon’s convenience and can’t imagine life without my e-reader. But the Amazon-Hachette battle has left me very uneasy. While I acknowledge that Hachette is a giant multizillion dollar media conglomerate that can defend itself, thanks-very-much, more and more I worry that buying e-books from Amazon makes me complicit in their plan to become a monopoly. And not the fun kind with top hats and second prizes in beauty contests.

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12 comments on “Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Book 1 of The Dresden Files)

  1. Keep reading. This series does get better.

  2. Amazon has a history of not including the “buy now” button if they don’t get the discount they want from publishers of all sizes. They are bullies and a behemoth. Support your local independent bookstore!

    OK moving on. I also found Butcher borderline chauvinistic. Your hero may be a charming cad, but you can still make female characters more interesting and three-dimensional. I discovered this series through the TV show “Dresden Files,” which you might enjoy.

    They don’t have the Kate Daniels series at my library. Why? Why??

  3. I second the vote that it gets better–the first one is set-up and stuff starts falling out soon, and then gets bonkers in the most fun way. I think also that the point is that he’s a bit of a caveman when it comes to ladies–he gets over that some as the stories go on, too, and he grows up. There’s lots of growing up.

  4. Bri says:

    Re Amazon, I feel like it’s worth investigating what other avenues the author has made her book available. For example, maybe she has it for sale via her website or some other e-retailer (Indiebound? Books on Board? Smashwords?). If it seems like it’s coming from a major publisher rather than self/small press publishing, the only options might be Amazon or B&N for the e-book version.

    Btw Ilona Andrews appears to have some free books on Smashwords. 🙂

  5. So, I do want to read this, and I am also trying to figure out whether it’s going to be TOO chauvinistic, to where I can’t deal with it, versus the character being undermined enough by events that I’ll still enjoy it. Mm, decisions decisions.

    I have no advice to give about the Kindle. I don’t buy that many books for my Nook — I feel anxious that when I “buy” ebooks, I’m really only licensing them, so if I want to OWN a book, I just buy it in hard copy — so mostly my thing is checking out books from the library’s Overdrive system. Then I can use the Kindle feature of my iPad without feeling guilty, or feeling like I’m weighing in on the wrong side of the Amazon/Hachette dispute.

    • So, I get pretty throat-punch-y when a book is too stupid about women. This wasn’t that, for me – I just felt like Harry was a dope, not the books.

      OTOH, I didn’t feel like this book contained any setup that would be crucial for Book 2. Dresden fans, would you suggest Jenny jump straight to a later book?

      Re: Kindle – I have the same worries about licensing vs. owning a non-library book. It is possible, however, to de-DRM a book – it’s a pain but it can be done. Also, I’m a big fan of publishers like Tor that sell ebooks without DRM.

  6. pensyf says:

    Everyone told me the Dresden books would get better/Dresden himself finally learns how not to be a chauvinist, but I couldn’t stick the series out that long. It was sort of like Dollhouse (the Joss Whedon show) syndrome for me — I could see where the books were trying to critique or subvert partriarchy/misogyny/rape culture, but that critique often felt indistinguishable from the very kinds of misogyny it purported to stand against. Also, could not stand the Bob the Skull character. Felt very much like Butcher trying to have his cake (oh look, give my main character cookies for learning to be less of a cad!) and eat it too (having a different character spout all kinds of offensive stuff and getting away with it because “he’s just gross/offensive like that”). Anyway, my strong feelings, let me show you them….

    Re Kindle, I don’t know either. I feel suspicious of Amazon, but also love the convenience and not having to figure out where to put Even More Books in our small apartment. My compromise for myself has been that I buy all my school-related reading (both literature and theory, since I like/need to annotate) in hard copy from independent bookstores, and if an author I love puts out a new book I’ll buy it in hard copy. My other pleasure reading I mostly do via e-reader these days, though if I really love an e-book enough to want to push it on friends, I’ll buy hard copies to give away.

    • I didn’t love Bob the Skull. Bummed to hear he makes frequent repeat appearances. Shut up, Bob.

      Bookshelf space is my big concern too! If I didn’t have an eReader we would literally be living in books. I like your solution of buying academic books from small stores and circulating paper copies of beloved ebooks.

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