I’ve heard the Dresden Files series called “Harry Potter for adults.” And while it’s an apt-description, I think it also does a disservice to the masterful work Jim Butcher is doing creating one of the richest and most entertaining on-going series of fantasy novels on the market today.
One huge plus for the Dresden novels is that Butcher has achieved the perfect balance of creating novels that are accessible no matter where you drop into the series (not an easy thing to do) and rewarding fans who have read all the books and will pick up little nuances and hints from story to story. The novels also have an effortless way of foreshadowing events to come in a way that feels completely natural, leaving the reader wondering about things but not feeling shortchanged if events hinted at or brought up aren’t directly addressed in the novel you’re reading.
And the biggest asset these novels have is the voice of Harry Dresden. Told from the first-person perspective of Harry, the novels invite readers in. I defy you to pick up one and intend to read for just a chapter and not look up several chapters later to see that time has slipped away and you’ve not noticed. That’s how compelling and interseting not only the universe of Dresden is, but also the Dresden character himself.
And it starts with the first three novels of the series. In a lot of ways Storm Front and Fool Moon are set-up novels that create and establish the rules for the Harry Dresden universe. Dresden is a practicing wizard/private investigator working out of Chicago. He works as a specialist consultant for the police force and is called in when strange things happen and require his expertise. Early on, it’s apparent that Butcher is treating his universe with the respect that Joss Whedon did in creating the Buffy-verse. Supernatural things happen and instead of reflecting on “wow, weird stuff is going down,” the stories take it in stride and use that as part of the overall element of telling the story.
Now, I’ll have to confess that I broke my usual “read them all in order” rule on these. I read the sixth novel first because the first page hooked me. I then read the third and then the first two. And yet, knowing how some things may play out, it never ruined the first novels for me. Again, this is a strength of the novels–they allow you to jump in for a couple of days or some big events in Dresden’s life. And there is some recap of previous events as needed–enough to tell the story in the latest book, but not so much as to discourage you from seeking out the other novels.
That said, I am going to try to review them in order and read the rest in order even though I have the latest one sitting at home, mocking me with its newness.
Storm Front and Fool Moon are novels that set up and estabish the universe of Dresden. We meet Harry and a wide range of the supporting characters from Lt. Karin Murphy to Detective Carmichael. In Storm Front, Harry is brought in on two cases–one from a woman who suspects her husband is abusing magic and the other being the brutal death of a couple in the throws of passion due from the use of magic. Harry’s investigation of the two separate crimes is intriguing and we slowly begin to realize that the two may be related. The novel ends with a great showdown with another powerful wizard. Along the way, you’ll encounter Bob, the spirit who lives in a skull in Harry’s lab, Johnny Marcone, a Chicago gangster and Susan, a love interest who is pivotal to the third novel of the series. It’s a nice introduction to the characters and the universe and the mystery is well plotted and the solution not telegraphed so far in advance that I guessed the outcome before Harry did.
In Fool Moon, werewolves enter the Dresden universe equations. The story continues to expand the Dresden universe and even makes the gutsy move of killing off a recurring character during the course of the story. Harry finds himself caught up in a conflict and with a rampaging louis-garoux on the loose. His already strained friendship with Murphy is tested even more and Harry is forced to go on the lam. The final chapters as everything comes together are superb. I’ll warn you that if you start reading the last hundred pages as you get ready to go to bed, don’t expect to sleep any time soon. They are page-turning and addictive. Also, Butcher is able to pull off a scene in which Harry is knocked unconsious and talks to an inner-version of himself in order to piece together the current mystery and offers hints at the future. This is a scene that could easily have been clunky or felt inserted because Butcher couldn’t find any other way to get from point a to point b. Instead, it works as a way to reasonably have Harry solve the mystery and to hook you into wanting to find out more in the later stories.
But it’s really Grave Peril where things begin to happen. Having spent two books meeting and getting to know Harry, it’s here the universe expands and we get a lot more hints about Harry’s past and backstory. It starts off with the simple concept of Harry wanting to save some babies from a ghost and expands from there. What I love about this novel is that it plunks us down as the events are unfolding and shows us that ghost apperances in Chicago have been going on for several weeks. Other authors could have included a clunky prologue to show this, but Butcher chooses to go with weaving the background into the story in a natural way that gives the books authenticity.
As the book unfolds, we find out Harry and Susan are an item, though Harry has reservations about allowing her too far into the supernatural world in an attempt to protect her from some of the nastier things out there. We also find out more about a deal Harry made and what he owes his faerie godmother. The various threads eventually merge in the stunning finale as Harry is dealt some critical losses.
It’s a brave, bold choice for only the third book in a series and it makes you respect what Butcher is doing and what he’s achieved with the series.
All three of these books are highly-readable and addictive. I defy you to pick one up for just a few chapters and not be drawn into the Dresden universe. If you’re only familiarity with Harry Dresden is the television series, I strongly recommend you jump into the novels immediately. Both are good, but the novels are, by far, a richer exper