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4.3 out of 5 stars
Storm Front: Book one of The Dresden Files
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on December 15, 2003
This is a mixed genre story, combining supernatural elements with a murder mystery. The protagonist, Harry Dresden, is a wizard/private investigator who also consults for the police. As the story begins, he's called in to help the police on a particularly grisly murder. The general tone and content of the book is very similar to the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series by Laurell Hamilton. Unlike Hamilton, however, Butcher has a very lean and fast-paced writing style. The action begins right away and something significant happens in every chapter, moving the story briskly along. You won't find Hamilton's multi-page repetitive descriptions of clothing or supernatural power in this book. So I was somewhat disappointed as the story began to approach the climax, that all the plot elements didn't fit together in the end. There were a lot of places in the story where the actions of the characters just didn't make complete sense once you knew the entire story. For example, near the beginning of the story a crime lord warns Harry to stay away from the investigation, which adds an additional level of danger and suspense, but in the end it didn't make any sense at all when Harry getting involved was exactly what the crime lord should have wanted. Then there were a number of convenient occurrences necessary for the plot to advance, but also didn't make much sense. For example, Murphy, Harry's police contact, gets a warrant to search his office. Now I don't know much about police procedures, so I could be completely wrong, but it struck me as contrived that Murphy was the only officer present for the search (it was necessary for the plot that she be there alone). Finally, Harry's magical abilities seemed to be primarily defined by what was necessary for the plot. For a wizard of his caliber, he seemed unusually weak in a number of circumstances.
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on March 5, 2003
Storm Front is Book One of the Dresden Files, and there are at least four published in the series so far.
In this book, we are introduced to Harry Dresden, a wizard living in Chicago and barely making a living as an investigator of the paranormal and consultant to the police.
As the story unfolds, Harry has a new client and is called to investigate a double murder by the police. We get to see Harry's life on multiple levels, as he works an outside job, and inside job, and attempts to deal with various issues in his personal life, such as dating, annoying faeries, and trouble with the unseen White Council.
I found the story intriguing, and although somewhat derivative, there were some interesting spins in creating a hard-boiled gumshoe wizard.
In creating a back story for Harry Dresden, author Jim Butcher has done a good job. In reading the book, I can tell that details of Harry's life have been thought out, that he has a family tree, there are rules to magic, and he has a history with his mentor. The White Council, while unseen, is represented by Morgan, a cross between a probation officer and grand inquisitor, and Dresden's nemesis. There are several sequences involving magical talismans, spells, potions and such that were interesting, and acceptable as far as magical realism.
Now for the bumps, and there were more than a few.
Another reviewer already commented on the issue of the canister and how Harry came to get it. I wondered also, why give it up so easily?
There was a very basic temporal gaff, when the day is referred to as Friday when it's already Saturday, and this is not just nit-picking because the day sequence is integral to the plot and Harry's fate.
Also, the plot just didn't hold together well, like the author was trying to do too much and tie things together with some implausible coincidences. He's called in to investigate a murder involving some mob guy and a woman, which leads him to connections with a more powerful mob guy selling drugs, and then into a connection with a black wizard peddling a drug that allows users to glimpse through the 'Third Eye' and eventually it's all a setup? Please.
Dresden's relationship with Officer Murphy didn't fly either. Why doesn't he just talk to these people? How can she slap handcuffs on him after she's been poisoned by a dog-size scorpion? Why does she think he's the killer? This just irritated me.
Morgan the wizard also thought Harry was the killer, and this bugged me because I thought the White Council would at least have some sense on who's using what kind of powers.
I had no problem finishing the book, because it was a quick read, and I'm interested enough in the big picture story to read the next one, but I hope the story plotting is better.
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on January 8, 2003
This is a truly enjoyable novel, but had several of those annoying moments where you slap your forehead and rein in the impulse to scream, "What was he THINKING?"
The minor stuff first.
(1) At one point in the narrative, Butcher needs to arm Harry with a handgun. For reasons we won't go into, it needs to be revolver, and it needs to be small enough to drop into an overcoat pocket. He chooses a Smith & Wesson Chiefs Special. A sound choice. (I should mention I make my living testing and evaluating firearms, primarily handguns, and writing them up for gun magazines, as well as being a firearms instructor.) But he mentions, several times, this is a 6-shot revolver. He hasn't done his research well enough to know the Chiefs Special .38 holds five rounds, not six. Like I said, a minor point, but jarring for a specialist in the area.
(2) Harry's friend has been seriously injured. As the EMTs take her, Harry babbles out instructions on how to treat her, "She's got a puncture wound in the shoulder. You may need to put on a tourniquet." False. Speaking as a graduate of the EMT course, one of the basic rules of applying a tourniquet is that it may only be applied to arms or legs, i.e. you're placing a constricting band between the heart and the wound site. You can't do that with a wound to the torso. Again, a minor point but irritating to those who know something about the topic under discussion.
(3) And here's the biggie, the one that absolutely drove me nuts. Without giving away too much of the plot, let's just say there's a scene where Harry is examining a lake front house that belongs to a missing husband he's been hired to locate. He finds, on the house's lawn, an empty, bright red film canister. Later we learn this canister was left behind by a photographer sneakily taking pictures of a orgy occurring in an upstairs room.
Later, for no discernible reason, Harry, in a depressed funk, wandering the streets, decides to break into a police secured murder scene and falls asleep on the floor of the murder room - a bedroom, lying by the bed in which the dead body was found. Why did he go to this room - even Harry says there's no good reason. Well, obviously it's because Butcher needs to get Harry there to move the story along. Because when Harry wakes up, he beholds, by the downward hanging edge of the bed's cover....a bright red film canister! And yes, inside it, it turns out, is the very roll of film that was taken at the lake house.
In order to believe this scene, we have to believe that (a) the photographer was so incompetent he arrived at the lake house in the dead of night, only then realized his camera was unloaded, while loading the camera on the lawn he dropped the film canister and just left it laying there. Okay, with a generous suspension of disbelief I can buy that part. (b) We have to believe that a police forensics team, investigating a murder scene in a bedroom, didn't happen to notice there was a roll of exposed film inside a bright red film canister laying by the bed in which the murder took place, and just left it laying there. Uh, no. The strings were showing in that one, the deus ex machina in full view.
So Butcher is weak in the area of research, and at times his plot depends on abolute impossibilities to move the story along. You ask me to believe in wizards and demons, I'm down with that. It's called magical realism. You ask me to believe a Chicago Police Department forensics team is so incompetent they overlooked something that had CLUE tattooed on it, didn't scoop that roll of film into an evidence bag and develop it at the first opportunity (hell, they didn't even take the bed covers for testing), that's not magical realism - that's impossible.
Still, for all that, believe it or not, I greatly enjoyed this book. For me, it's the character of Harry Dresden who carries the book. He's irresistibly good. I'll be reading the second book in this series shortly. The friend who loaned me the first book did say that, as the series progresses, Butcher's plotting skills improve over this first outing.
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on September 9, 2000
I bought this book on a whim and it turned out to be a good choice. I thought it was fairly witty (I even laughed out loud a few times). The sarcasm and wit seemed a little forced sometimes though. It was also semi-suspenseful. It had a few twists and turns but wasn't L.A. Confidential or Chinatown by any means. It did remind me a little of the Fletch series (books, not Chevy Chase movies) although not as funny or clever.
I found Harry Dresdan a likable hero. Overall the supporting characters were boardering on stale sterotypes but with just enough of a twist to keep them interesting.
The premise is pretty clever, it's kind of a cross between the X-Files and the comic book Dr Strange. I like the way Harry's exsistence and the role of magic are taken for granted (for the most part) by the police. Some are skeptical but grudgingly admit that there may be something to it.
I thought the villain was pretty balanced. I like the fact that he was inexperienced but powerful. It let Harry have the upper hand but didn't detract from the threat the bad guy presented.
All in all this was one of the better summer books I read. It went in fast but stayed with me for a few days.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2004
I really like the idea for this series. A wizard PI (Private Investigator) is a great premise and mostly I found the book enjoyable and real page-turner. However some things irritated me, like a couple other reviewers have mentioned (I'm obviously part of the the minority here due to the wave of glowing reviews here). Namely some plot holes, lack of realistic motivation for some of the character actions. Also Harry Dresden, the first person narrator, seemed a bit too smug in his world-view. After a particularly rough day on the job, Harry ends a chapter with "Do I have a great job or what?" Instead of coming across as a comedic or ironic counter-point to the obvious depression and despair Harry is feeling at the time, it comes across as a bit whiny, cliched and too cute. Sometimes I cringe at the lines Harry utters. Maybe I just read to many PI novels so Harry Dresden seems like a bad cross between the wise-cracking Elvis Cole from Robert Crais books, and the hard-hitting Heronymous Bosch from Michael Connelly series, except without as much humor and toughness from either character (both great series btw). Having read the gritty but fabulous sci-fi noir book, Altered Carbon, featuring Takeshi Kovacs, probably didn't help me endear myself to Harry Dresden either.
The other point I want to make is the lack of intelligence I sometimes feel from Harry Dresden. Often a good PI character is more insightful or more crafty and generally more "with-it" than the reader but a couple times in this book I went "huh, why didn't you do this instead." Case in point, Harry comes across a certain piece of evidence, two duplicate tiny containers if you will.(I don't want to write any spoilers so I'm deliberately vague here). One container holding something important, the other one empty. At one point in the story he reluctantly has to trade the full container to person in exchange for information. During the converstation, Harry, as a form of payback, uses his magic to destroy the container with fire thus foiling the informant's hopes to use it for personal wealth. I'm thinking if Harry is such a high powered wizard, why didn't he trick the person and give the empty container to the person and keep the full one for himself, especially since Harry ends up destroying the traded item anyway before the informant can open and check the container. What Harry destroys would be vital I would think, to his case and to Murphy, his cop friend.
Anyway, despite this I'm curious enough that I'll pick up the next book. The action in the book was nicely depicted and got me turning the pages in the latter half of the book. I hope Harry Dresden's character gets "smarter" and more insightful in the next novels. Sometimes its painful to read the events through Harry Dresden's eyes, especially after reading some books from masters of PI/Noir type novels. Check out a Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, or Andrew Vachss book for some tough PI characters. Or for some truly funny PI's, check out the Elvis Cole series from Robert Crais, or the PI novels from Kinky Friedman. If those are too traditional and you want a mix of fantasy, horror or sci-fi. Read Joe R. Lansdale's Hap Collins-Leonard Pine series for tex-horror, or Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs sci-fi novels.
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on April 15, 2003
This book of the Dresden series is the first and also the weakest. However, the series is actually great. The second book is better than the first and the third book shows that Mr. Butcher has pulled this series together. The fourth book is really great. I was also a fan of Laurell K. Hamilton, especially her early books, but I have lost interest because of the repetitive nature of her books. Some powerful vamp. or other nasty comes to town, or she goes to its town, and there is a contest of wills. This contest devolves into sexual intimidation of some sort and so on. I think Mr. Butcher understands what Miss Hamilton used to. Read their books and see for yourself, but for me, I plan on reading the Dresdon series from this point on.
Thanks
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on December 13, 2000
You have to love Harry Dresden , a down on his luck Wizard\detective for hire just trying to stay out of trouble while making a buck but that is just not going to happen easily and that is when the fun starts.
There is a secondary character that watches over Harry who I found a little one dimensional\unbelievable especially in the end .Also there is no sub-plot so the story moves along fairly quickly.Nontheless , I just love how he defines the creatures in this world .Harry's magic has limits which make for interesting confrontations and informers from another magical realm are always hard to deal with!I have already ordered the next book and look forward to many adventures with Harry Dresden.
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on November 9, 2003
I picked up this book on a recommendation. I live in Chicago and I'm always interested in books set there. This is a not-quite-typical paranormal mystery set in downtown Chicago, Illinois and surrounding area.
It's painfully obvious that this is the author's first book. There are places when it takes a bit to get into it and he stumbles around. However, the story is good and the lines are quick and funny. It's worth picking up and the rest of the series gets better.
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on May 3, 2014
The Dresden Files series has been compared to Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim novels. If Storm Front is any indication, it comes well short in my opinion. Sandman Slim is a far more interesting character, who plotwise, finds himself in much more entertaining situation, and is surrounded by better suporting characters. Storm Front has not made me want to rush to read further adventures, whereas I read the Kadrey books one after another.
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on September 13, 2014
I enjoyed it. There was a bit too much sexual stuff in it, straddling a line too explicit, at least for me. I found the writing long winded when Dresden was inner monologuing. The word count could have been less in that area, or maybe I was impatient and just wanted to get back into the action without him having to go off on things. It almost felt like he needed to reach a certain word count. But it was enjoyable.
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