For those who have never heard of it before, but are wondering “what is Urban Fantasy?” it is a fiction genre that takes fantastical elements (magic, vampires, werewolves, demons, etc.) in a modern urban setting. Buffy, Supernatural, True Blood, Diana Tregarde are all examples of urban fantasy and The Dresden Files is the one I love best.
Asking me who my favourite author is would get you a different answer depending on when you asked me. Beginning of highschool I would have said Stephen King. By the time I finished highschool I would have told you Raymond E. Feist. Today I’ll say Jim Butcher (with Patrick Rothfuss very close behind).
Storm Front is Jim Butchers first published novel and is the one that kicks off the series which introduces us to Harry Dresden, wizard and private detective. I’m not going to do a review on the books itself. It was released over 18 years ago and the series has a large, enthusiastic fan base. Which means there are mountains of reviews for all of his books, but Storm Front alone has wizards, murder, mob bosses, vampires, demons, giant scorpions and a pervy skull on a shelf. What’s not to love about that?
Instead of telling you about individual books (as I’m writing this the series currently consists of 15 novels, two collections of short stories and an ongoing comic book series) I’d like to explain what I like most about Jim Butchers writing and the character he’s created.
From his first novel to his latest, Jim Butcher has improved as a writer with each publication. Some people will suggest that new readers skip Storm Front and start further down the series. Don’t. Yes, his abilities as a wordsmith improved with time but there is nothing wrong with the first few novels. The dialog is witty, the characters well defined, the pacing is good and never has you wanting to skip pages. Mr. Butcher is a better author now, but he was never bad.
Jim (can I call him Jim?) isn’t the only one who improves as time goes by. Harry Dresden does too. What I mean by that is in other series I’ve read, and some TV shows, the characters don’t change, their personalities are static. They keep making the same frustrating mistakes over and over again. They behave towards other characters the same way. Harry doesn’t. As the series goes on he learns that keeping people in the dark doesn’t keep them safe, that secrets just make people less trusting of you, that friends are there to help when you need them. In other words he grows and is shaped by his experiences just like a real person.
And like a real person he makes mistakes and gets hurt. A lot. Many of the books have at least one scene with Harry visiting the hospital or getting patched up by a friend after he’s had the crap kicked out of him. More Indiana Jones than Superman. Oh, and Harry has the absolute worst luck with women.
Another thing that I appreciate is the way other characters are handled in the series. There are some large book series I’ve read that just keep adding character after character without killing anyone off and it causes the story advancement to slow to a crawl (I’m looking at you Wheel of Time), The Dresden Files avoids this pitfall by simply not having everyone in each book. It’s Harrys story after all, not theirs and while you’ll grow to love Micheal, Thomas, Molly and the others, they aren’t in every single book, which will have you looking forward to their appearances in books that they do appear.
There was a short lived TV series, staring Paul Blackthorn based on the novels. It only lasted for one season, but it wasn’t bad, I actually kind of liked it until it got cancelled and I decided to read the books. Wow, the books were so much better. My biggest two complaints about the series are retlated to characters and story length. They changed characters for no reason (Bob the Skull is completely different), focused a lot on characters that are mere footnotes in the books and completely left out others (Fool Moon without Billy and the Alphas? Seriously?). The second issue I had was that they tried to cram the stories for entire books into single episodes. To be fair, this was in pre- True Blood and Game of Thrones days and it aired on SyFy, not HBO. I think if they were to re-boot it on a channel that would give the writers some room and let them take five of six episodes to tell a story, it would be fantastic. I can’t hate the series though, because if it hadn’t gotten cancelled, I might not have picked up the books… okay that’s a lie, I would have read the books anyway.
While patiently waiting for the next book (Peace Talks) to be finished and published, I can make up my own stories in the Dresden Files RPG from Evil Hat, or play their cooperative Card Game.