It is hard to believe that Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, came out more than a decade ago. Jim Butcher introduces his scrappy wizard-detective in this inaugural adventure. That was a more innocent time, and Harry was a more innocent character back then.
Harry is a working wizard in Chicago. He has an office with the word “Wizard” on the door and he advertizes in the yellow pages. (“No Children’s Parties; No Love Potions.”) Harry is the real deal, a powerful magical practitioner, but lately most of his income comes from the Chicago PD, particularly their Special Investigations or SI unit—think “X Files.” Early in Storm Front, his police contact Karrin Murphy requests his help at a shocking murder scene; a luxurious hotel love-nest sprayed with blood, a couple locked in the throes of passion with their hearts exploded out of their chests. Since this is Chicago, magic and organized crime intersect when the man of the couple is identified as a soldier of Gentleman Johnny Marcone, the city’s most powerful crime lord.
Harry must locate the murderer, a sorcerer powerful enough to control the murderous spell, and also find a missing husband who is dabbling in black magic. He confronts a powerful vampire madam, and John Marcone, each a dangerous entity, although in very different ways. He worries about the rising popularity of a new drug called Third Eye, which seems to give people paranormal powers. As if his life weren’t complicated enough, he has to dodge Morgan, a humorless wizard and Warden from the wizards’ White Council. Harry is under a Last Chance Agreement — as in, “mess up once more and we behead you” — imposed by the powerful council, and Morgan plans to do the honors. Morgan may be disappointed, though, since the sorcerer has already targeted Harry for death.
Butcher balances all of this. He gives us a few tantalizing tastes of Harry’s past, such as why he is under the order from the Council, and spends a fair amount of time explaining how magic works in this universe. In one chapter, Harry and his indentured air elemental Bob, who lives in a skull, mix potions. Harry’s potions are one of the best things of the earlier books, as he walks us through the magical ingredients; a base, an ingredient for each of the five senses, one for the spirit and one for the will.
Storm Front introduces us to characters we will grow to love. There is Murphy who, five feet nothing with curly blond hair, looks “like someone’s kid sister,” and who is a tough, practical and smart street cop with awards for marksmanship and aikido. There is the sexy, smart and dangerous Susan Rodriguez, reporter for the Chicago Arcane and Harry’s squeeze; Mac, the laconic tavern owner who may be more than he seems. There is Morgan, straight-laced, up-tight and Harry-hating. There is Bob, and a sprite named Toot-Toot who is fierce and loves pizza. In this first book we also begin to see the tightrope Harry walks between his mother’s shadowy magical heritage and his mundane father’s decency and strength.
For those who like noir, the book is plenty dark. Harry is a hard-boiled detective who can call fire out of the air, but bruises when he is hit and throws up when he has a concussion. He can mix an escape potion or a love potion to humorous and dangerous effect when the two get confused. Harry feels fear, like when he’s fighting a sorcerous scorpion the size of a golden retriever, but he masters his fear. No one pushes him around.
“No one pushes him around.” In some ways, this could be Harry’s motto. The character becomes bitter as the series progresses and moves away from the intriguing magic that is on display in Storm Front, but Harry’s stubbornness and will-power get our attention from the very first book.