Storm Front: Things can only get better…

The Dresden Files Storm FrontStorm Front by Jim Butcher

book review The Dresden FilesIt 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.

~Marion Deeds

Storm Front by Jim Butcher urban fantasy book reviewsDespite having missed the bandwagon by more than a decade, I am finally reviewing the opening novel of THE DRESDEN FILES: Storm Front. And not without a little caution, for the series has a hardcore fan following and is now a benchmark in urban fantasy with almost cult status. In an interview, Butcher said he was trying to write the perfect story, the one that makes you laugh and cry, and end the book with a glowy satisfied feeling. I was not left feeling glowy or satisfied, but hey — Butcher did say he’s still searching for that perfect story. Maybe it’ll crop up somewhere along the next fifteen novels in the series…

Harry Dresden is a professional wizard, as it says in his ad in the yellow pages. He finds lost items and carries out paranormal investigations, and, for more vanilla requests, consults and advises, too. Storm Front opens with his being called to a crime scene, in which a couple’s hearts have been blown out of their chests, their ribs exploded outwards (mid-copulation, I might add). Murphy, a ballsy police detective, thinks there can only be a supernatural explanation for the crime. She wants Harry to get involved.

When Harry returns to his office, a woman named Monica Sells is waiting for him with the second request to investigate the paranormal that day: her husband has gone missing, after messing around with dark magic. Though he suspects there’ll be a much more boring solution to this mystery (something seedy; an extramarital affair, perhaps) he agrees to take on the case. Apparently his bank account is as threadbare as his appearance.

So he investigates. He meets some vampires along the way (whose necessity to the plot I’m still not convinced of), some giant scorpions, a randy journalist. These things are all pretty fun in and of themselves, but my scruple was mostly with Harry himself. There just seemed to be a certain depth lacking to his character. Obviously the seeds of a back story were being planted, that will no doubt flesh him out in later books, but what does it matter if I’m not eagerly reaching for them?

I did enjoy how the two mysteries eventually intertwined, even though the reveal had pretty much been coming since chapter two. THE DRESDEN FILES probably needs a little more commitment than simply the first book, which, if I’m honest, felt like reading a more poorly-scripted version of Buffy, with a less kick-ass protagonist. And less funny too. Still, as a debut, it’s accomplished (‘an unusually well-crafted first novel’ say Locus), and by the size of the series’ fan base, the series as a whole obviously has more to offer. Just please let it be without the terrible one-liners, Harry. Please.

~Rachael McKenzie

book review The Dresden FilesI wasn’t too impressed with the first DRESDEN FILES book, but I kept reading and I fell in love with the series about half way through. Bob the Skull is my favorite character. This is quite a bit better than Butcher’s epic fantasy series. Much more creative with better characters.

~Kat Hooper

book review The Dresden FilesJustin’s raves about THE DRESDEN FILES caused me to pick up this first book in the series, and it’s — well, okay.  Not great, not particularly memorable, but a reasonably fun way to spend a few hours.  I’m surprised I didn’t like it more, given that it’s set in Chicago — my hometown — but all I can really say is that I might try another in the series, but I’m in no rush.

~Terry Weyna

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

View all posts by Marion Deeds


  1. Matt W /

    Several years ago, I read the first few chapters of Storm Front. Unfortunately I had, just before, read several of Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels. Butcher could not but pale in comparison (really, it’s not fair — like pitting Muhammed Ali against Daffy Duck in a prizefight), and I couldn’t finish the novel. I’ve kept The Dresden Files in the back of my mind for that mythical future time when I’ve nothing in my reading queue. It has a sizable following, so later novels in the series must improve on the first, right? Then again, people really like Deborah Harkness and Terry Goodkind. When reviewers I trust keep giving the novel such qualified endorsements, I find no incentive to move Storm Front up my queue at all. Thanks for the review!

    • haha. Matt, you won’t be finding any good reviews for Harkness and Goodkind here.

      THE DRESDEN FILES has a wobbly start. It gets better and better the further you read, which is really unusual (maybe unheard of?) for a fantasy series. At this point in the series (book 15), it’s really intense and emotional.

      However, if you don’t like Harry’s sense of humor, there may be no hope for you truly enjoying this series…

    • Thanks for your comment! Yes I do think with such a cult following they MUST get better (surely??). I guess I was taken aback because it’s so much more common to have a strong opener to a series that falters later on. For Harkness, however, there is no hope…

  2. As Kat says, the humor stays the same throughout the series, though the plots and characterizations get better and more complex, so if pop culture one-liners aren’t your thing you may want to skip the series.

  3. Rachel, about those one-liners… I have bad news for you.

    I think the DRESDEN FILES are getting a bit dated. When I first read them, I thought Butcher nailed it. He completely captured the scruffy private-eye tone, with the twist that the PI was a wizard. Since then magical PIs have proliferated. For me, and I’m the minority, the first four or five Dresden books were great, and then Butcher jettisoned everything original and plunged into EPIC BATTLE OF GOOD VERSUS EVIL. After that I kind of lost interest.

    • Marion, Have you tried Frank Tuttle’s Markhat series. He does a great scruffy PI. He’s not magic, but the setting is a whole other world where magic works. Best comparison would be maybe Glen Cook’s Garrett series. I really enjoy Markhat.

  4. I think 2 1/2 stars is pretty generous for this book. I made it all the way through it but I’m not sure how. Very poor writing and, yes, the humor is atrocious. Very, very cliche.

  5. I’m one of the raving fans usually, but as I am now on the 3rd re-read of the entire series, I can completely see the weak points of the series, and the less than stellar execution of some of the storylines.

    For me, the saving grace of the whole series is actually the audio books! And since you made a Buffy reference, I will not need to explain who the lovely James Marsters is or why his voice is like honey in your ears ;) I’m not really an audio-book sort of person, but these are wonderful and make the whole difference for me…

    And I agree with some of the others that (unfortunately), the books don’t really hit their stride until somewhere around the 3rd or 4th book.

    • I must completely agree with Camilla about the audiobooks. I read the series that way and I’m sure that Marsters’ performance had a lot to do with how much I enjoyed it.

    • Thanks for this! I would never have imagined James Marsters doing an audio book, but now that you mention it, what a perfect idea… I’m not usually one for audio books either but will definitely give this a try

  6. ok, I’ll admit it…Dresden Files may no…..errm *cough*

    ….may not be for…*cough*

    …man this is hard…

    Ok here I go for real this time…

    Dresden Files may not be for everyone. There I said it, happy?

    All kidding aside the books do improve further in the series, but they all keep a very similar structure that if those things don’t jive with you now…it will never jive with you. That’s ok, cause despite what rabid fans think…Harry isn’t for everyone.

    Now excuse me while I go put on my leather duster and pretend to throw fireballs at the dog. Fuego!

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