Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Yer a wizard, Harry

Book: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Published: 2000 (ROC)

Thanks to a good friend’s gift, I found out that there is at least one urban fantasy series out there that I genuinely like and don’t chuck across the room in rage at the grating mix of “because magic!” and Mary Sues in leather pants and dialogue that thinks it’s witty.
The first installment of the Dresden Files explains its magic as it comes up (and it actually makes sense, you guys), follows the misadventures of a disgruntled wizard who’s just trying to keep up with everything, and yeah, okay, contains its fair share of smartass dialogue, but it’s all put in a very human context that is rare enough to have put me off of a whole sub-genre.
Harry Dresden is a struggling private eye who find stuff for people using his wizarding powers. He’s part chemist (with help from a spirit named Bob that hides out in a disembodied skull), part energy-channeler (with help from atmospheric fluctuations if he gets brave/desperate enough), and mostly improviser with what he’s got and the increasingly weird knowledge he picks up along the way. Here he’s trying to figure out who could’ve gathered enough power to blow out the hearts of a series of victims, and he stumbles across a weird black magic cult headed by a dude gone crazy with his new-found abilities.
Harry feels like a former slacker who’s managed to pull himself up to the level of hard work and now has to battle with the indifferent luck of everyday life, including skeptical quasi-coworkers at the police station headed by a chief who mostly believes him. Mostly. She’s a good character, too, with a background that logically led to her current position and a constant internal struggle on how much she should let Harry do on the case, and she and Harry interact well as dependent on each other without any romance to artificially inflate the tension. It’s very refreshing. We don’t escape that completely with the two other female leads, who both turn into distressed damsels at one point or another, but the main plot doesn’t hinge on it.
The main thing about this book is that it’s fun and that is a very good thing unto itself, so this is definitely going on the bookshelf. I’ve glanced through the library’s catalog and we have at least the next couple, so I’ll probably end up checking those out sometime. I sound a little less enthusiastic about this because I’m still wary of series, and I know that this one gets into a hidden-under-world-magic-war sort of arc later on, and I don’t know how I feel about that yet. It’s hinted at very subtly and naturally here, but this is only the first book.

We’ll see!

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