June 8, 2011


by Jim Butcher
352 pages, Orbit

Review by Paul Fenton

I have a new guilty pleasure, and his name is Jim Butcher.

My guilty pleasure used to be Dean Koontz books, but there comes a point in these things where they transition from trashy-yet-entertaining to just plain bad. I think I reached that point with Koontz about eight or nine years ago. It's the characters who ruined it for me, protagonists who are always noble and brave and burdened by mountainous morals, and whose flaws go as deep as saying "gosh darnit" on Sundays. I tried plugging the guilty pleasure gap many times, but there never seem to be enough books to build momentum; or if the quantity was right, quality suffered.

Enter Harry Dresden in the first book of the Dresden Files: Storm Front. Harry works out of Chicago as a private investigator. Also, he's the city's only professional wizard, complete with potions and spells and a staff and a blasting rod.

Yeah, a blasting rod. I admit, it took me a while to get past that one, and I'm not sure I'm there yet. I become ultra-conscious of people reading over my shoulder on the tube, their eyes alighting on blasting rod as they think, what are you, twelve? Harry's blasting rod: he focuses his will and blinding white magical energies spill forth from it. Happens to the best of us Harry, at least to those of us equipped with blasting rods.

Storm Front follows Harry as he works to solve a case of hearts exploding right out of people's chests, and we meet more than a few key characters who feature in subsequent novels: Karrin Murphy, head of Chicago PD's Special Investigations unit, kind of like an X-files for cops; the White Council, the ruling authority of wizards who watch Harry under probationary conditions with a very sharp sword held just above his neck; Susan Rodriguez, reporter for Chicago's trashy tabloid The Arcane; Bob the Skull, Harry's own enchanted wikipedia for wizards; and Johnny Marcone, a genuine Chicago gangster. There are also vampires, and faeries (not "fairies", I think the Gaelic spelling lends the little scamps more street cred), and demons (though not "daemons").

In Storm Front, Harry determines that the hearts-blowing-out-of-people's-chests trick is being perpetrated by someone with formidable magical talent. The White Council agrees, because they think it's him. Harry has to solve the crime to save his head, armed with little more than his wizardy skill, a quick wit, a talking skull and some magical potions.

Oh, and his blasting rod. His long, powerful blasting rod.

I've burned through four or five of these books in the blink of an eye, they all blend together like a TV series, each book hooked together by a clutch of story arcs. They do read a bit like a TV series. I was reading a cover quote on one of them where the reviewer likened Harry to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and that's when I realised why I was getting so far into these books: they were filling my Buffy hole.

My Buffy hole, that cold void left by the end of said series. Could it be that my Buffy hole has been filled by Harry Dresden and his blasting rod?

Er, maybe not. Let's just say it's a fun read.

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