Strap in folks, because this is going to be a long one. And in that, I meant that this is the first in a long series of reviews. That’s right, I’m doing all the Dresden File books, with breaks to talk about writing and RPG as always.
Storm Front follows Harry Dresden as he goes from struggling to make his rent to suddenly being the center to too much attention as a series of murders start across Chicago. Why is he involved? Because Harry is a wizard (save the Harry Potter jokes, please), and not only does he consult with the police on any murder where magic is a likely culprit like now, but he has been hired by a woman to find her husband, who has been dabbling in magical forces. To make everything more complicated, Harry’s past lurks over his head and could take his life if he puts a toe out of line. Almost literally. And then the mob is involved. Some days, it obviously doesn’t pay to get out of bed.
Not that Harry gets to see his bed much in this book. The pacing is pretty rapid-fire, and is constantly going. And snowballing. It was one of the strongest parts of the story, since it made it hard to put the book down. Some of that was the very nature of what the character did professional. PIs (which is basically what Harry was in this book) allow a writer to constantly throw stuff at them. What made it impressive was how everything dovetailed together. It is completely possible to have a sub plot that doesn’t go anywhere thrown into a PI-type plot, but this time it actually worked well with the main plot and kept feeding the tension instead of distracting from it.
Another thing well done was Harry’s interaction with other characters. The descriptions were great, especially from a first-person view point since they showed some of Harry’s personality as well as what they were looking for (I’m a sucker for a two-for). We saw him not only in direct, physical conflict with people, but with intellectual conflict, even with people that he liked. It was also great to see a non-romantic relationship between the male character and the female. Harry had a healthy, sisterly relationship with Murphy, and if it develops into a romance later on in this series, I might cry in frustration unless it is done just right.
Enough of the virtues, though. I did have a couple of problems with this book that I could technically forgive, but on the other hand, I can’t. One is the lack of a mental image I have of Harry. This is my big problem with first-person view point books. It is so difficult to get the details of what he looks like out, and out quickly. As a result, I know Harry’s personality, I know his history, I even know his powers and magical abilities. But I’m really spotty on what he looks like, mostly because it took him so long to get that information to us. To a certain extent, you can rely on cover art, but then you have people who get the bad luck to get the end of the cover art budget so the protagonist looks like the exact opposite of your character. It’s something that’s a struggle with any book, and in this case it just showed for me.
The other problem I had was the world. At first, I blamed this on the fact I’ve never left a set little area in Oklahoma/Texas with a couple of exceptions. Chicago was as foreign to me as Paris or London would be to anyone else. But then I realized that Chicago had very little to do with the problems I was having, since I’m pretty good at adapting to new cultural norms/landmarks. The problem was the magic. In some cases, I got enough information that I understood it, and sometimes the lack of details made sense because you can’t dump everything into a book. But overall, my feeling for the fantasy of the world is pretty disjointed. We’ve got fae, we’ve got the standard wizard stuff, we’ve got a few twists on the traditional. I’m not saying it didn’t work completely, but I feel like it could have been smoother.
Over all… It was the first book in a series. It was capable of standing alone, but it could be extended upon easily. Some aspects of it were clumsy, and the obvious hints that there were going to be more to this story sort of bothered me, but that’s me. I like each book to be it’s own little thing, and leaving little hints just annoys me if they are too overt. I’ve learned from several reliable sources that the series gets better as it progresses, so I’m hopeful for the series as a whole. I just wished there weren’t so many obvious, “Here, I’m going to mention this really important thing…and then not talk about it so you’ll read the second book.”