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Reviews Comments: Storm Front: A typical potboiler. The Dresden Files film/book review by Robin Zimm

Once upon a time, an amateur writer enrolled in a writing class to learn more about the art. While a member of this class, he, frustrated with his teacher's advice, intentionally wrote a novel to be utterly formulaic and derivative.

That novel then got published and, in my ignorance, I purchased and read it.

Storm Front is not, despite its author's intentions, a dreadful book. As we at TV Tropes have often said, Tropes Are Not Bad, and neither is formula - there's a reason why these patterns persist, and it is because they are reliable ways to create a good story. But like most hack writing, it is rarely surprising, barely original, and never insightful. You will not be smarter, wiser, or better educated in any sense after reading this book; you will merely be an hour or two older. A pleasant hour or two, possibly, but that's all.

(I say "possibly" - meaning Your Mileage May Vary - due to the protagonist's reactionary attitudes towards women, a cringeworthy scene halfway through with a "love" potion, and a plot-driven lie.)

If troperiffic urban fantasy is your thing, I won't stop you, but there are better ways to spend your time.

Edit 2011-02-18: A recurring theme in the responses to this is, "Read the whole series!" As a devoted reader of webcomics, I can understand the idea of Growing The Beard, and there was at least one truly excellent action scene in the book — but all I can evaluate is what I read, and on its own I do not believe Storm Front withstands critical scrutiny.


  • Tom
  • 25th Sep 09
I sorta agree, sorta disagree.

Perhaps my opinion is influenced because I read the entire series. Storm Front is by no means bad, but SF as well as the second book of the series(Fool Moon) are without any doubt in my mind, the worst parts of the series. I completely agree with the complaint about Poor Communication Kills which really annoyed me in the first two books, but it largely goes away once GP starts.

Grave Peril/Summer Knight is the turning point and that's where the books get consistently good/excellent.
  • RobinZimm
  • 25th Sep 09
I would like to see a review of the entire series talking about this sort of thing - it would definitely be good to know how the writing and plotting evolved, and as someone who didn't make it to Page 4 of Fool Moon, I don't know. (Like I said: it's only a review of the one book.)

Quite frankly, I'm willing to believe that Butcher improved. The scene with the scorpion at his office, and the way that scene ended, was straightforwardly and absolutely good writing - that scene would be a good scene even in a book by a really first-rate quick-turnaround writer, a Charles Dickens, or a Bram Stoker, or a Jeffrey Channing Wells. But somebody else has to show me that in a way I can believe for me to spend my time looking.
  • Neep
  • 18th Oct 09
As you say, Storm Front is quite formulaic. Almost the entire plot is obvious from about a quarter of the way into the book. Later books, especially those involving the Fae, Denarians, or White Court, have more complex and interesting plots and more awesomeness.
  • RobinZimm
  • 19th Oct 09
Write a review!
  • 23rd May 10
Hmm - I've been looking to get into the Dresden Files, and I wanted to start somewhere good. Would it be okay to just skip the first book, then, or should they be read in sequential order?
  • Thebazilly
  • 24th May 10
You've touched on all my complaints here, reviewer. I've only read through Fool Moon, but I keep hearing the series gets better. I have seen spots of genius (such as the aforementioned scorpion fight scene), and Butcher does action sequences really, really well in general.

But I'm a bit put off by the "reactionary attitude towards women" (seriously, there's a difference between old-fashioned chivalry and objectification), and the Poor Communication Kills with Murphy (especially in the second book) wanted to make me tear the book in half.

As for the above commenter, you can skip the first one no problem. There was enough recap of the first book in Fool Moon to make me slightly exasperated.
  • 15th Jun 10

Dresden's attitude towards women is an acknowledged character flaw. It's not really consistent with the world around him, and after it nearly gets him killed a few times he manages to reign it in a bit. He still has a gut-reaction to seeing a lady in trouble (I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect someone to grow out of that entirely) but he doesn't let that reaction lead him around by the nose anymore.

After the Poor Communicate Kills thing really does a bit of killing, and Dresden blames himself for the poor communication that leads to those deaths he resolves to be a little more forthcoming.

The first two books definitely aren't as good as the rest of the series, but even so, Jim Butcher decided very early on that this was going to be a long and involved series and so he deliberately starts his main character off with room for development.

I wouldn't recommend skipping the first two because it's not as if they're bad books, they just aren't as good as the rest of the series, and everything does seem to tie in to everything else. Each novel is meant to be able to stand alone to a certain degree, but you're missing out on character and story arcs that can't be fit into a single book if you don't take the series as a whole.

At any rate, the turning point for me is somewhere after the first couple of chapters of the third book. A new character is introduced really jarringly right at the start of the third novel, but once you get past that you hit the awesome zone.
  • 8th Jul 10
And seriously, the awesomeness DOES NOT STOP.

I to agree, the first two books weren't the best. However, unlike a lot of other series I've read, the writing doesn't just "magically" improve. The characters themselves grow out of the formula for reasons that make perfect sense.

As stated, Dresden saw how much he screwed things up and out and out got people killed by not talking. Every book after that, he ensures that people understand the depths they're about to plumb, but he never hides the important stuff if they want to know. Same with his attitude towards women - there is one point at which he specifically states "She was no longer a woman in my mind", meaning the character himself is aware of the formula from the first books.

Even better, as the series grows, there may even have been a reason for the formulaic layout of the first two books.

So - awesome series and characters that grew out of their juvenile writing in a realistic manner.
  • ExplodingFrogs
  • 20th Jul 10
Really, at this point, saying that The Dresden Files is a mediocre series on the basis of Storm Front is like saying that Eversion is a derivative, mediocre, cheery little platformer based on the first level. I do realize that's not what you're doing—you said that you wanted someone to give you a reason to read the rest of the series, and that analogy does a decent job of explaining just how much someone who stops with the first book is missing. It's hard for me to put into words, otherwise, how much growth the series goes through (and not in the sense of the books getting bigger, either).
  • 28th Aug 10
I can honestly say that I don't particularly like the first two books. I sat thorough Storm Front, skimmed through Fool Moon, and because I was bored and had nothing else to read, started with Grave Peril.

And currently, Jim Butcher ranks up there as my second favourite author of all time. If the man's written it, I'll claw at things to get a chance to read it.

The series is... one of those rare ones which manage to combine tragedy with comedy effectively. It's hilarious. It's heartwarming. And book three forth, things just start to get almost incredibly better. There are plot twists, ponderings, a whole mess of magical creatures coming in from different directions in different velocities. The characters are just some of my favourite ones of all time. The women in particular actually manage to be as badass as the men without breaking a sweat.

And the vampires. By now, I despise vampires (and no, this isn't an anti-Twilight rant; they're just overdone in general as far as I'm concerned) but the ones in this demand you cheer them on. Lara Raith, is just /awesome/.

I could come up with a similar rant for pretty much each of the supernatural (and plain natural) fractions in the series. But it really just boils down to this;

Waaay worth my time. :)
  • Adrenfreak
  • 16th Nov 10
Honestly, I wouldn't skip any of the books. You're missing out.

The books are much like the 1812 Overture. It starts out slow, quiet, and whispery. And then it crescendoes into possibly the most distilled awesome a man can put in a book. I look at Butcher's formulaic first few books as not just him struggling with the formula, but with Dresden struggling with the formula. He's as unsure of how to work within the world as Butcher is in writing.

His inexperience (both hims) shows, with all the complaints above - The inability to talk to certain people, his "chivalry". And they break down, as the person grows. Just like a normal person gaining experience in their craft and dealings with the world.

It's very much like the character took his cues in dealing with the world from this website, or other masqueradical books. It reads exactly like that at times. And then it becomes "No, this doesn't work, I'll do it my way."

By the current 12th book... it's trope overloaded (LOOK AT THE PAGE), powered by pure awesomeness, heartbreak and hilarity, woven together throughout the prior eleven books.
  • NLK
  • 15th Jul 11
The first two books are decent. The rest escalate from "good" through "excellent" to "AWESOME". If you don't wanna miss out, read them all. They become increasingly difficult to put down.
  • rndmnmbr
  • 26th Jul 11
It's simply not a fair review when you pick the worst book out of the series to review and stop there.
  • Scardoll
  • 26th Jul 11
I don't think Robin Zimm is being unfair. He's just rating the book, not the entire series. He hasn't read the rest of the series. I started with Grave Peril, so I had an easier time.

This is definitely a series that improved over time. While I wasn't a fan of Changes, both Turn Coat and Small Favor are my high point of the series, and I was only dissatisfied with the end of Changes. It helps that the world gets more fleshed out and consistent over time in the books, and Dresden actually changes as a character through them (Especially his mentioned poor communication and how he relies on others). The action scenes also improve a lot; the battle with the Skinwalker at the end of Turn Coat is the best in the series.
  • kickasstakenames
  • 27th Nov 11
I have to say, for anyone who's discouraged by reviews that call it bad or average just buy book seven 'Dead Beat' and read that. It gives you by far the best picture of the series as a whole.
  • Freya
  • 10th Apr 12
I completely get what you mean. I first read Storm Front and Fool Moon, then just put the series down, disgusted with Butcher's treatment of women in the series. Then, one day, bored out of my skull, I decided to pick them up again and give them another go.

And you're right. They're problematic. They're not good books. But they get better. The plots get more intricate, Harry starts to get more likeable, the female characters start to get more badass and Harry starts being more open with Murphy and the others about things. There's a section in Summer Knight where he sits her down and explains everything that the audience knows about the supernatural thus far, and I just wanted to fucking cheer when I read it.

I still dislike the treatment of women. I don't care that it's meant to be a character flaw, it's a shitty character flaw to give, especially when misogyny is still so ingrained into society and into media. It could have been implemented in a far better way than it was, and I still get uncomfortable with the way that Butcher has Harry describe the women in his life sometimes (the fact that he describes Murphy, his on-again off-again love interest as looking like somebody's 'kid sister' creeps me the fuck out). But if you can name me a single piece of media out there that *isn't* problematic in some way, shape or form, I will be shocked.

It does get better. The first two books are the books of a journeyman; the rest are the books of a man working towards becoming a master.
  • Kajin
  • 23rd Apr 12
I think the first three books are the weakest in the series, but after that they get increasingly better. Book four, Summer Knight, is where I think the series Grew The Beard and would recommend starting there were it not for the fact that book three marks the staging point for the vast majority of major plot points that occur through the rest of the series.

The first book is by far the weakest and the second book isn't much better. Maybe if you get some spare time and are able to borrow a copy of Summer Knight at the library or off a friend or something you could thumb through it and give it a chance. That's where the series starts to kick ass. Maybe you'll like it then, or maybe you won't.
  • Arkham8
  • 2nd Jul 12
The first and second books are definitely not as amazing as the later entries, but they are absolutely indispensable with regards to character development and world building, especially with regards to the Murphy/Dresden relationship.

Ultimately, the shortcomings and flaws of the first couple of books make the later entries even better, in my opinion, especially when read with the idea that they are Dresden's self-written case files.
  • JamesPicard
  • 2nd Nov 13
I may be the odd man out here, but I really enjoyed Storm Front. It's no award winner, certainly, but it used what it had in a fun, entertaining way. Yeah, maybe Harry is a bit sexist, but at least his heart's in the right place. He's not thinking this way because he sees women as lesser, he just wants to help. The books do get better as time goes on, but I think the fans here are really short-selling the first two. They have problems, that's only to be expected, they're Butcher's first published novels. That doesn't change the fact that they're enjoyable in their own right, and a neat glimpse into the awesomeness to come.

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