Reviews: Storm Front

First Book Syndrome Incarnate

I've finally read Storm Front, the first in The Dresden Files series, and it only took 17 years. What is my belated opinion? Well, as the title indicates, it is a classic example of first book syndrome, which is a trope that probably goes by a completely different name on here.

Storm Front is a story about a wizard, Harry Dresden, who has been hired to work on two separate investigations; one is over some murders being committed by a powerful wizard, and the other is a missing person's case in which the missing person is a wannabe wizard. And now, having simply described the plot, I have actually given away the murderer.

We expect it to be the one we least suspect, and that expectation gets completely undercut in this book by the murderer being the most obvious culprit. But here's the thing, I don't think the author was doing this on purpose. Here's Harry Dresden, scratching his head as to who could the rogue wizard be, and yet he's also being paid to look for a rogue wizard at the same time. Wizards are rare, the murder could only have been done by a wizard, these are the only two cases he's had in ages, and he gets them at the exact same time. It takes him forever to see any connection, whereas most readers immediately spot it but think to themselves "nah, its too obvious to blame that guy, this is going somewhere else." Well, gee, it isn't.

It almost feels like a meta-story, in which Dresden is secretly written as the World's least competent detective. That would explain why he is always coming out with dated, sports related wise cracks and Bond one-liners that are neither funny nor cool, despite the book pretending they are. In fact, this is a typical case of a newish writer with some interesting ideas and a weak grasp of their craft. This much is obvious in the climax, where the villain is described as "snarling" over and over again, sometimes repeatedly in the same sentence, and I'm not even going to go into the book's weird hang ups about female characters.

Now despite having done nothing but slag off the book, I still enjoyed Storm Front enough to immediately buy the next in the series. It might be far more trashy and pulpy than the author intended, but Storm Front is an entertaining enough read and breezy enough to not get bent out of shape over it. As far as clumsy first books go, I rank it higher than than The Invisible Library, but a little lower than the similar Rivers of London.

An Entertaining Beginning

Storm Front is by no means a perfect novel. It's predictable, some of the characters can be annoying, and Harry's sexism hasn't quite had its kinks worked out yet. But regardless, it was a fun read, and while it may not be as good as some of the later books in the series, it is a good preview of the awesomeness to come.

Harry is an interesting character, and we can see that, while he is flawed, he's ultimately a good man who wants to protect the helpless. He has problems with believing women deserve special treatment, but he doesn't think they're lesser to men. The hard-boiled detective plot makes for an interesting, if fairly predictable plot. Honestly, who didn't figure out the Shadowman's identity before Harry? But that really isn't the point. What it was meant to do was introduce us to this world, its rules, and its people, and give us some good jokes and fun action scenes along the way. The demon fight was definitely a Crowning Moment of Awesome, and the final battle, while not very large in scope, was impressive in its intensity, and while it was never in doubt that Harry would survive, the question of how he would win when stripped of his aides and allies was a good dramatic tool. The Conflict Ball with Murphy was a bit forced, but it still made some sense, so I'll let it go. It's a shame we didn't get to meet the White Council though, but it may be for the best, as they were saved for later in the series, once Butcher had had the time to hone his craft.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel. Harry makes for a great narrator, and it's fun to see him start his path to becoming one of the most awesome wizards ever. It may be a bumpy ride, but it does it with plenty of style, and just enough substance to leave you interested in the next book.
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