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Literature / Storm Front

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The One With… our introduction to Harry Dresden, wizard PI.

Harry Dresden knows that being the only one working in your field can be tough. For example, being a wizard who works as a private detective in Chicago. Things start getting especially complicated when Harry discovers that someone is using black magic to kill people... and he's the only suspect.

What looked like it was going to be a simple murder case turns into a race against time as Harry tries to prove his innocence before the White Council pronounces judgment against him... or he becomes the next target.

Storm Front is the first book in The Dresden Files, written by Jim Butcher. Now has its own Shout Out page.

No relation to the far-right website Stormfront (note the lack of a space between the words), or with the character from The Boys, or the video game, or the album by Billy Joel.


  • 13 Is Unlucky: McAnally's bar invokes this with 13 of everything, arranged in asymmetrical patterns: carved wooden columns, tables, mirrors, windows, ceiling fans, barstools. The randomness and number act to disperse any wild magical outbursts that might come from drunk or angry customers. The whole place is deliberately low-tech, and its few mechanical devices (such as a player piano) rarely stop working.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Reading Road, allegedly close enough to Harry's apartment for him and Susan to flee towards, doesn't exist in Chicago.
  • Ask a Stupid Question...: Several times during Harry’s dialogue with Donny.
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The "runes" on Harry's staff on the cover art are simply the mirror image "Matrix" in Japanese katakana (マトリックス).
  • Badass Boast: The final lines:
    My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. When things get strange, when what goes bump in the night flicks on the lights, when no one else can help you, give me a call. I'm in the book.
  • Big Bad: Victor Sells, a.k.a. the Shadowman.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Scorpions the size of cats. And then rottweilers. And then bears. And then...
  • Big Entrance: When Harry confronts Gentleman Johnny Marcone, he does so by blowing off the doors of his gentleman's club in a burst of magic (towards himself, protecting himself with a shield, so as to keep bystanders from getting hurt), then fireballing the jukebox into slag, and popping every lightbulb in the joint to make an impression. In a later story, Marcone has remembered this, and has the dramatic entry points of his establishments furnished with flimsy doors, so that when similar things happen, the shrapnel won't do any damage. The strategic entry points, on the other hand, are equipped with reinforced steel.
  • Blessed with Suck: There is a (seemingly) B plot in the distribution of the illegal drug ThreeEye. Harry doesn't particularly care about it (mundane drugs are not his problem), until he discovers that it's a magic drug that forcibly opens the Sight, even on mundanes. Users of the drug risk being driven completely insane from the first use if they see something frightening with the Sight, unable to ever forget what they've seen. And since supernatural Chicago is not a nice place... Of course, even if all they See are pleasant sights, that would still probably be enough to drive them bonkers, it would just be slower.
  • Burn the Witch!: Addressed. In his first case of the series, Harry is explaining the basics of magic to his client and tells her that the Old Testament's "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" law does not make a wizard's life very easy.
  • The Cavalry: Morgan rescues Harry from Victor Sells' burning lake house.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Harry knocks out Morgan with a chair at McAnally's because Morgan, firmly believing that Harry is responsible for the killings, is trying to keep him in the bar during the coming thunderstorm, and Harry is running out of time to get to Sells' lake house in Michigan and stop him. The other patrons are rather shocked, and Mac has to check Morgan to make sure he's not dead because of how sturdy the chairs are.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Early in the book, Harry mixes an "escape" potion, for emergencies. Bob, whose help he needs to do so, insists that he also mix a love potion (because Bob is a Lovable Sex Maniac). Later, a demon attacks while Susan Rodriguez is visiting and Harry's in the shower. He sends Susan to drink the escape potion while he fights it off, but she drinks the love potion by accident. When Harry retreats to the room the potions were in, he manages to get her to drink some escape potion and he drinks the rest of it, allowing them to escape.
    • Thunderstorms are mentioned in passing several times before Harry realizes they are being used to power the curse.
    • Harry, while investigating, finds a small film canister. It turns out to be a clue that helps him draw the link between Monica's husband and the killings, as well as a handy tool to break the Shadowman's circle and disrupt his heart-ripper ritual.
    • During Marcone's soulgazing with Harry, Harry saw a hint of something that Marcone was keeping deep and hidden but this also galvanized Marcone into the man he was. This point of fact would come up several times as Harry learns more about it.
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • When talking with Toot-toot, Harry mentions Mab, Queen of Air and Darkness. Starting in the fourth book Summer Knight and on, Mab would prove to be a powerful and influential figure not just in the background, but in Harry's personal story as well.
    • When he gets picked up by John Marcone, the Purple Prose makes a joke about the Godfather. It then inserts a parenthesis about how Harry has a Godmother, and she is a fairy, without going into further detail. A few books later, she becomes a very major player.
    • Harry mentions that Santa Claus does exist and it would be insane to try and summon him. Harry would end up meeting him a few books down the way (and summoning a being equivalent in power to him).
  • Clear My Name: Numerous people accuse Harry of carrying out the heart-exploding spell, on account of him being the only known practitioner in the area who would have the power and know-how to do it. So part of the plot is Harry having to prove to the overzealous Morgan that he didn't do it.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Harry establishes himself as one, while Sells, as noted below, is not and expects Harry to only use magic to defeat him. Morgan is also taken by surprise when Harry decides to attack him with something as mundane as a bar chair.
  • Cool Sword: Like all Wardens, Morgan has a magic-cutting sword. The burning desire to swing it through Harry's neck, though, is all Morgan.
  • CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable: Morgan performs it, and when Harry rouses it is with no more than an observation that he had been performing it. After what Harry's been through, CPR might even have been the appropriate response.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: Used against Harry by the White Council when he was sixteen, since the battle resulted in Justin's death, Harry has no witnesses, and the Council would just as soon be rid of a warlock's former apprentice.
  • Crying Wolf: Because of Harry's previous lies to Murphy, she didn't believe him when he warned her not to open his desk drawer.
  • Deliberately Painful Clothing: Harry is given an amulet that belongs to the man he's been hired to locate. It's made from a dead scorpion, and Harry muses about how nasty it would be to wear against bare skin, where its pincers could catch in a man's chest hairs or scratch the top of a woman's breasts; unfortunately, wearing a shirt in between would spoil whatever magical benefit it might confer.
  • Dem Bones: Bob the Skull.
  • Determinator: Harry describes Marcone as such. Something in his past galvanized the man to have a cold and, if need be, ruthless handling of the streets to keep his business running smoothly and within certain standards.
  • Domestic Abuse: After soulgazing his client, Harry learns she's a victim of this.
  • Don't Try This at Home: Dresden suggests readers not try catching faeries, because they don't know what to do if it goes wrong.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Storm Front holds a double meaning. First, storms are how a weak Warlock like Victor Sells is able to kill people from a long distance away and in such graphic ways. Second, a storm front is that which precedes a storm and after this book Harry, in no particular order, faces against werewolves, Fae Queens, vampires, ghosts, Fallen Angels, dirty cops, a war he started, and a whole other slew of issues with little end in sight. And through each ordeal he weathers though it.
    • Possibly a triple meaning, if you consider that Harry himself is like an oncoming storm to his future adversaries, and his development into a mega-badass kicks off here.
      • And possibly if a fourth if you consider "front" in the sense of "something used to hide or conceal something".
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Morgan doesn't wear his Warden's cloak.
    • Harry doesn't seem at all worried when Bob the Skull starts talking in front of Susan. In general, Harry doesn't make Bob out to be anything all that uncommon for a wizard to have, only more knowledgable than typical, and definitely not like something he has to keep secret.
    • Harry makes very few of his trademark pop culture references, and he himself fails to get Bob's quote from Young Frankenstein.
    • Harry's narration directly addresses the reader once or twice, making the book sound like something he wrote and expected others to read. While this is implied to be the case in later books,note  he never uses that convention again.
    • When describing Bianca, Harry makes it sound like there's only one type of vampire. Justified— he doesn't learn differently until Michael tells him two books later.
    • Later books make it clear that physically attacking someone in Mac's is somewhere between unacceptable and unthinkable. In this one Harry beats Morgan unconscious with a chair. May be explained by the fact that only later is Mac's given the status of Accorded Neutral Territory; in this book a fight in Mac's is only a bit less acceptable than at a mundane bar.
    • In the audiobooks, the narrator pronounces Marcone's name like the radio guy's (and pronounces "runes" like "ruins"....). Both are corrected in later audiobooks.
    • Hendricks - The Voiceless in later novels - speaks, albeit briefly, in both of Harry's encounters with him and his boss. This may be explained by the fact that Marcone implies in one of his own short stories that Hendricks is actually quite talkative when they're alone.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: Harry and an unconscious Murphy are trapped in an elevator with a monster scorpion from hell ripping its way through the roof. Harry slams the car against the top of the shaft with a wind spell, squishing the scorpion against the ceiling, then catches them with a shield at the bottom.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The events of the novel take place over a single weekend. Harry gets a concussion, solves three murders, almost gets murdered, gets attacked, gets attacked again, gets attacked by a different guy, fights a vampire, fights an evil wizard, saves someone's life, and goes on a date. Yeah, he ends the story in the hospital.
  • Fantastic Drug: ThreeEye is one such drug as it forces a person to open their Sight, making them see the world as it truly is and what people are like on the inside. It is also highly addictive.
  • Fan Disservice:
    • Victor Sells' first victims were caught by his spell in the middle of sex. When Harry looks at the murder scene later, he notes that the image could have been "a striking erotic tableau", if it wasn't for the fact that they both have had their hearts explode from their chests. Harry notes that it really takes down the Fanservice potential.
    • The photographer Harry speaks to has a similar opinion on the orgy he witnessed at Victor Sells' beach house. From hints he drops, one would have to be very kinky to be aroused by what he saw.
  • Full-Frontal Assault:
    • A very nasty demon shows up while Harry is in the shower and Susan is in his living room, and Harry has to fend it off naked.
    • The Beckitts are engaged in ritual sex when Harry shows up to disrupt Sells' heart-ripper curse, and they both start firing guns at him while nude.
  • Geometric Magic: Circles used in magical rituals are seen used by both Harry and his enemies in the book. To make them work, all one needs is the shape and to infuse it with one's will and power. There is also a crucial weakness cited for them. If the circle's line is broken by a physical object that's willfully propelled by a mortal, it destroys the circle and disrupts whatever magic was being created and/or releases whatever was being summoned inside of the circle.
  • Godzilla Threshold: A minor one. Confronted with a toad demon in a heavy rain that prevents him from making use of his old standby fire, he is forced to try for a lightning spell despite the dangers. Fortunately, it works.
  • Groin Attack: Harry claims his knee was aiming for the Shadowman's gut, and missed.
  • Heart in the Wrong Place: The victims slain by the exploding-heart curse are described as having holes on the upper left side of their chests.
  • Hidden Villain: We never meet the people who opened Victor to his magic and turned him into a warlocknote .
  • I Know Your True Name:
    • Harry can summon Toot-toot because he knows his name.
    • Morgan knows how Harry says his own name, or at least most of it, giving him an edge over Harry.
    • The Shadowman holds his control over the toad-demon Kalshazzak. Because Shadowman was foolish enough to say it within earshot of Harry, Harry knew it too and could free the demon from Shadowman's bind.
  • Karmic Death: Victor Sells is set upon by his own monstrous scorpions and conjured demon; between the former's poisonous stings and the latter's teeth, there isn't much left of him afterwards.
  • The Lost Lenore: The Beckitts' only daughter was killed in a shootout between Marcone's organization and a rival gang. Victor recruited them into his circle with the promise of helping them get revenge on Marcone.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: As expected for the first book in a series, a lot of Harry's exposition is devoted to laying out how magic works, and several of these mechanics (e.g. magic circles, running water) are vividly demonstrated in the course of the story.
  • Mama Bear: Monica Sells, so much so that it's what comes to the forefront when Harry soulgazes her.
  • Mundane Solution:
    • Harry is mere feet from Victor Sells, who is about to cast the curse on Harry. Harry lacks the magical power to block it outright. So he pulls out the film canister and tosses it across Sells' magic circle, breaking it and stopping the curse.
    • Mentioned again seconds later, when Harry disrupts Victor Sells' concentration by shoulder-checking him, remarking that one of the major potential weaknesses of being a powerful wizard is that sometimes wizards stop expecting threats from anything mundane.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Morgan's opinion on his rescue of Harry and report on the Victor Sells case. Not only does Harry survive, but he is freed from the Doom of Damocles.
    • Murphy has one when she answers Harry's phone by saying, "Harry Dresden's residence". This is how Victor Sells knows where to send his demon to attack.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • One of the few real supernatural incidents the Midwestern Arcane managed to get the scoop on was the Unseelie Incursion of 1993, when Milwaukee, Wisconsin, disappeared for two hours, with the city's location photographed from satellites as virgin forest. When the city returned, no one inside remembered they had been missing.
    • Apparently Harry went through a lot to get Toot-toot's true name.
    • And then there's Harry's past experiences with making potions. He had trouble with a diet potion, an anti-gravity potionnote , and once mixed up a hair tonic potion with an invisibility potionnote .
  • One Degree of Separation:
    • Harry and the police are the only ones not involved in the social network until brought into it, but it does make a certain degree of sense. Victor ended up trying to kill Marcone, as his main business rival, but kills Marcone's body guard and his lover, a prostitute who happened to be Victor's sister-in-law. Victor's partners in crime were said sister-in-law's old friend and lover, and the friend's employers, the Beckitts. The Beckitts had a run in with a young Marcone some fifteen years before, where their daughter was shot in as a bystander to gangland violence, which was their motivation for getting involved with Victor. Bianca was a business rival to Marcone in some capacity, but he seems to have tolerated her, and his bodyguard doing business with her.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Harry and Murphy's trust level in this book isn't very high. When they look at the murder victims, he feels like she suspects him as a possible suspect and she suspects he is holding back on her. So when things get worse and Harry hasn't fully explained himself, Murphy aims to have him arrested for the murders.
  • Power Incontinence: Victor Sells was only trying to kill Jennifer at the start of the book, for threatening to reveal him to Marcone. Tommy Tom was pretty much just caught in the blast. Also, a flashback to the time when he was getting powers show him setting curtains on fire and telekinetically pulling utensils off shelves by accident when he's angry.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone is this hands down. He won't threaten needlessly. If he can just buy off a person, he will do it. If someone cannot be bought, he will consider killing them in an efficient and non-tortuous means. He runs the streets with this mindset and ensures people follow his way.
  • Rape by Proxy: Victor Sells forced his wife to participate in orgies.
  • Reflective Teleportation: While Harry's apartment is being described, it is noted that it has no mirrors because a number of unpleasant creatures could use it to teleport straight into his apartment and kill him in his sleep.
  • Off with His Head!: If Morgan catches Harry doing black magic or ends up proving he did do the killings here, this will be Harry's fate.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Harry has a minor one when he realizes after soulgazing Johnny Marcone and seeing what an efficient means he has to running his "business" he was the one to look away first. This in turn makes him lose the air of confidence he had just prior.
    • Right after Harry kills the scorpion with the elevator, when he steps outside and discovers that it has just started to rain. (The Big Bad is using thunderstorms to power his death spells, and Harry is next on the roster.)
    • The patrons of McAnally's have a Mass "Oh, Crap!" when they see Harry knock out Morgan.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Harry meets his first vampire, Bianca of the Red Court (though it's not until Grave Peril that the courts are delineated). These are flabby bat-like creatures wearing human-looking flesh masks.
  • Race Against the Clock: Or against the next storm, in this case.
  • Save the Villain: Morgan holds this on some level as he does feel Harry is a bad guy for his past crimes, but because he was innocent this time, he was obligated to save him.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: When Marcone makes Harry a generous offer, even adding to what a normal weekly rate to hire Harry would be (about which Harry quickly corrects him), to not get involved in the murders, Harry tells him no.
  • She Knows Too Much: Shadowman plans on killing Susan Rodriguez, because she was present when his demon attacked Harry and her.
    • Donny the photographer seems terrified of this trope as well, and the unnamed Pizza 'Spress delivery boy also.
  • Squishy Wizard: Harry mentions this is a shortcoming of certain wizards who rely too much on magic to fight with become one of these. He guesses correctly that Victor "Shadowman" Sells assumes him to be one. Victor is sadly mistaken when Harry gets physical with him.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: The First Law of Magic forbids the killing of a human being with magic. Harry has violated this in the past (in self-defense), and the book's villain does so with impunity. Later books establish that wizards have a lot more leeway when it comes to using their power to kill non-humans.
  • Unskilled, but Strong:
    • Victor Sells/The Shadowman has access to huge amounts of raw magic power, but he's also new to the gig and mostly self-taught. This bites him in the rear, as it's what causes the Villain Ball moment below, as he doesn't know that anyone who knows a demon's name can control it.
    • Harry puts himself in this category as a wizard. He has a lot of power, but very little finesse, and has a hard time doing anything small-scale or narrowly-focused, especially without his staff and blasting rod.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Bianca. Had she not attacked Harry when he came to her brothel, he would not have been bleeding later. This caused bloodlust in her, which led to her killing her lover/slave Paula, and this prompted her to initiate the chain of events that sparked the war between the White Council and the Red Court. Of course, in true villain fashion, she blames all this on Harry.
  • Villain Ball: The Shadowman holds this at the end when he calls out his demon-slave's name out loud when he summons it, giving Harry both the thing's Name and how it is pronounced, allowing him to use the Name to free the demon from the Shadowman's control.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Morgan the Warden faces this when Harry has fought against the evil warlock, freed his control over the toad demon without binding it to himself. In his few scenes, Morgan had clearly shown he hates Harry and would love to kill him and could let him die in the fire. But he cannot bring himself to let Harry die, because in this moment he was innocent of the crimes and will even testify to this to the White Council.
  • Why Won't You Die?: The Shadowman asks this of Dresden at the book's climax.
  • Worst Aid: Murphy doesn't take Harry to the emergency room after he passes out and throws up in her office, even though she knows he's suffered a head injury; she just takes him home and leaves him to sleep it off. Worse, she knows he has trouble with telephones, so may not be able to call for an ambulance if his condition deteriorates. Worse still, she could easily have had an EMT check him over at the police station, which has holding cells and so must have medical staff on call to check on prisoners' health.
    • In Murphy's defense, she may have been thinking that if Harry went to the hospital his magic might short out some crucial equipment and kill some patients. That's been a concern in other books when Harry's been injured. Still, it would have been smarter for her to let him crash on the couch in her office rather than leave him alone at home.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Implied. Victor Sells' wife felt he was looking at their children more and more as tools to be used for his growing level of power. She had to act to save them, and went to Harry.
  • Working the Same Case: Harry initially assumes that the disappearance of Victor Sells and the series of brutal murders are entirely unrelated. He finds out, to his cost, that they most certainly ARE intertwined.