Series: The Dresden Files #1
Published by Penguin ROC on June 10th 2009
Genres: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Narrator: James Marsters
Length: 8 hrs 1 min
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HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.
Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he's the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the "everyday" world is actually full of strange and magical things—and most don't play well with humans. That's where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a—well, whatever. There's just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.
So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry's seeing dollar signs. But where there's black magic, there's a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry's name. And that's when things start to get interesting.
Magic - it can get a guy killed.
I have to be honest and say if this was the only book in the series out so far, I would walk away without looking back. The story was okay. The main character was a wizard who really didn’t impress me with his powers and the world building and storyline had some series flaws.
Author Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files are well known in the Urban Fantasy genre with a large fan base. After reading Storm Front, I would have to question why that is. The reality is that if this was the first books in a newly released series, I would have walked away very unsatisfied with no interest in reading further. The thing is that most reviews are unfavorable with regard to this book and there is even a note from the author at the beginning of Book 3 where he admits that most fans believe the series finally finds its niche with Grave Peril so I am willing to give it a fair try.
We begin the series getting to know our main character. Harry Dresden can be found listed in the yellow pages under Wizard. He is, in fact, the only practicing wizard for hire. Problem is that not everyone believes in magic and even most of the people that Harry works with, as a consultant to the Supernatural Division of the police force, believe that Harry is a charlatan. It would have been boring if Harry had god-like powers and easily defeated all his enemies, but I wasn’t all that impressed with his performance. He seemed to quickly run out of juice in every fight and so far has only done simple magic, like throw fire and make wind.
I do like Harry and that is probably why I am willing to put in the commitment for the first three books. In the audiobook version, the story is performed by actor James Marsters, and through is portrayal, I can easily picture Harry in my head. The narration on this first book does have some issues since there are no chapter numbers and the quality of the recording is a bit sub-par but book 2 and 3 are much better quality.
In Storm Front, Harry is hired by a woman whose husband has disappeared. She believes that she needs more than just a private investigator because her husband has recently started dabbling in magic and she believes that might be the cause of his sudden disappearance.
Harry has also received a phone called from Detective Karen Murphy who heads the Supernatural Division. They have found two people with their hearts ripped out of their chests, literally exploded out of their chests simultaneously, and Murphy needs Harry’s help to determine if magic or something else supernatural is involved.
I have problems with Detective Murphy. She is in over her head with the supernatural world and has absolutely no idea of all the things that go bump in the night. At the very minimum, she could have paid Harry to start drafting a Guidebook to the Supernatural so she could have an idea of what kind of creatures exist. She is working the learn-as-you-go principle of this new job, and yes, I am sure that is mostly done for the audience so we can get the basics of what each story is about, but it makes her look like an idiot. Murphy constantly calls Harry in as a consultant but I’m not sure she really believes in what he can do. But she also keeps yelling at him that he needs to get her answers, now! She calls him into the scene. He tells her that he believes it is black magic and she is already demanding more answers. Harry tells her that he would have to try to figure out what spell was used, how common or readily available the ingredients are in order to determine if this is specific to the murder victims or just someone playing dark wizard, and again, she is already yelling at him that she needs to know now! Tomorrow isn’t good enough. And she’s really bitchy about it! She calls him in to consult, but isn’t sure she believes him,…and she is even hinting that she might be looking at him as the murderer since he is a practicing wizard (the only one she knows) so maybe it’s him. WTF? Several times I am asking myself why Harry is even bothering to help her out.
We also learn about the White Council who is a secret judicial body of magic users whose main task is to make sure that no one uses magic to do evil things like control others (humans or any other creature) or to kill. This sounds reasonable, except they SUCK at it. In the backstory, when Harry was a young man he was apprenticed to a wizard who turned out to be dabbling in the black arts. He tried to force Harry to do black magic under threat of death. Harry manages to defeat his mentor but used magic to kill him and the White Council wanted to put Harry to death for killing with magic. Apparently, self-defense is not an acceptable enough motive, even though the stupid council, whose job it is to stop the black magic users, missed all the black magic Harry’s mentor was doing. They give Harry a pass only because he was just a teenager.
The White Council also has Harry being watched by a guy named Morgan. Since they gave Harry a pass on the self-defense, they are just waiting for Harry to do anything, and I mean anything, questionable so they can jump on that death sentencing they wanted. Harry killed to keep from being forced to practice black magic, but they still judge him as a bad guy. In this story, someone is once again practicing black magic and Harry is trying to help the police find this guys, and the White Council is once again not catching on that a wizard is practicing black magic (did I mention that was their MAIN JOB!). So, Harry keeps fighting attacks by this black wizard and as soon as Harry defeats his minion, Morgan pops in and declares that he is watching Harry and knows that Harry is the one practicing black magic and Morgan is going to prove it and make sure Harry pays. The only thing we hear out of Morgan is “I’m watching you” except when Harry is being attacked, then he’s nowhere to be found — what? He had to go to the bathroom? Where the hell is the powerful jerkoff when he help Harry? View Spoiler »I started thinking maybe the dark wizard was Morgan who is so conveniently missing when Harry is in danger but who was always right there afterward pointing a finger. « Hide Spoiler
In setting up a new series, the author has to set up the world building and this one has included some ideas, while creative, they might cause problems with the series as the stories progress.
One of those problems is that wizards and technology don’t mix, and I mean any technology: electricity (Harry keeps popping light bulbs, computers fry and elevators stop); phone lines (cell phones are out and land lines get staticky); even cars stop working around Harry, so Harry’s drives an old VW Beetle with no electronics in the dashboard. He calls it the Blue Beetle but it has replacement doors and a replacement hood and should be renamed the Rainbow Beetle. Harry uses candles and a fireplace and takes cold showers since he can’t be trusted around a modern heating system.
If you stare into a wizard’s eye, it becomes a soul gaze and the wizard sees your soul and you see his. Anyone who knows this doesn’t meet Harry’s eyes and Harry avoids this as well since he really doesn’t want to have that intimate a view of most people. It’s just a little weird that no one looks Harry in the face.
There is also the matter of giving your name. Clients come in and no one wants to give Harry their actual name (which hinders investigating) because any being who can say your full name, and especially if they repeat it in the same cadance you do, can have power of you; whether it is a wizard or a demon or a vampire. So most people know Harry as Harry Dresden, not Harry Blackstone Cooperfield Dresden.
Besides Harry, I like his friends, including Mister his very large, cat familiar who allows Harry to live in Mister’s apartment, and Bob. Since Harry can’t use computers and can’t google information he might need, he has a spirit that lives in a human skull named Bob. Bob is very funny. He has also existed for centuries and has retained everything he has learned. Harry consults with Bob on supernatural elements that he is not wholly familiar with and Bob helps Harry cook up potions and he pays Bob with dirty romance novels. You will probably find that all my favorite scenes will involve Bob.
I am giving this series a fair chance and am currently in the middle of Books 3. I have a few issues with it and there is an introduction of an important new character who is sort of a partner to Harry in this book. I will need to see if he is part of the turning point in the series or if he is just important for this storyline. As we go on, we get more information about what happened between Harry and his mentor and I am certain that will be a focal point of a future story where we will learn everything that happened.
The lights came up and revealed a long table in the center of the room, other tables against three of the walls around it, and a clear space at the one end of the room where a brass circle had been laid out on the floor and fastened into the cement with U-shaped bolts. Shelves over the tables were crowded with empty cages, boxes, Tupperware, jars, cans, containers of all descriptions, a pair of unusual antlers, a couple of fur pelts, several musty old books, a long row of notebooks filled with my own cramped writing, and a bleached white human skull.
“Bob,” I said. I started clearing space off the center table, dumping boxes and grocery sacks and plastic tubs over the brass circle on the floor. I needed room to work. “Bob, wake up.”
There was a moment of silence, while I started getting some things down from the shelves. “Bob!” I said, louder. “Come on, lazybones.”
A pair of lights came up in the empty sockets of the skull, orangish, flickering like candle flames. “It isn’t enough,” the skull said, “that I have to wake up. I have to wake up to bad puns?”
“Quit whining,” I told him, cheerfully. “We’ve got work to do.”
Bob the Skull grumbled something in Old French, I think, though I got lost when he got to the anatomical improbabilites of bullfrogs. He yawned, and his bony teeth rattled when his mouth clicked closed again. Bob wasn’t really a human skull. He was a spirit of air–sort of like a faery, but different. He made his residence inside the skull that had been prepared for him several hundred years ago, and it was his job to remember things. For obvious reasons, I can’t use a computer to store information and keep track of the slowly changing laws of quasiphysics. That’s why I had Bob. He had worked with dozens of wizards over the years, and it had given him a vast repertoire of knowledge–that, and a really cocky attitude. “Blasted wizards,” he mumbled.
“I can’t sleep, so we’re going to make a couple of potions. Sound good?”
“Like I have a choice,” Bob said. “What’s the occasion?”
I brought Bob up to speed on what had happened that day. He whistled (no easy trick without lips), and said, “Sounds sticky.”
“Pretty sticky,” I agreed.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let me out for a ride, and I’ll tell you how to get out of it.”
That made me wary. “Bob, I let you out once. Remember?”
He nodded dreamily, scraping bone on wood. “The sorority house. I remember.”
I snorted, and started some water to boiling over one of the burners. “You’re supposed to be a spirit of intellect. I don’t understand why you’re obsessed with sex.”
Bob’s voice got defensive. “It’s an academic interest, Harry.”
“Oh yeah? Well, maybe I don’t think it’s fair to let your academia go peeping in other people’s houses.”
“Wait a minute. My academia doesn’t just peep–“
I held up a hand. “Save it. I don’t want to hear it.”
He grunted. “You’re trivializing what getting out for a bit means to me, Harry. You’re insulting my masculinity.”
“Bob,” I said, “you’re a skull. You don’t have any masculinity to insult.”
“Oh yeah?” Bob challenged me. “Pot kettle black, Harry! Have you gotten a date yet? Huh? Most men have something better to do in the middle of the night than play with their chemistry sets.”
“As a matter of fact,” I told him, “I’m set up for Saturday night.”
Bob’s eyes fluttered from orange to red. “Ooooo.” He leered. “Is she pretty?”
“Dark skin,” I said. “Dark hair, dark eyes. Legs to die for. Smart, sexy as hell.”
Bob chortled. “Think she’d like to see the lab?”
“Get you mind out of the gutter.”
“No, seriously,” Bob said. “If she’s so great, what’s she doing with you? You aren’t exactly Sir Gawain, you know.”
It was my turn to get defensive. “She likes me,” I said. “Is that such a shock?”
“Harry,” Bob drawled, his eye lights flickering smugly, “what you know about women, I could juggle.”
I stared at Bob for a moment, and realized with a somewhat sinking feeling that the skull was probably right. Not that I would admit that to him, not in a million years, but he was.”