When walking through bookstores, I've always noticed a massive amount of shelf space devoted to one author and one series. I looked upon it with skepticism. The Dresden Files? A genre blend between modern urban private investigating/crime noir and fantasy? Who thought of this madness? After much hemming and hawing, I finally committed myself. I would try it and see how it goes.
Harry Potter meets Night Watch meets CSI
Harry Dresden is a professional wizard who works out of a dingy downtown office in Chicago, doing his best to make the rent. He lives in an apartment basement with his 30 pound cat, Mister, and Bob, a raunchy air spirit who lives in a skull. In this first novel, Storm Front, he is hired by a woman to find her missing husband and recruited by the police to investigate a seemingly unrelated murder case. Harry Dresden quickly gets in over his head and does his best to play all sides and figure out the mystery of 'whodunit' before he gets his ass killed. And he uses magic. Lots of it.
Now, if that description prompted even the smallest spark of interest in you, then you need to read this book. Harry Dresden is a likable, single, hapless guy who you can't help but root for. He is the everyman, the average Joe. That is if the average Joe were capable of animating brooms, reading other peoples' souls, and using the power of thunderstorms to zap toad demons into dust. It is written well and is a compulsive page turner; I managed to read this one within three days. At $9.99 a pop in a series 10+ books long, this series can be dangerous to your bank account. For myself, I'm forcing myself to stay away from the next one just so I don't go on a Dresden Files tangent and consume them all. It has to be done for my own good.
The Question of Depth
But I have to admit that, though the book was immensely enjoyable, I found myself wondering at the depth of the story and characters. To be honest, this is the first mystery book I can recall ever reading, so maybe this should be obvious. But I found myself occasionally feeling as if there should have been more detail here and there. The story is action packed, but it somehow feels surface level. The characters have depth to each one of them, but a number of them also feel as if they are just rehashed tropes/stereotypes from some old mystery film. This didn't really detract from the awesomeness of the book, mind you. It merely served as a niggling doubt in the back of my head; a little voice asking, "Might this be below my reading level?"
It sounds superior, I know, but I'm used to science fiction/fantasy books that make me question things, that make me think about things in ways I've never thought of before. Sometimes that comes through the portrayal and depth of characters that one can find. Sometimes it comes through the science aspect or magic system. The author, Jim Butcher, dangles the magic system about the reader like a carrot on a stick. With each chapter you feel like you are getting tantalizingly closer to understanding how the system works, but with every chapter you also learn something completely new about it that throws your previous expectations into chaos.
This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the snippets of precious information and experiences keep the pages turning and keep you interested. But on the other hand, I found that, without knowledge of how the magic system works, nothing could make sense. I couldn't predict who the killer was because the killer was able to use magic that hadn't been mentioned before. I wanted to be able to follow Dresden's common sense path to finding out who did it, but was unable to because the human mind doesn't think, "Well, I need to lay out a circle of magic and talk to a fairy to figure out what to do next!" Not unless I have foreknowledge of Dresden's ability to do so. I found that this was, perhaps, the novel's biggest failing. I like to be able to try and figure out what will happen and I like for everything to make sense within the novel's universe and continuity. Perhaps the sequels will do this better.
In the end, I really liked Storm Front, and I assume that I will love the rest of The Dresden Files when I get around to it. The story flowed well, the characters were great, and the fusion of magic with crime solving was as epic as it was spontaneously random. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of mysteries or fantasy.
I'm a little bit worried about how it feels as if it lacks depth, but I feel that this is also tied to the fact that the magic system isn't yet fully explained. Because it wasn't done in this book, some of what happened I felt I just had to accept and move on, and I don't think I liked that. It didn't cause my brains engines to whir. Instead, I just had to shrug my shoulders and say, "Yes, necklaces can be turned into car-sized scorpions. Absolutely!" and then watch the mayhem. Cool? Yes. Logical? Not so much. But what happens in the story was awesome, so I can't take away too much credit.