I have never been terribly skilled at the art of reviewing books. Or movies for that matter. I never know how much information is too much; where the line is between being too vague and spoiling the surprises for the rest of the readers. Having just finished Ghost Story, the lucky 13th book of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series, I feel confident that I can now skillfully guide potential readers through the series without giving away any of the big secrets.
Over the years, The Dresden Files has become somewhat of an addiction for me. There are worse things to be addicted to than books, right? I get antsy waiting for the next book to be released—compounded by the fact that I find hardcover books cumbersome and frustrating and have not yet been dragged, kicking and screaming, into the digital age–so I inflict upon myself an even longer wait time, anticipating the paperback release. I am emotionally invested in the characters and have even gone so far as to attempt an 8tracks.com mix of personal anthems for each character (I’ve fallen a few songs short but it’s still processing in the back of my mind). All of this adds up to me being maybe a little biased, but the truth is I think there is some quality reading material there for other people who don’t view it with the same narcotic-shaded glasses.
Things you will find in The Dresden Files series include wit, sarcasm (in such a way that they really do need to be two separate bullet points), adrenaline, fantasy, a vivid portrait of the Chicago landscape, wizardry, and supernatural and preternatural beings galore. Things you will not find are the classic fantasy downfall known as the “infodump,” unbelievable situations–yeah, okay, it’s fantasy, but Butcher presents it in a way that will have you glancing over your shoulder and racing across footbridges, just in case—or a single flat character.
As is often the case with fantasy series, The Dresden Files admittedly starts out a little slow, a little superficial but the more you read, the better it gets. The more you read, the bigger the trouble Harry (that’s our hero, the “other wizard named Harry”) gets himself into, the more he relies on his companions to help him work through. The whole saga starts with one secondary character, Karrin Murphy, a Chicago Police Detective assigned to a special unit formed to deal with just the kinds of cases into which Harry drags her anyway. Moving past the first book, Storm Front, we gain more new characters along the way–good, bad and grey characters who continue to grow as the series progresses—including faeries and Sidhe (one of which is Harry’s bonafide faerie godmother), werewolves, vampires (of the nightmarish variety), a sword-wielding Holy Knight, and a good, old-fashioned vanilla mafia don, all living and co-existing (generally) within the streets of the city.
It is hard, especially when Dresden is jokingly referred to in some circles as “the other wizard named Harry” not to draw parallels with Harry Potter. I even use that as a selling point with people I know are fans of the latter (and I do try to sell it to anyone I can). But for those who are not, don’t let that sway you. The Dresden Files has enough of its own merit to stand alone but the parallels are there, should you chose to draw on them. Both are orphans who found out about their magical talent in adolescence. Both have god parents who figure heavily into their lives and into the story lines. Both answer to a higher governing body of wizards with their own set of rules outside those of “normal” society. Both find themselves pursued and persecuted by that same governing body. What makes these parallels even more interesting is that Butcher and Rowling started working on their series on separate continents at roughly the same time so the similarities are, for the most part, coincidental.
At its core, The Dresden Files is a slightly off-noir, first-person narrative, detective series. Harry is a wizard-for-hire with a P.I. license, consulting for the CPD; he finds missing people and things. The major difference is sometimes the bad guy on the other end is a for real ghoul, not just a metaphorical one. If you like your urban fantasy fast-paced and sarcastic, or your detective noir supernatural and sarcastic, The Dresden Files is a must-read. It is the mark of a good book, in my opinion, when you startle the people of Starbucks because you actually guffawed into its pages. And I have done plenty more than that on more occasions than I care to admit.
Thirteen full-length installments of The Dresden Files, as well as various short stories and graphic novels, can be found in hardcover, paperback, e-book and audio formats wherever these are sold. The fourteenth of the series, Cold Days is due for hardcover and electronic release in November of 2012.