Review: STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher (The Dresden Files #1)

Can you believe I didn’t actually know what The Dresden Files books were even about until a few weeks ago? Like, I hear people talking about them all the time, but for whatever reason they never pierced my consciousness and I just didn’t make the effort to find out. Imagine my sheer surprise and delight when I found out they’re about a freelance wizard investigator who solves mysteries. I’m not kidding, as soon as I found out this was the premise, I bought the first book the same day and inhaled it in two more. I mean look at that mash up comparison on the cover: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer starring Philip Marlowe”. Just yes. All the yes.

So at the beginning of STORM FRONT we meet Harry Dresden, wizard investigator for hire. And then there’s no breathing room from that point out. He immediately receives a phone call from an evasive and somewhat distressed woman whose husband has gone missing, offering to pay Harry a big old chunk of money to find out what happened to him. And for Harry Dresden, who’s always one rent payment away from eviction, this isn’t something he’s gonna turn down. On the same day, he’s also summoned to the scene of a gruesome crime scene by the Chicago Police department, where a double murder has been committed using magical means. Wham! Two mysteries right off the bat. And things only get more complicated for our intrepid wizard private dick from here. In his tenacious endeavour to solve both the mystery of the missing husband and the arcane homicide, he has to contend with the attention of the mob, lascivious vampires and his suspicious warden intent on ratting him out to the White Council for breaking the laws of magic.

This book was such a page-turner. There’s so much going on plot-wise that I just never wanted to put it down. This, combined with such a fabulously entertaining and colourful cast of characters, meant it was just a blast to read. Harry himself is your typical grizzled, misanthropic, hard-drinking libertine P.I. in a duster. And far from being tired and played out, he’s actually such an endearing character. His deadpan, dry humour was a constant source of enjoyment for me, especially in the scenes he shares with Bob. Bob is the best. Bob is an air spirit trapped inside a skull in Harry’s basement laboratory, who Harry sometimes cajoles into casting spells he wouldn’t otherwise be able to perform. There were a bunch of laugh out loud moments in this book, but I reckon most of them happened in scenes where Bob was around. On top of that there’s Toot-Toot, the dewdrop faerie Harry tricks into assisting him; Johnny Marcone, the don of the local Chicago mob and of course, Mister, Harry’s rather large and long-suffering cat. You’ve got your femme fatale, your dogged newspaper journalist, your well-intentioned-but-bound-by-the-rules police officer; I enjoyed reading about them all and while they’re mostly tropey as tropey gets, it’s done so well that it’s actually part of the charm.

The one thing I wish had been worked out better was the resolution to the mystery. Obviously no spoilers because that would just be the worst but, suffice to say I didn’t think we got to see enough of the villain for the big reveal to have much of an impact. I don’t know about you, but in these types of murder investigation mysteries, I want to have built up a connection with the eventual perpetrator over the course of the story, so that when the reveal is made, I can have some kind of reaction to it. Whether that reaction is “Yep, totally knew it was them cos of x, y and z said they said and did”, or “What??? I’d never have guessed it was them, they covered their tracks so well” or something else, but at least something. Unfortunately I thought the resolution to this story didn’t have any of that, so when the murderer was finally revealed I just thought “Oh, that’s who did it. Cool, makes sense”, but other than that I didn’t really care. Ultimately though, this didn’t matter to me too much because the journey there was so enjoyable.

I really enjoyed STORM FRONT and, while it didn’t completely blow my mind, it’s proof that with a fresh twist on a much-beloved trope, books don’t have to be particularly original to be a whole lot of fun. And this is definitely a whole lot of fun.

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