Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jim Butcher's Dresden Files Series, Books 1-5

Any fan of Marvel Comics, especially characters like Spider-Man, will enjoy the adventures of Harry Dresden.  I’ve heard about Jim Butcher’s series for a long time, but never sure what the fuss was all about until I read the first book in the series, Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1).  After reading the debut novel, I gobbled up the next 4 books very quickly: Fool Moon (The Dresden Files, Book 2), Grave Peril (The Dresden Files, Book 3), Summer Knight: A Novel of the Dresden Files (The Dresden Files, Book 4), Death Masks: A Novel of the Dresden Files (The Dresden Files, Book 5).

The Marvel connection to Harry Dresden is spelled out in Book 5 when he says:  "I'm a disciple of the Tao of Peter Parker, obviously."  Dresden is a magician/detective, based in Chicago where sorcery exists alongside vampires, werewolves, faeries, and other fantastic creatures, unknown by the world at large.  He’s also constantly besieged with financial problems, romantic entanglements that go wrong, and his magic wreaks havoc with modern technology like cell phones and computers.  He cannot drive any car save for an old VW that Harry dubs the Blue Beetle.  The police don’t always trust him, and he doesn’t score any better with the Mafia kingpins of Chicago.  I’m a sucker for a well told story with good first person narration.  The Dresden books draw me in the same way a good Roger Zelazny novel would, the characters are extremely colorful, and there are several good mysteries to solve.  Dresden also had some youthful misadventures, which are teased to the reader as the series goes on.

You definitely have to read these books in order, to get the most out of the continuity that builds up.  My favorite book of this first set was Grave Peril, where Dresden takes on the Red Court vampires and makes a decision at the end that has ramifications for many books to come.

The one complaint I would make about these stories is that they follow a familiar pattern.  Butcher does a great job of putting Dresden in greater and greater jeopardy towards the climax of each book.  The magic that Dresden uses is well defined, but it still has several loopholes—and usually one of these loopholes winds up giving him a new weapon or source of power that he can wield to save the day.  I’m noticing this more and more as a common problem with most fiction.  When the threat is too overpowering, a Deus ex machina is needed to get the protagonists out of trouble.  After five books in a row, I needed to take a break for a while.

I’m sure I’ll finish the remaining books in the Dresden series sometime during the next year.  I think this is my magical Travis McGee.  Nuff Said!

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