REVIEW: STORM FRONT (THE DRESDEN FILES #1)
HOW I RATED IT
3/5 While there is an enjoyable detective story being told here that's infused with fun, magical hijinks, the overemphasis on sexual content, nudity, and a, um, appreciation... for the the female form kept this from being the hit that I wanted it to be.
Our titular Harry Dresden serves as both the main character and the narrator of this story. He introduces himself as a private detective who specializes in the arcane. Lending out his wizardry skills serves as his primary source of income, but he finds it hard to pay his bills given that this is a world in which magic is not a commonly known element. Many people think his ads are a joke or that he is simply a quack. We immediately find out that he has rather old fashioned ideas about women and a checkered past of some kind which will only partially be revealed over the course of this installment. Dresden is a really interesting protagonist in that he can be very frustrating in some ways, yet also quite admirable in others. He seems to genuinely want to do good in the world and he tries to stay positive no matter what's going on around him. While he describes himself as a gentleman, he has a decidedly ungentlemanly gaze and he has other self-indulgent habits that make him far less likeable. Now, that said, I didn't take as much issue as some have with his flaws. I think it's okay and sometimes even good to depict flawed heroes, but I also feel like it's a bit annoying that the book tries to play off his lascivious side as something quirky or cute, when it really isn't.
Joining Harry are an intrepid tabloid reporter, a no-nonsense police detective and her slob of a partner, a horny wind spirit trapped inside a skull (which is admittedly a very funny concept), a desperate wife who wants Dresden to search of her missing husband, a crime lord, and various members of the magical world that I won't spoil. I felt like most of these side characters were handled well. Each felt distinct and real in their own way. Some of them had some fun twists and I appreciated that each of them seemed to have their own unique motivations.
I think this would be classed as an "Urban Fantasy," in that this is set in a version of our world. The setting was modern at the time though certain things that are mentioned will definitely feel a bit dated to those reading this in the 2020s or later (and I don't just mean the visceral descriptions of the legs and breasts of every woman Harry meets... both dead and alive...). The mention of phone books and payphones are a couple of big examples that come up a few times. That said, there is a certain sense of nostalgia I felt while reading since it was almost like watching a show from the early 2000s. I can't really speak to how accurate the depiction of Chicago and it's surrounding cities are, since I've never been, but I did enjoy Dresden's moody surroundings. Adding to the ambiance is the fact that magic is very much real and has a tangible presence in this world in several different forms. I was actually a little surprised by how much these aspects were developed within the scope of this initial story. There were still a lot of questions I had about The White Council, The Nevernever, and the magic system in general, but I really enjoyed the amount of information we got about it all and how well the worldbuilding was balanced with the snappy pacing of the plot. It kind of seems like the series will handle religion in some interesting ways, but I will say that things lean heavily into the occult. To some extent, I figured this would be the case since our main character is a wizard who battles evil magical forces, but I felt as though things got a little deeper into the spell craft and demonology than I really needed.
I think the strongest aspect of this book is it's narrative and overall structure. The book wastes no time in introducing us to Harry Dresden and immediately getting him involved in not just one, but two different cases. The cases themselves are immediately intriguing and seem to play into different aspects of the world's magical side. The two different mysteries take a number of different turns and a threatening conversation with a crime boss added an additional level of intrigue on top of what Dresden was already up against. The bits of magical worldbuilding created even more complexity, but at no point did anything get overwhelming. Everything flowed in a masterfully natural way that is not easy to pull off. The pacing remained steady throughout with there always being an interesting character, piece of information, or twist in the mystery to discover. There was never a dull moment, nor did things feel like they were flying by at breakneck speed. Everything, even the smallest detail or character has an important part to play in the story reaching its conclusion which is something I greatly appreciate. For fantasy readers who enjoy lots of different character arcs and subplots, this may not be as positive of a selling point, but I would argue that this could work as a nice palate cleanser for you in between larger, denser reads if that is the case. For me, this is very much the type of storytelling I look for and if I end up continuing with the series, the tight plotting will be the number one thing that drives me forward.
There's nothing of particular note with the digital edition of this book as everything is fairly standard. I'm not a massive fan of the covers for this series, but they are fine and they fit the book's mood well. I also found this easy to read during my bus commutes as this was short enough of a book where reading it on my phone was no trouble at all.
I don't think this series is necessarily for everyone and I'm still undecided on whether or not it is really for me. Each book in the series is quite short though and the narrative focus is strong, so I think I will probably try another book or two and hope that some of the things that bothered me in this one are less prevalent in the sequels (kind of like how the first episode of an HBO Show is often needlessly "adult").
(+) A well-told modern detective noir with excellent pacing
(+) Different narrative threads that all connected in a satisfying way at the end
(+) Interesting use of mythological/magical characters
(+) Some high-energy action scenes
(-) The sexual content/innuendos combined with Harry's horny gaze and multiple instances of nudity got really tedious
(-) I didn't enjoy the heavy focus on occultism even though I expected there to be some of this given the nature of the story (it just got a little too creepy for me at times)
(-) I felt like Harry's flaws were supposed to come off as charming or quirky