I first reviewed Storm Front on my Goodreads account over here.
Storm Front is one of those novels that navigates a couple of genres at once, namely, fantasy (Harry Dresden, the main character, is a wizard) and crime noir (he’s also a private investigator who contracts sometimes with the Chicago PD). This is not, however, a slightly-parallel world where magic is accepted, so Harry endures mocking, disbelief, and suspicion, even though he operates out in the open. The premise really is shockingly similar to that of John Constantine of the Hellblazer comics, except where Constantine operates out of place of darkness and horror, Dresden is more pragmatic and affable (or at least, he tries to be affable, in his own weird, wizardy way). Where Constantine battles demons, Dresden hunts down lost spouses. And where Constantine’s inner voice is snarky and unmistakably Liverpudlian, Dresden is a more of a general American sort.
There are unmistakable crime noir tropes in here, too: the loner P.I. with a dusty office who is perpetually behind on his rent. The tough-as-nails police officer skeptic (she reminded me of Scully from the X-Files) who hates that she’s asking the P.I. for help even as she does it. The cute girl (several cute girls, really, for a narrator who says he’s bad with women, Dresden manages to score dates with quite a few over the course of the book). Hired goons (and hired demons, this being a wizard novel) ambushing our unsuspecting hero for unspecified reasons outside of his home.
Did I like Storm Front? I did. It’s fun to read, especially if you’re looking for something primarily to kill time on the bus, or to decompress, or if you’re planning to curl up on your couch one of these days and just read all day. It really is the sort of book you read when you want to give your brain a rest and just have fun. I like that all the characters clearly have a past (both individually and with each other), but that Butcher doesn’t allude to it more than passingly. This makes it feel like Storm Front isn’t the first in the series (though it is). The lives of the characters exist well beyond what is explained here in this book, and I like that. I found the plot a little predictable (if you’re familiar with crime noir tropes, you should be able to see where it’s going fairly early on), but not so predictable as to make the book boring or annoying. And besides, Storm Front is Butcher’s first published novel (he wrote it in 1996), so I’m more forgiving because of that. I’d give Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher another chance, in a later book, when both of them know each other a little bit better. Harry Dresden is a good character. He has room to grow into something great. He has a dry, self-deprecating humor that works really well for him. I would definitely read another Dresden Files book (especially since reading them in order doesn’t seem to be a requirement for this particular series), perhaps two, to see how Dresden evolves as a character and how Butcher evolves as an author.
So: Like wizards? Like crime? Like crime-fighting wizards? Do you like “low fantasy,” that is, fantasy that takes place in the “real world”? Looking for something you can probably get through in a week or less? You could do much, much worse than giving Harry Dresden a shot.