Crowded Bookshelf: Vampires, werewolves, and a grumpy wizard

Storm Front book cover
Storm Front book cover

‘The Dresden Files’ book series review

By Duncan Fingarson, Contributor

Harry Dresden is a wizard, but unlike a lot of fantasy wizards he doesn’t live in a world of dwarves and elves. Instead he lives in Chicago, a far cry from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series. The novels follow Dresden as he solves mysteries with a distinctively paranormal bend, often alongside Chicago PD Lieutenant Karrin Murphy.

The first novel, Storm Front,sets a good tone for the series. Dresden is called in to help solve a double murder that’s been committed with black magic and involves the bodyguard of a prominent Chicago mob boss. Unfortunately for Dresden, that murder isn’t the last and before long he finds his own name on a shortlist of who’s next.

Butcher ties the plot threads together wonderfully, and the book’s climax is a real page-turner. The rest of the books in the series ramp up in a similar way. For someone like myself, who already has a hard time putting a book down, it’s almost impossible to drop one of these once it starts heading into the climactic battle.

Of course, a good book needs to have good characters too, and Butcher delivers. Dresden is stubborn and hot-tempered, with a sardonic wit and strong moral compass. Murphy is a solid and upright defender of the law. Gentleman Johnny, the mob boss, is a slimeball, but a shrewd and intelligent slimeball. All the characters are separate and distinct, and all of them are likeable in their own way. In the case of the series’ villains, it’s often more “love to hate” than actually like, but then again a great villain is a good drive for any story.

A particular favourite character of mine is Bob, a talking skull, Dresden’s sarcastic verbal encyclopedia of magic. Bob’s usual role is exposition about whatever magical foe Dresden finds himself matched against that time, and it’s a credit to Butcher that he managed to make a literal talking head interesting as a character.

If you want to jump in and pick up the most recent book, it’s possible to do that. The stories are largely self-contained and important events of the previous books that are relevant to the current one are usually recapped in an efficient manner. However, I recommend starting at the beginning. The books do follow chronologically from each other, and things that happen in later books are often tied in some small way to the events of previous ones.

Storm Front is an excellent book in its own right, even if you don’t go any further with the series. For those willing to follow along with Dresden’s adventures, there’s a lot of depth and good, strong world building to be found amongst the pages of The Dresden Files.

If you’re a fan of wizards and magic, or a fan of hardboiled detectives in the vein of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, Harry Dresden is a good addition to your bookshelf. I know I’m happy to have him on mine.