Storm Front [2000]

Since I’m playing in a Dresden Files game, I thought I’d read the first Dresden Files book. I’m a fan of underworld/alternateworld fiction generally, and also a fan of hard-boiled and other detective fiction. This more-or-less did the numbers you expect from both of those genres. Wizards: check! Femme fatale: check! Left-field beatings to show detective progress: check! Dark side of Sexy Sexy Vampires: check! Two seemingly unconnected plots which resolve together: check!

As novels go, it seemed perfectly adequate, but totally generic. Sure, there are individually-identifiable features, but I felt de ja vu virtually every page.

I guess if that’s what you want, it’s not a bad way to spend your time. However, I’ve just come off reading The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy; a crime novel which takes those same kind of criminal clichés and tells this incredibly engaging and challenging story that interrogates genre assumptions, populated by people that feel unique, distinct and real. Going from that to this required a major gear-shift.

For my money, I think that the early ‘Anita Blake’ books are probably this, done better. Of course, they devolve into pathetic horror-themed pornography after a half-dozen books, but the early books have a far more dynamic protagonist, with a far more complex relationship with their far more complex world. Which is not to say that, even then, those books are really “any good” – clearly they too would fail utterly on the late-Ellroy scale of quality.

And having said all that, I can imagine quite contentedly spending an afternoon each weekend for the next little while knocking off another Harry Dresden adventure without undue difficulty or complaint.

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11 Responses to Storm Front [2000]

  1. I don’t think the success of Dresden has anything to do with revolutionising the genre. Its predictability as a genre mash is a part of its charm, pretty identified in your last paragraph.

    FWIW the books do get better but what hooks you is a growing fondess for the characters and the writing style and not the ideas themselves.

    In terms of your Anita Blake comments, are you aware Dresden was a reaction to her novels?

    • mashugenah says:

      I don’t know anything about the books. 🙂 Or the TV show.

      I’m not surprised though – the number of parallels is pretty high for it to be coincidental.

      • My understanding is that Jim Butcher was at one stage a pretty big fan of Anita Blake’s. As her novels devolved into what they are known for today, he began to criticise her more and more. She eventually told him that if he could do better, why didn’t he go write his own novel. And he did. 🙂

        I enjoyed reading the Dresden Files books though I got pretty bored around book 5 and stopped reading there 🙂

      • mashugenah says:

        I think there’s a lot of very interesting world-building subtext in Anita Blake. For me, it’s the best take so far on the question “what if there had always been vampires” – because vampires et al appear in historical references, they have a wide-spread “place” in society… because they’re “out” and have always to some extent been “out” everything seems more interesting and plausible than something like DF or TB, where somehow for thousands of years there’s been this whole entirely secret world.

      • I have never read Anita Blake. What you say sounds cool.

      • mashugenah says:

        Book 1 is okay, ish. Probably necessary for getting the cool subtext/background stuff.
        Book 2 is good.
        Book 3 is good, and has a memorable climax
        Book 4 is forgettable
        Book 5 is not utterly rubbish
        Book 6 begins the slide into properly bad writing
        Book 7 is a rally back to good quality
        Book 8 is dire
        Book 9 has moments of okayness, but I struggled to make it through
        Book 10 is utterly without merit, and where I stepped off

      • So read books 1 to 3 is what you are saying.

        I will be interested to see what you make of Dresden Files. As said, it gets better rather thasn worse but it remained pretty light and predictable, even if good fun, overall.

      • A quick internet search proved my facts to be exaggerated 🙂

        This is from Wikipedia:

        “Jim Butcher decided to become a professional author at the age of nineteen. Subsequently he wrote three novels within the fantasy genre and one which he has classified as paranormal—books which the author has described as being “terrible”. In 1996 he enrolled in a writing class where he was encouraged to write a novel similar to the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series by Laurell K. Hamilton, rather than the more traditional high fantasy that had been his focus in the past, as Butcher had previously stated that he enjoyed the Anita Blake series. Despite initial resistance, he wrote the first book that semester, closely following the instructions of his teacher, author Deborah Chester.

        “When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of the Dresden Files.””

        😀

  2. they really get better 3 or 4 books in. Summer Knight is one of the best

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