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Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front is the first in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series which follows the adventures of a Chicago based private detective who happens to be a wizard (or a wizard who happens to be a private detective, whichever you prefer). In addition to his private work, he also consults with Chicago PD on their ‘weird’ cases. Despite how it may initially sound this is not a ‘high fantasy’ world and he’s treated with much the same combination of scepticism, derision and outright suspicion that we see in reported cases where police have worked with psychics, mediums and clairvoyants.

I’m not going to go into the particular plot of this book or the overall arc of the series (since the point is to read it for yourselves!) so I guess I’m really reviewing the concept and premise, all of which I loved from the get-go.

To classify it as cross-genre is a gross understatement. Clearly the detective element has tipped you to the fact that it covers mystery and crime aspects which, when you incorporate the magical and supernatural inevitably throws up interesting questions about morality, legality, culpability, rules, processes and the ongoing discrepancies between the ideals of justice and the practicalities of law (Marvel’s The Gifted is provoking some interesting thought on that sort of thing at the moment too).

Then you have the fantasy side. The arc (and there is an arc, a really good one) is full of what I would consider classic concepts and symbolism, with each title in the series creating a good balance between dealing with the case / plot in hand while adding to the bigger picture. It’s also very good at introducing the wider world at a steady but digestible pace so that you get a comfortable understanding about how this slightly-alternate (or is it?) reality looks, feels and works before being led into ever more complex relationships and machinations, all without feeling patronised or spoon-fed.

The fact that it’s NOT high fantasy and relatively contemporary (Storm Front was first published in 2000) the extensive geek references, dry humour and witty banter are exactly in my wheelhouse, making it eminently entertaining and readable (alongside all the little sidetrips, foibles and frustrations where magic and modernity don’t quite mix).

And last, but by no means least, the system of magic itself has been very well thought out (I would guess probably having been very well researched) so that the practices, the possibilities, the limitations and the failings all feel like they make sense, like that’s how they would ‘really’ work. The magic it takes effort and work and sometimes you get lucky but it doesn’t always just happen like, well, magic… (there’s a flaw in that logic there, but you get my meaning.

While by no means for everyone (then again, what is?) the Dresden Files has a pretty broad scope of appeal and is thoroughly enjoyable to boot – Storm Front is your starting point.