They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, that all of the good stuff has been written or said and we’re just recycling. Given the sequelitis and remake fever that Hollywood often uses to keep making new movies. I personally don’t agree. That idea is both defeatist and arrogant, along with a good helping of dismissive contempt for the fresh but hidden stuff that just doesn’t get the publicity it deserves.
By this point I don’t think Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series can be called hidden, but it’s still a good example of something fresh and new. As with his other series, the Codex Alera, Butcher combines two ideas (there the Lost Legion and Pokemon, here magic and detective novels) into an interesting new whole. The two parts don’t seem like a natural fit (apparently the Alera books came about as the result of a bet), and yet they work.
Storm Front is the first in the series starring Harry Dresden, a wizard and private investigator trying to make a buck in a world where everyone assumes he’s either a fraud or a madman. Obviously this is not the case, but the scepticism of the common man is well described. After all, we’ve all seen examples of people purporting to have supernatural powers to help others, right?
The story begins with a distraught wife who wants Harry to find her missing husband. At the same time, bodies have been discovered with an unusual cause of death. As the only wizard in the Chicago phonebook, Harry naturally gets the call from the police. This leads to a much bigger problem, and down a path to darkness in both the magical and mundane worlds. The character of Harry is fun and engaging, and the supporting cast is briskly created with little unneeded detail. Butcher also does a good job here of beginning to sketch out the rules for his magical world, which can be challenging for any novice fantasy author.
As with most first books in a series the story and characterization is a little rough as Butcher finds his feet. It’s not my favorite in the series but it seemed to make the most sense to begin at the beginning, as they say. I’ve read up to the latest book, and it’s only a tiny spoiler to say that all of the series are connected and that even small things mentioned or hinted at here are not forgotten here later.
In essence, the parts may not be new (wizard/peanut butter, detective/chocolate) but together they’re pretty tasty, and you should eat as much as you can. (Note to self, do not review before lunch again.)