Storm Front is the first book in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher which centers on the adventures of a wizard and private investigator named Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Set in modern day Chicago this book is both a fantasy adventure and a classic hard-nosed detective story.
The story is simple enough. Harry can barely make ends meet with his business (he is the only wizard in the phone book) and eagerly takes on two cases. The first is a bizarre double homicide that the police can’t solve due to its mystical nature, and the second is to find a woman’s missing husband. As Harry investigates both cases he is brought face-to-face with threats from both Chicago’s underworld as well as the evils of the netherworld. What starts off as just another couple of jobs for Harry soon turns into a race against time for Harry’s own life. This is a classic pot-boiler and the heat is cranked up steadily with every chapter read.
In all honesty the mystery is not that complex, and Butcher’s take on magic is not entirely new either. What makes this book unique though is Harry Dresden. Told from Harry’s point of view the reader is treated to both the insight of a classic Sam Spade style detective and the arcane awareness of a highly trained wizard. Butcher doesn’t try to wow you with the action in the story or build up suspense with dramatic revelations. Instead Butcher lets his protagonist tell the story with all of the character’s sarcastic wit, gritty straightforwardness, and devilish charm. Harry is what makes the story interesting, and Harry is why you will want to read the book.
Another great aspect of this novel is how Butcher uses magic in the story. In the world of Harry Dresden magic is an organic and powerful force that can have devastating effects, but a wise wizard knows better than to rely solely on magic for everything. Yes a fireball might destroy your enemy, but a bullet fired from your police special may be just as effective with a lot less risk involved. Harry is a practical wizard. He wouldn’t get a battleship to go fishing with, and he would not use a spell to open a door when a good kick will do just fine. It is this practicality that makes the character one that the reader can relate to. Despite his arcane talents Harry is still an everyday guy with everyday problems who just happens to have a very unique and interesting profession.
Why should a GM read this book? The material is an excellent source for inspiration. As a GM you might find yourself looking at the dynamics of magic in your game quite differently after having read Storm Front. What would be of even better use to GMs though is to take note of how Butcher makes use of pacing and the escalation of tension to tell the story with. Every encounter that Harry has is slightly more charged and dangerous then the previous one. This isn’t a roller coaster ride with outrageous peaks and valleys, but a much more linear progression that retains the reader’s interest through subtle shifts and simple acts. The plot has a natural rhythm to it instead of a mechanical feel. This steady pace allows the reader to become more and more immersed in the story without being aware that his or her suspension of disbelief is growing stronger with every page. If you can recreate that experience at the gaming table you are sure to have a memorable game.
Storm Front is a fun and enjoyable read that will appeal to many different tastes. It is a strong first novel that Butcher has been able to build an entire series upon. If you like action, magic, and enjoy people with a bitter sense of humor then treat yourself to a few hours spent with Harry Dresden. Who else can you turn to for both magical services and good detective work at reasonable rates?
That is my opinion on the matter, so what is yours? Leave your comments for others to read and share your own experiences with me and other members of the Gnome Stew community. And no matter what happens, don’t forget that the GM is a player too! Have fun with it!