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Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher

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!

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "Book Review: Storm Front by Jim Butcher"

#1 Comment By SvenFTW On August 26, 2008 @ 8:50 am

I agree that these books are not exactly complex literature, but they are no less fun to read because of it. I’m an avid follower of the Dresden Files series. I actually contacted the Dresden Files RPG guys about my group being playtesters for their game so maybe that will pan out.

#2 Comment By Virgil Vansant On August 26, 2008 @ 9:03 am

A friend of mine loaned my his Dresden Files DVDs. I really enjoyed the short-lived TV series, mostly for the characterization of Dresden as a regular guy who just happens to be a wizard. That, and I tend to be a fan of urban fantasy.

Now I just need to find the time to read the books…

#3 Comment By Grogtard On August 26, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

I’m a great fan of these books, too. Read ’em all. I was lucky enough to meet Jim Butcher a couple of years ago at Fencon in Dallas. He’s a great guy.
And yes, I put in an application with the guys over at Evil Hat to play test the upcoming RPG. That’s going to be great game when it comes out.

#4 Comment By Scott On August 27, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

Count me another fan.

The series improves a bit as it proceeds, too. Jim Butcher’s characters are mostly pretty interesting, and he juggles them well.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 28, 2008 @ 7:10 am

I have to agree that the books get better as the series goes on. I’ll be writing a brief review of Fool Moon for an upcoming post.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On September 2, 2008 @ 11:19 am

I’m also a huge fan of the series– and of Harry and other major characters. It feels a lot like a well written version of a World of Darkness game– and that’s a huge complement from me.

One of the players in my Mage game played a Hermetic, and eagerly devours each Dresden book when it comes out. I do the same.

#7 Comment By Balam Shimoda On January 19, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

[1] – That’s funny. Before I found out there was a Dresden RPG in the works I wrote a convention one-shot using Monte Cook’s d20 WoD. Bonus, I could throw Michael in as a bog-standard D&D paladin and it worked just fine.