The Dresden Files (book series) – review

Almost all the guys are reading the Dresden Files.  This is a good fantasy series.  Often I only write review for books I think are either great or disappointing.  The Dresden Files is neither, but it is exactly the kind of fantasy I love to read.  it is a comfort food, but isn’t too fatty.

The Dresden Files is a noir’ish urban fantasy about a wizard in Chicago who puts out his shingle as a P.I written by Jim Butcher.  Urban Fantasy is a tricky term because it might bring to mind the Twilight or Southern Vampire series.  The inspiration for Dresden is much closer to the HBO movie Cast a deadly spell or P.N. Elrod’s vampire detective series the vampire files.

I call the series noir’ish because it has many of the trappings of a noir film or book, but it wears them lightly in its sleeve.  The femme fatales, stark yet muddy morality, detective story and personal consequences are all present, but the sense of doom or even ennui that a true noir possesses isn’t.

There are many, many books in the Dresden series now.  I’ve read up to the end of the 12 novel ‘Changes’ and the thirteenth is imminent.  There is also a book collecting some short stories, some comic books and an illustrated novel.  There is also a single television season.  The tv show gets it right and knows what it is showing, but lacklustre writing, directing, acting and money make is a poor peer to the books except for real fans.  (e.g. it is pretty typical for b-list fantasy/sci-fi series).

The Dresden files are plot based.  Each adventure Dresden needs to solve a mystery.  The deeper he gets into the plot the more complicated they all become.  After the first couple books, Dresden finds that he is not simply an investigator brought into the mystery, but he is often at the hub of the events occurring in Chicago.  The resolution or reveal of the plots is also often reliant on the magic system that the author has created for the world.   The other two pillars of story are present though.  Many of the characters in Dresden are relatively static, they do not undergo great change.  But over the course of the novels all the important supporting cast does grow and change is some fashion.  Even without change, they are sharply drawn and interesting.  Dresden is a very dynamic character.  Each book changes him in some way – I like to say that they always complicate his life further.  The third stool is idea.  Most of the ideas in the books are retreads – noir’ish detectives, urban fantasy.  These are not new ideas.  But the books do portray them in a manner that seems fresh.  And while mostly incidental to the plot and character, the series does play with themes of morality especially the consequence of choices and the nature of evil.

What would draw a reader to the series?  Well fans of urban fantasy mysteries (of which I am one) will be well satisfied.  Fans of neat magic systems will find what they want.  The action scenes are interesting and thrilling.  There is a balance between humour arising from situation and character and drama.  There is a new book every year on a regular basis.

The writing is above competent and Butcher is still improving with every word he writes.  Above all the writing is clear.  Setting, plot, character and theme come across well.  The other great strength to the writing is that it moves along.  It easily creates that “I must turn the next page” feeling.  Above competent seems to be damning with faint praise.  Butcher’s writing craft grows tremendously over the course of the books.  His writing doesn’t have a style that is easily recognizable, but the whole of a book is easily a identifiable as an artifact produced by his hand.

I’d hold up on giving Dresden my highest recommendations.  It is a very specific genre.  I think it is a fun genre, but it won’t be for everyone.  It also lacks in pretensions.  If you are looking for a series that is doing something new, this isn’t it.  If you are looking for a series that is doing something well, this is it.

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