Demons and Detectives

Fantasy novels these days tend to draw most of their lore from Tolkien. The main characters are the tall and pretty elves or the evil and ugly orcs. So it’s refreshing to see a book like Storm Front draw it’s workings from myths and fables found in the world we actually live in. Given that the book is set in modern times, the inclusion of all these quirky superstitions makes the book seem that much more believable. There is a reason we are afraid of the dark.

Storm Front is a detective novel with magic. Set in modern day Chicago, it follows the wizard/detective/scamp Harry Dresden as he tries to solve a maleficent magical murder. As with any good detective novel, Harry follows leads, gets stumped, and finally puts everything together in a nice little package. The book ends with the promise of more to come, and is a fairly enjoyable read.

As I mentioned above, I was particularly pleased with the lore of this book. Much of the magic and beasts are based on old superstitions, folktales, fables, myths, and legends with just enough of its own twist to make it interesting. There are several times in the book where the author takes what is almost cliché and puts it in a whole new light that makes sense both for the book, and for our own world. This is one of the most endearing points for me; being able to pretend that the fantasy world is real. There are ghouls and zombies, but since most of us have never actually seen them, we get an exaggerated and misinformed stereotype.

I have a few nitpicks with the book. First of all, it’s too short. At 322 pages paperback, I burned through it in one (work-free) day. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but along with the lack of thought-provoking content, I found myself a bit unsatisfied. There were plenty of interesting characters and ideas brought up in the book, but they were never really explored. Even Mr. Dresden could have had substantial more character development, and he is by far the most examined character in the book. Butcher gives himself plenty of room for later books in which to explore certain aspects of magic or do a more in-depth analysis of character, but Storm Front felt less like a satisfying meal that I want to eat again and more like an appetizer I had mistaken for the main dish.

On a personal note, I think the fantasy is a touch overdone for this novel. The uninitiated public in this novel maintain a strong disbelief in magic in spite of evidence to the contrary, while at the same time they hold irrelevant superstitions. No one believes in magic but no one looks the wizard in the eye because they are afraid. There are hordes of prophetic druggies, but no one bats an eye. Either magic should be much more secret (thereby keeping the setting closer to our world) or the public attitude should be less suspicious (more of an alternate reality).  Butcher lands somewhere in between and gets less story-telling power from either approach.

Taken all-together, it’s a decent book. I greatly enjoyed the way fantastic elements were imported into the modern world (even though the human’s attitudes were less believable) and there is really quite a lot in the story that is gripping and I hope gets explored in the following books. There are good characters that have the potential to become quite full-fleshed and empathetic in coming books. Storm Front is an acceptable start to the series, but perhaps a bit lacking in its own right. I’ll still think twice about looking a wizard in the eye.

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