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Storm Front by Jim Butcher

01/03/2012. Contributed by Jennifer Howell

Buy Storm Front in the USA - or Buy Storm Front in the UK

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pub: Orbit. 341 page paperback. Price: GBP 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 1-84149-398-8).

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The oddest thing about going back to read the first ‘Dresden Files’ book after initially starting the series half-way through is that Harry Dresden himself is, for want of a better word, actually a bit of a git at this point.

Considering that Jim Butcher very skilfully spends most of the latter books making Harry sympathetic by wont of giving him an incredibly hard time trying to do the right thing, this early version of Chicago’s only wizarding private detective is a little hard to get used to. Perhaps even to the point where I started to think Harry was a teeny tiny bit deserving of the hard time he gets in 'Storm Front'. Is that mean? Unfortunately, he is a little annoying and I have so much love for Harry later on that it's a bit disconcerting finding that you'd quite like to give him a smack at certain points in his first outing.

It's probably more that early Harry is so much more callow and a little bit childish and the focus seems a lot more leery and sensational Evil sex magic! Murdered hookers! Then there's Harry being accidentally naked for quite a few pages and a bit of a creepy attitude towards nearly all the female characters…hmm.

I get that it's still heading for a more 'noir' direction this early in the series before it moves off to be more epic and a hell of a lot more funny later on but, weirdly, it's actually more sensational than the sixth book in the series, 'Blood Rites'. Which is quite spectacular considering that one mostly takes place on the set of a porn movie.

The plot, such as it is, involves Harry being asked to find a missing husband by a suspiciously skittish wife and also being called in to consult by the police on a delightful double murder where the victims had their hearts magically ripped out while in flagrante. Nobody's quite sure whether Harry should be helping them investigate the murders or being treated as a suspect.

It's quite surprising how little back story there is of the wizarding world, as it were. More hints and odd references that end up being developed cleverly in later books. The magical storms are used a more elegantly in book seven than here, for instance. It's also interesting how the pilot episode for the TV series used this book title for a completely different story using very few of the same elements. It wasn't necessarily much better story-wise neither, sadly, but there you go.

As first books in a series go, 'Storm Front' is still a good sight better than a lot of other urban fantasy first books out there and considering so few of them still have male protagonists, it does make a nice change. Not to mention all the lingering good will toward Harry from having read the later books. I'm not entirely sure I would necessarily want to read more, though, had I started with this one, oddly enough. As it is, the later books actually get better and darker and a lot more fun. This feels like Harry-lite, trying to find its way towards what will be an absolute classic series of its genre. It's not quite there yet with this one, but you can certainly see where all the good stuff starts off from here.

Jennifer Howell

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