Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On Storm Front (Book 1 of the Dresden Files)

I read Storm Front on the plane back home today.  It was pretty much the perfect length and complexity for a six-hour plane trip, so that worked out nicely.

Characters:  I liked Butcher's characters quite a bit.  Harry Dresden steals the show from the plot itself.  The background characters are sufficiently compelling, most of the time, although the villains and antagonists lacked characterization (more on this later).

Writing Style:  The pulp-noir writing style that Butcher invoked was spot-on, but it also reminded me of something, which is that I'm not ridiculously fond of pulp-noir.  While it was interesting to see it applied to a fantasy kitchen sink universe (though there are certainly many works that do this, he carried it off very well), I'm not a big fan of first-person narratives that are not explicitly set up within a framing device.  Not having a framing device makes it even more tempting to 'tell' rather than 'show' than usual.  As such, we get Harry's thoughts on everything, but the degree that they're the thoughts of 'omniscient narrator Harry' or 'holy sh*t that demon is trying to eat me RIGHT NOW Harry' is necessarily somewhat blurred because we don't know the circumstances under which he's telling us this tale.  Is this supposed to be written?  Orally passed along?  Something one heard from a friend of a friend?  This means that we get a lot of "she was desperate" or "he was angry" - a mainstay of pulp detective works, to be sure, but I don't like it.  Similarly, because Harry is 'telling' the story, we end up with a very self-centered view of what was going on, and this deprives some more minor characters, including the main antagonist, of the opportunity to shine.

Story:  The mystery itself was neither groundbreaking nor disappointing.  It served well enough as a vehicle for an interesting universe and nifty characters.  The arc-based plot was considerably more compelling than the particulars of the murder case.

Universe: The universe, and especially magic, were very well done  One advantage of the first person narrative was that it let Harry  be Mr. Exposition without requiring an audience surrogate.  This helped flesh these story elements out without making Harry seem like some kind of captain obvious who repeats everything to a bewildered bystander character who otherwise serves no purpose.  And I hate the 'audience surrogate who provides nothing of any real consequence' archetype.

Obligatory Sci-Fi/Fantasy Gratuitious Sex: Made into a plot point, a la Fate/Stay Night (sex = Rite of Flame or Seething Song*, apparently).  Other than that, filtered through the somewhat prudish Harry, and hence not too bad.  Still very, very present, though.

Overall Evaluation:  A fun read.  The story, which is clearly the beginning of a longer saga, had more potential for depth than actual depth - this is probably fleshed out in later books, though I don't know for sure.  Good characters, good universe, passable story and interesting storytelling (even if I personally didn't like some aspects of the genre).  There are other works I'd recommend first, but it was a nice way to pass the time at 30,000 feet.


1 comment:

  1. I'll admit, you have a point with some of the villains lacking personality-- the trouble is, I think, that most (though not all) of the villains are non-recurring, with many of them essentially fulfilling the role of Monster of the Week. That said, I enjoy the Fairy Godmother's shenanigans in later books (though your mileage, as always, may vary.)