I love reading and have loved it since I was a child when my mother read me the entire Lord of the Rings, starting with the Hobbit. I have a Goodreads account, I participate in the yearly reading challenges when I can remember, and I even on occasion write book reviews that you can find on this here site. And one genre I have been enjoying a great deal as of late is Urban Fantasy. Urban Fantasy, for those unaware, is fantasy that takes place in the modern world. You get angels, demons, vampires, wizards, gods, and so on alongside the modern world and environments, and one of the best examples is the long running Dresden Files series written by Jim Butcher.
At this point, I have read this series (all 15 books in it at the time of writing this) around 3 times running now. I own them on my Kindle account, and while I could sit down and review each book individually, I figured it would be a bit faster to sit down and talk about the series as a whole and why I enjoy it.
First, one big thing about me when it comes to long running series in books is that I want each book to both be connected to the larger “meta narrative” (ie the narrative that connects the entire series and world) as well as have their own individual stories in each book that the characters must resolve before the end. I want to be able to pick up a novel in the series at any time, and be able to get a full complete story out of it.
Not many authors in the world of fantasy can do this. Just go back and read my review of Feist’s King of Ashes book to get an idea on how I feel about a book only being a single part of a story without a story of its own. Thankfully, most Urban fantasy authors seem to be capable and willing to create this sort of setup: Each book telling a story while also being connected to the larger plot, similar to how episodic TV works if you think about it.
The Dresden Files, for example, tell the story and life of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard you can find in the phone book. While most people write him off as a sham, he is in fact a real wizard, able to conjure fire and shields, track people with magic, the works. He has a little office, and lives life mostly as a private investigator working with the Chicago Police, specifically their “Special Investigations” division, which deals with unique cases involving, well, the supernatural.
Each book in the series generally deals with a single event or problem occurring in the world of Dresden, while also connecting to much larger “arcs”. For example, I would call the first 12 novels, starting with Storm Front and ending with Changes, to be the “Vampire War” arc as events in each book build up to the climax found in Book 12. Book 13 starts the new arc, which personally I call the “Formorian” arc due to the new threat that emerges after Book 12. Also, strictly speaking, all 15 books have ANOTHER Meta Narrative going through them on TOP of the Arcs! That one I call “The Black Council” which will make sense once you get far enough into the series.
Most of the books in the series are solid entries, however there are some issues and most fans agree that the first 2 books which are Storm Front and Fool Moon (and some feel even book 3, Grave Peril) are pretty weak and a little problematic. Butcher is clearly trying to get a handle on his writing style early on, trying to find a voice and trying to build the characters. Further, not every book is going to cater to people. Some books deal with the Faerie courts, others with black magic, others with faith, and others with Vampires. I for example am not a huge fan of the Faerie driven ones simply because I find the idea behind the Faerie courts to be dull but I LOVE the ones dealing with Faith, but they are all still well written novels for the most part.
Dresden, also, can be a bit of an issue as a main character. You see the world through his eyes, in first person (it’s always “I talked to Murphy” not “Dresden spoke to Murphy” and not everyone likes that) and Dresden himself is a bit of a chauvinistic person. He acts like he thinks a “gentleman” should act, rushing to help damsels in distress and trying to protect and defend them against the world. Comically, Dresden is cognizant of this and recognizes that it is a problematic outlook but also states its hard wired into him. Further, the ladies in the Dresden Files on a whole are NOT Weak. Karrin Murphy, one of the first major supporting characters (and in my eyes, a main character in the later books) is an incredibly scary and powerful woman who has had to fight and claw her way to her position in the police department, taking everything opportunity she is given and owning them. She practically forces Dresden to let her into the supernatural world later on, and proves time and again that despite being a mortal she can stand shoulder to shoulder with the horrible monsters out there.
Thankfully, as the books progress and time moves forward, Dresden himself grows as a character. He starts to trust people, willing to let them into his life and world, and willing to trust that they can handle themselves. He is still a stubborn, pig headed, and rash individual at times, but at his core he has a good heart. And it’s wonderful to see slow consistent growth of a character over time, especially given how he starts in Storm Front. Also, Dresden frequently does NOT use magic to solve his problems. More often than not, he beats his opponents by outthinking, out witting, and out planning them. Magic, at least on Dresden’s side, is used more as a way to get information. Now, he does throw down a few times, and it is spectacular when he or his enemies do, but just as often it’s his human side, and his allies, that get the job done in the end.
The other major thing about the Dresden Files is the world and how it is built up around Dresden. We get to see a world not unlike our own, but built with monsters, dangers, and all sorts of creepy supernatural things built into it. The supporting cast are also phenomenal, both Dreden’s allies and friends and the villains and horrors he goes up against. A personal favorite are the Knights of the Blackened Denarius, which are a group of evil beings who each hold one of the 30 pieces of silver from the days of Christ. They are…terrifying and evil and amazingly well written. Nicodemus and his crew are one of the best sets of villains out there in fiction for me BY FAR, and the development they have as the books progress is amazing. The things we learn about Nicodemus and how far he is willing to go to achieve his goals in Skin Game are both disturbing and a little sad. I felt bad for the guy by the end of that book.
Overall I adore the Dresden files, and if you are looking for a good series of books I heartily recommend them. Just be aware that the first few books (Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril) can be a bit difficult to get through, but as the series goes on, as the characters and world mature and grow and as Butcher’s writing becomes more and more confident, I promise you that you will be hooked on the adventures and trials of Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Wizard for Hire.
You can view the entire Dresden Files series right here on Goodreads, and I highly suggest you do so if this Series Review caught your attention at all.
You can also find me on Goodreads right here if you want to see what I am reading, and how I rate other novels as well as occasional reviews (I post most of my reviews there as well as here so you won’t miss anything, just the star ratings).
Now as a note: I have never watched the TV Series that they made about the Dresden Files. I have no views on it, but if you want to get an idea about that show I can suggest “Here there be Dragons: The Dresden Files” by Nash Bozard (his Here There be Dragons is just good stuff in general) as an overview on that series. It doesn’t sound like anything I would like at all, especially based on how they changed things like Bob the Skull and the order of episodes.