Monday, August 04, 2008

Storm Front: A Dresden Files book

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, Book 1)by Jim Butcher, is not usually the type of thing I read. I have something similar to a vampire's aversion of garlic about reading commercial/popular fiction. There's just something about the hype that turns me off. Also, I watched the first episode of the (thankfully) short lived SciFi Channel series, and couldn't believe the hackneyed story and characters. So together I really had no desire to read this book.

But I was given a copy by my brother, who used to read very little but recently is reading like an obsessive magical scorpion, (and I didn't have another novel at the time to read) so I dove right in. My first impression is that the writers for the TV series took the name, and that Harry's a wizard, from the book and not much else. My second impression was that it wasn't so awful to close and not finish it.

For those who don't know, Harry Dresden is an openly wizardly wizard, which makes other wizards nervous. He advertises to help people find things, or help with unusual disturbances, and also works as a consultant for the Chicago Police on "strange" cases. In this book he's hired to help the police understand why someone's heart exploded, and also hired by a house wife to find her husband, and at the same time try to avoid pissing off a group of other wizards who are waiting for an excuse to kill him.

Basically I found it to be exactly what it is, commercial fiction. It's a non-challenging, short read (I finished it in under 7 hours) that's best described as a romp. There's really nothing in it that changes your life or the way you think, but then it wasn't designed to do that.

One thing that was annoying, but most readers won't pick up on, are his formulaic chapters. Each one follows the same pattern i.e. a little description, something about what's going on, and a cliffhanger at the end. This was especially obvious in the last fight scene when the chapter is broken in two for no other reason than to add another cliffhanger and to make the first chapter shorter. (Probably at some misguided editor's advice.)

For someone looking for an escape without having to think about what the meaning was afterward, it's a perfect fit. For someone looking for more "meat" to their reading, give it a pass.

I will probably finish the series, since my brother has all of them, but if he didn't, I wouldn't seek the rest out. One thing I did enjoy about it, was it's distinct lack of unintentional cliched lines. Even with writers who's books are considered just short of "serious" fiction, like Neil Gaiman, I find lines that irk me.

( In Neil Gaiman's book American Gods, he has several, but the one that has stuck with me is "hunger was a hollow feeling in his stomach". If you're an author please don't ever use any variation of describing hunger as "hollow". I've read it in about 7,000 books. And no, that isn't an exaggeration.)

P.S. If you're an author needing a line to describe the feeling of being hungry try this. "His stomach was an empty room still waiting for the moving company to show." It's not perfect, but it's better than "hollow".

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