This past Tuesday, Skin Game, by author Jim Butcher, was released. In honor of that momentous occasion, I will talk about The Dresden Files: The first five books, the world, and why, and how, 15 books in, this is still one of the best books series I have ever read. And Yes: I said 15. 1-5. Fifteen. And that is not even including all the short stories set in this universe. Now, yes, you can just go ahead and read Skin Game. (I will write a spoiler free review soon). Its excellent, and once it gets rolling, you’re in for one hell of a ride. But I highly HIGHLY recommend you start with the first book, Storm Front, and go from there.
But why start this series at all? I’m glad you asked that question.
The Dresden Files, at its core, is a mix of two amazing flavors that go great together:
Magic fantasy plus film noir! Which all takes place in Chicago, USA:
Throw in some Buffy the Vampire Slayer energy and witty banter:
Well shucks, you’ve just made the absolute most interesting thing that I need to read a thousand times. The story follows Harry Dresden, a Wizard P.I. Let me say that again, and more clearly, because it is awesome sounding: WIZARD. PRIVATE. INVESTIGATOR. And not only that, Dresden is the only Wizard in the Yellow Pages (for the yung’uns reading this, the Yellow Pages were a paper directory of phone numbers and businesses. This was before apps).
And all that? That’s just the setting. Its just to get you started for the first book:
For Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name.
Storm Front is the beginning. The first book. And because of that… its got a lot to explain. First book-itis, if you will. Setting the rules, establishing the world, and introducing a lot of characters. So at times, you almost feel how breathless Butcher is to get you all settled in. But settle in you do, and then you start to get absorbed. All The Dresden Files books are told in first person, through Harry Dresden’s point of view. And Harry Dresden is funny. He is troubled. He is flawed. But all of it comes from a place of caring. And deep held beliefs. Values that mean more to him than his life. But he also makes Star Wars references. He also feels human.
And how magic works in this world is excellent. It makes sense, and comes with limits. In no way is Harry overpowered, he’s just more stubborn and quick on his feet, which saves his butt just as often. One thing that might annoy som readers, is how slightly chauvanistic Harry can be. This is shown as a character flaw, and is only exhibited in how he has a tendency to treat women as delicate flowers to be protected. But the women that are introduced are strong, multifaceted characters.
Characters Introduced: Harry Dresden, Bob the Skull, Karrin Murphy, Johnny Marcone, Donald Morgan, Mac, and Susan Rodriguez.
Could a werewolf be loose in Chicago? Common sense says no. The grisly evidence says yes. So does Harry Dresden. And with his weird connections, he should know.
In Fool Moon, things ramp WAY the hell up. Butcher doesn’t bother having a sophomore slump, in fact, 15 books later, I have never once felt the author was phoning it in, or not telling the story he wants to tell. In this book, my favorite kind of monsters (WEREWOLVES) are at the center of the story, and boy howdy, they are scary. And the first clues to a larger story begin to surface…
Characters Introduced: Tera West, Billy Borden, Georgia, and The Alphas.
In all his years of supernatural sleuthing, Harry Dresden has never faced anything like this: the spirit world’s gone postal. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone-or something-is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? If Harry doesn’t figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself.
Butcher expands The Dresden Files universe even further with ghosts, warriors of god, the Sidhe, and the 3 Courts of Vampires: Black, Red, and White. A LOT happens in this book, which I say is the true showcase of what Butcher is capable of as a writer. I’d go so far as to say that this is when he learns how to raise the stakes, while at the same time balancing character development, to all new highs. By Grave Peril, I knew I was a life-long fan.
Characters Introduced: Michael Carpenter, Leanansidhe, Charity Carpenter, Father Foothill, Mortimer Lindquist, Thomas Raith, and Justine.
Private detective/Wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden is suckered into tangling in the affairs of Faerie, where the fate of the entire world-and his soul-are at stake.
The world of the Faerie, or The Sidhe, is put into focus. And what a world! So many huge ramifications come from this story alone, and the crafting of such a rich expanse only gets richer. The biggest concepts that get brought to light is the Summer and Winter Courts of the Faerie, the rules, and the politics therein. The theme of choice plays a huge role. A fantastic story.
Characters Introduced: Ebenezar McCoy, The Merlin, Queen Mab, Queen Titania, Maeve, Aurora, Lloyd Slate, and Rashid the Gatekeeper.
Harry Dresden should be happy that business is pretty good for a change. But now he’s getting more than he bargained for: A duel with the Red Court of Vampires’ champion, Professional hit men using Harry for target practice, The missing Shroud of Turin, and a handless and headless corpse the Chicago police need identified. Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. No matter how much you’re charging.
I actually edited the heck out of that synopsis. It gets crazy spoilery on the book itself! But don’t worry, with me guiding you, you shall be safe from such ill-mannered information. Death Masks is the book that cemented by near-zealot level of obsession over the Dresden Files. I loved all that I had read by this book. But it was this book that decided that I would love every subsequent book from here on out.
Think of it like opening a credit card, but for faith in a creative mind. I had opened an account for Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright, Grant Morrison, Robert Kirkman, and so on. Jim Butcher became part of this illustrious club. A fanboy credit is hard to get. Its not just that I’m guaranteed to buy the next thing that the person will make, it also gives them the benefit of the doubt for any misteps, or creative experiments, along the way. It ensures my patience and goodwill. It ensures that I will try my damnedest to get other people to sign up for said fanboy credit.
Death Masks is the Dresden book that finally made me swear allegiance. It has everything that makes not just an excellent book, but an phenomenal Dresden Files book. Action, humor, drama, loss, hope, characterization, and Harry Dresden at his best and worst. When I say “worst”, I mean what he has to do to not only survive, but to overcome. This is one of the best examples of fiction I could ever give to someone.
Characters Introduced: Dr. Waldo Butters, the Knights of the Cross, Shiro Yoshimo, Sanya, Molly Carpenter, The Archive, Jared Kincaid, and the Order of the Blackened Denarius.
To top that all off, there are ten more books to read after this! And I loved everyone of them. In fact, its possible to say that I love every book more than the last one. And in a world of Matrix sequels and Star Wars prequels, that is an amazing achievement.
SIDE NATE NOTE: Though every cover of The Dresden Files shows Harry Dresden wearing a hat, not once in the books is he every described as wearing a hat. Its a weird thing. I guess the artist wanted to showcase the mystery by adding a hat.
Well, I hope you enjoyed Part One of this highly fanboy obsessive look at the first five books of The Dresden Files. See you next week for Part Two!