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February 13th, 2010

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12:19 am - 10 Things I Love About the Dresden Files
Btw, that's totally meant to be Amoracchius in my icon, there. :)

The Dresden Files are a series of urban fantasy--well, noir fantasy, really--written by Jim Butcher. I normally do not enjoy urban fantasy unless it is of the deeply strange variety (see Momo, Neverwhere, American Gods), but I am a sucker for rich, cross-genre stories. So Wizard Harry Dresden, Chicago PI and magic wielder, is right up my alley. Allow to me expand upon this below.

(A note: I just finished reading Small Favor and Turn Coat, in quick succession, so if I am jumbled about any detail please correct me. And since those are the latest books out, there may well be spoilers behind this cut. ETA, sort of: Yes, a few spoilers, one for a whole scene.)

1) It's noir. I recently sort of fell in love with the genre, or at least with the conventions of the genre--it's so very urban, and dark in a gray, rumpled-trench-coat kind of way, with an electric tension that keeps you guessing as to whether someone will betray the lead, or not, or turn out to be working only for themselves; who's going to die next; and where, oh where, is the next month's rent going to come from? (Probably not from the rich dame who just hired you, but hey, you never know.) The Dresden Files, especially the early books, push that urban loner working-hero vibe for all it's worth. And it really works: I'd say Harry is more optimistic than some noir heroes, but overall, the pieces are there and so is the peculiar style.

2) Including Harry's perpetual smart-mouthed remarks. All the stories are written in first-person, as most good noir novels should be, and living side-by-side in Harry's head with the horrors of black magic and the tension of uncertainty and imminent death is the way he survives it all: by mocking it. It makes me want to kiss his head. And it makes me laugh, even in the middle of scenes I'm not sure I could write, they're so twisted.

3) I miss Harry's PI office. More on this in a minute, but that's something I reveled in during the early books: his very cliche little rental office in which he meets clients. And sometimes enemies. Like Bianca. (And if there were ever a classic noir "dame," it would be her. Unless Lara Raith trumps that image.)

4) Having read all eleven of the books that have been published so far, I am deeply impressed: Butcher is not in the least afraid to allow his characters to develop. Harry himself has been through physical and emotional hell, and it shows; he's a different man at the end of Turn Coat than he was at the end of Storm Front, or even Blood Rites. He's received a crippling wound, one which did not go away between books; he's endured loss and torture and the helplessness of being unable to save those he swore to save; he's found family, held onto friends; and continues to learn and create and teach.

He's like a friend to me, after this long. So are some of the others: Michael, Molly, Karrin Murphy, Thomas, Ebenezer, Mouse and Mister, Bob.... Richly drawn, and allowed to change and grow and become more than they were before (and occasionally less).

5) The thorough plotting. Either Butcher is playing a very long game, and setting up a ton in advance, or he's one of those very clever writers who is both a planner and great at taking what he's set up and using it to better what he was going to write. As far back as Fool Moon there were items set in motion that are still in play now, and since each book is roughly a year (give or take a few months) from the last, we've covered over a decade in Harry's life now.

6) The realism of Harry's magic tickles me. The fact that I started watching Supernatural may have helped with this, but I am also simply keen on the small details of how someone does something, so hearing about a ritual, how Harry personalizes it, is always fascinating. Or seeing what he may have constructed during the previous year--he doesn't whitewash how long and hard creating things like his Little Chicago model were, and I love the realism of that, too.

7) I think I've been too long in fandom. I'd forgotten that men write whump and hurt/comfort, too. *g* Harry gets put through the wringer in just about every book, and it's painful and real and ups the stakes insanely sometimes. Harry keeps going as long as he can, even while he's hurting--and that courage, that stubbornness, is deeply admirable.

8) I could go on and on about the world-building: the Vampire Courts, the Unseelie Accords, the Council and the Wardens, etc. But what really impresses me? Is how life-affirming these stories can be, this wild and unpredictably horrific world can be. In the midst of the sexual predation of the White Court vampires, we have Thomas and Justine: poster-child doomed lovers, and the example (which we see more later) of how true love makes a person literal poison to the White Court. I think this helps to set aside the Dresden books from some other urban fantasy for me; in spite of the noir conventions, they're ultimately full of hope. (I'm thinking about the end of Small Favor, as well; the chapel and the janitor.)

9) Michael Carpenter. This, everyone, is one great way to write a character of devout Christian faith. He's not perfect, but he's rock-solid, even in the midst of the same clouds of betrayal and confusion that Harry walks in. Possibly my favorite scene is in Small Favor, when Michael confronts Harry about a hole in Harry's memory, catches Harry when the reminder triggers what is almost a seizure, and lays his hand on Harry's head and prays for him, in power.

10) Harry and Murphy. I understand why people ship them, and if the books do it I won't complain, but they make a splendid partnership and friendship, even when they're having to keep each other out of various loops, etc. I think, out of everyone, losing Murphy would hurt Harry the most. *hopes I haven't jinxed her by saying that*

I can't wait for the next book, coming in April!
Current Mood: tiredtired

(9 lit candles | Light a candle)


[User Picture]
Date:February 13th, 2010 10:20 am (UTC)
You and I are as peas in a pod concerning this. I absolutely love the way Butcher mashes up fiction noir and urban fantasy and somehow makes it work. I love the characters. I love that Butcher can write characters of faith who serve as Harry's foils, who are also his friends, though they may not agree in their worldviews. That scene you mention with Michael? One of my favorites as well. I cannot wait until April 7th, when my Kindle will get the latest book (which is released on the 6th, but the time difference means I'll get it on the 7th--lame).
[User Picture]
Date:February 13th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC)
NGH. YOUR ICON. *needs a Harry icon like whoa*

I love that Butcher can write characters of faith who serve as Harry's foils, who are also his friends, though they may not agree in their worldviews.

Yes, it's really impressive the way he handles this. Charity, btw, reminds me so much of someone I know in RL that I had a hard time reading parts of Proven Guilty. Charity can be deeply awesome, but I am even more impressed that she can be awesome while also being the massively overprotective type of parent (I have issues with this type of parent on behalf of a couple of RL friends). Butcher writes wonderfully about human beings, in all of their complexity.

I read the last third of Small Favor sitting in a very crowded waiting room, and had to stop reading for a while when Michael got shot, because I thought I was going to either hyperventilate or start crying. (But hey, at least Charity and the kids get to keep him. *g* God is good, even in these books.)

I'm waiting for the anthology with the short story "The Warrior" in it to come in at my branch of the library. Thanks goodness Butcher realizes that people will be attached to the Carpenters and want to know more about the aftermath.

I have to keep an eye on my local library, as there is no way I can justify buying the hardback come April. But if I get into the holds list early enough, that may work out okay. :) Or I'll find someone to borrow it from.
[User Picture]
Date:February 13th, 2010 04:17 pm (UTC)
Yep yep yep to all of this. :-D

I just recently read/reread all the books (in order for the first time)...many were rereads but a couple were first time in preparation for the new book release. And...yes.
[User Picture]
Date:February 13th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC)
I've spent the past 3-4 years going from book one to the last book (I think I read the last 6 in the past 4 months or so). As I continue, my love just deepens. I now thoroughly understand why some of my friends were as excited for the release of Turn Coat next spring as I have been for the Harry Potter books in the past. :) I shall be joining all the Dresden fans in eager waiting now.
[User Picture]
Date:February 13th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
This. All of it, all of it, all of it. When I discovered him three years ago, he moved my yardstick for "good fiction writer" a significant amount.

Especially as regards Michael, as you've noted. Until the third book of DF, I can't remember ever reading a modern fantasy novel with a Christian secondary character potrayed as strongly and positively and yet humanly as Michael (at least, where the main character is not also Christian). That was when I decided I'd read anything Butcher ever wrote. =)

You do know, right, that he's implied he has plans to make this a 20-novel series of connected-but-independent storylines, followed by an "apocalyptic trilogy" to resolve it all? He does plan big, and never drops a thread-- one of the other things that seriously impresses me about his writing. The "apocalyptic" part might scare me from another writer; but you're right, the hope never entirely dies no matter how dark things get, and considering the "apocalyptic" yet ultimately positive end to his other series this last November, I'm sure I'll enjoy the ride regardless.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
The more I read, the more impressed I am. Do you think I'd like the Codex Alera books? I've had bad experiences when an author I like switches genres, and I have a mile-wide bias against current sword-and-sorcery (which bias is kind of silly, but still there).

I've heard about how the series is supposed to end with an apocalyptic trilogy, yes, but...20 books?! Someone is an ambitious author. O_o I hope he doesn't die before completing them, that would be sad. :)

I'm getting the anthologies with Dresden short stories in them next. Can't get enough of this stuff, apparently.
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
Regarding the anthologies: you may want to hold onto your cash. He's currently working on an anthology of just his stories, collecting all the previous fragments plus probably at least one more, IIRC. I've got all the ones out so far, and will be glad to condense the space on my shelf. =)

About the other: I'm not sure? The world of Codex Alera is basically Romans + Magic, rather than your standard medievalesque sword-and-sorcery setup, which I liked; there are a few other not-human races involved in the action, each with their own very distinct cultures; the hero goes on your basic hero's journey over the six books but with lots and lots of interesting detail and plot twists; etc. The plotting is almost as dense as Dresden, and one of the things I loved best about it is that Butcher allows the heroes' opponents to be as intelligent as they are, which makes for much more satisfying resolutions of action.

You could try reading the first one? If it's at all to your taste, the rest build and complicate its world just like the rest of Dresden does from Storm Front, and you're not likely to lose interest. (Well, book five gets a bit bleak in parts, but you wouldn't have to wait a year for book six, like I did.)
[User Picture]
Date:February 14th, 2010 07:09 am (UTC)
Thanks for the note about the upcoming collection--I'm not buying books with my current cash flow, but I live in LA, and our library system is awesome. :) Most of those anthologies are available (not all of them, but the stories set later, which are what I really want).

Romans + magic...okay, I haven't read anything quite like that, I don't think. Hmmm. Yeah, I may have to give the first book a try and see if I like it.
Date:February 14th, 2010 08:55 am (UTC)
Harry Dresden! I love him so. Also Murph and Michael (and you're right, Jim Butcher is very good at writing characters of faith).

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