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!